— While President Barack Obama welcomed Vietnam’s President Truong Tan Sang to the White House Thursday, hundreds of people gathered across the street to protest Vietnam’s human rights record.
Taking part were Vietnamese from across the United States, Canada and Australia. They called on Obama to press Hanoi to improve its human rights record, and backed this up with a petition signed by thousands of people from across the world.
Obama said he had a "very candid" conversation during the White House meeting -- saying all nations should respect freedoms of speech, religion and assembly. His Vietnamese counterpart said Washington and Hanoi still have differences over human rights.
The protesters were united in their opinions on the issue.
“I am here in solidarity with democracy activists who are imprisoned right now in Vietnam,” said protester Hoang Tu Duy. “Six years ago, I was here, at the protest against then-Vietnamese President Nguyen Minh Triet. We in the Vietnamese community here in the States, and elsewhere, we do not accept the Vietnamese Communist regime, and anywhere there is a Vietnamese communist leader, we will be present to protest.”
“Human rights [are] a human basic need,” said Pham van Dam of Boston. “We Vietnamese are human beings, and demand that human rights be respected. [Our Vietnam today, especially] the communist leaders in Vietnam do not respect freedom and democratic rights of the people, that is why we are here to protest by joining the gathering today, to voice our concerns. We are standing in front of the White House right now, with about a thousand of our compatriots from everywhere. We come here not to have fun, but to voice our unity. We are all looking in the same direction.”
In addition to the petition, there were letters from the families of prisoners of conscience inside Vietnam -- including bloggers, lawyers and Catholic activists -- urging an end to human rights violations there.
Hong Thuan, carrying a Free Le Quoc Quan poster at the protest Thursday, said, “As you know, Le Quoc Quan is an activist, a lawyer for human rights in Vietnam. He is in jail now. Having known him, and as a friend of his, on the occasion of the Vietnamese president ‘s visit to Washington, I would like to bring up his case to the attention of the international media, as well as the Vietnamese community.”
Advocacy groups like Reporters Without Borders and Human Rights Watch have also urged Vietnam to free prisoners of conscience.
This report originally appeared on VOA Vietnamese.