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Vietnamese Groups, Lawmakers Voice Concerns Ahead of Prime Minister's US Visit


Vietnamese-American groups, human rights organizations, and members of Congress are urging President Bush to make human rights in Vietnam a priority in his talks next week with visiting Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung. VOA's Dan Robinson reports from Capitol Hill.

Activists and representatives of human rights organizations joined members of Congress in a news conference outside the U.S. Capitol.

Nguyen Ngoc Bich, of the National Congress of Vietnamese Americans, reads a statement on behalf of nearly a dozen groups, criticizing Vietnam's communist leadership:

"The current Vietnamese government headed by Mr. Nguyen Tan Dung, being appointed by the Communist Party of Vietnam, does not represent the true voice and interests of the vast majority of the Vietnamese people since it is not a government voted into power through free and fair elections," said Nguyen Ngoc Bich.

The White House has already said President Bush will stress human rights and freedoms of speech, religion and assembly when he welcomes Vietnam's prime minister, along with bilateral matters and a key focus on trade relations.

However, as with the last visit of a Vietnamese leader, lawmakers are making the case that the president has not done enough to help ease repression of political activists and religious leaders in Vietnam.

California Democrat Loretta Sanchez:

"The government of Vietnam has harassed, has put under house arrest, and has sentenced countless peaceful democracy advocates to prison, all of whom were not afforded a legal and fair trial, and this is unacceptable," said Congresswoman Sanchez.

Republican Congressman Chris Smith joins Sanchez and others in saying Vietnam has not made the human rights and political reforms many hoped it would under PNTR, Permanent Normal Trade Relations, with the United States.

"It looked on the surface, as if some of the more egregious government abuse was abating and a season of modest reform [was] possible," said Congressman Smith. "That illusion, well meaning but naïve as it was, has been shattered by arrests and re-arrests of some of the most noble and courageous Vietnamese democracy advocates on Earth."

In particular, Smith mentions Pham Hong Son, jailed for posting a democracy essay on the Internet, and attorneys Nguyen Van Dai and Le Thi Cong, sentenced for pro-democracy activities.

Maran Turner, of Freedom Now, sums up the charges against Pham Hong Son, Nguyen Van Ly, and Nguyen Dan Que, serving jail terms of between 30 months and 20 years.

"Their crimes? Translating and emailing an article entitled What is Democracy? Sending an email critical of the government's restrictions of media freedom from an Internet café," said Maren Turner. "And providing testimony about religious freedoms in Vietnam to the U.S. government."

Leonard Leo is a member of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, which visited Vietnam in 2007:

"We saw firsthand the backsliding which has taken place since Vietnam received the trade and aid that it so very much wanted," said Leonard Leo. "Problems continue to persist, it is very serious."

The commission says Vietnam should be designated a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) regarding violations of religious freedom. Congressman Smith says it should be identified as Tier 3, among serious violators. He is also frustrated that Congress has failed to pass the Global Online Freedom Act, dealing with government's use of the Internet to suppress dissent, and the Vietnam Human Rights Act.

Sophie Richardson of Human Rights Watch says President Bush must also press the Vietnamese leader on Hanoi's cracked down on writers and journalists.

"By agreeing to welcome Prime Minister in Washington, the Bush administration assumes a particular responsibility to speak frankly and publicly about Vietnam's ongoing criminalization of peaceful expression," said Sophie Richardson.

Congressman Frank Wolf is a sharp critic of Bush administration efforts on Vietnam human rights issues:

"History is watching the Bush administration," said Congressman Wolf. "History is watching President Bush next week. History is watching Secretary Condoleeza Rice next week. And history is watching what the American ambassador [to Vietnam] does. As now they get an F, a solid F, without any question."

Democrat Zoe Lofgren is sponsoring a resolution calling for the end of PNTR unless human rights situation in Vietnam improved.

"I would beg the president of the United States to show some leadership when he meets with the Communist regime in the coming days," said Zoe Lofgren. "The status quo is not acceptable."

At the same time, members of Congress have recognized Bush administration help in obtaining freedom for some Vietnamese-Americans detained in Vietnam.

Vietnam and the United States held their annual human rights dialogue in May, with U.S. officials raising concerns about freedom of expression and religion, saying Washington was pleased with progress in several areas.

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