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US Lawmakers Warn Vietnam on Crackdown on Dissidents


Lawmakers in U.S. Congress are condemning recent arrests and harassment of dissidents in Vietnam, saying they demonstrate that the government in Hanoi is not serious about pledges to improve human rights conditions. VOA's Dan Robinson reports, four Republican congressmen appeared at a Capitol Hill news conference with Vietnamese activists and pledged legislative steps and other actions in response.

Congressman Chris Smith has been among the most outspoken members of Congress regarding human rights and religious freedom issue around the world.

He says he is angered by a string of arrests in Vietnam beginning in February and continuing through this month.

Smith says the arrests, characterized by human rights groups as among the worst in two decades, should be a "wake up call" for the Bush administration and Congress that granting Vietnam Permanent Normal Trade Relations has not resulted in improvements in human rights.

"I hope that we finally get it, and I hope the administration gets it, and the congressmen on the Democrat and Republican side, who have this naïve belief that if you just trade, somehow that trading will matriculate [grow] into respect for human rights," he said. "It has not happened in China, it has not happened in Vietnam, and we need to put additional pressure."

Representatives of Vietnamese-American human rights, religious freedom and democracy groups appeared with Smith to provide details about some of those arrested in recent weeks.

Nguyen Dinh Thang, of the organization Boat People SOS, spoke about one of those arrested.

"Another young lawyer, Le Quoc Quan, who just returned to Vietnam from the United States after his fellowship with the NED [National Endowment for Democracy] here," said Nguyen Dinh Thang. "He got arrested two days ago, and his whereabouts [are] not known to his own family, his wife and his daughter."

Among others recently detained by authorities was Tran Van Hoa, spokesman for the anti-Communist People's Democratic Party.

One report says he was detained in Quang Ninh and released after 12 hours in custody, after being told to cease his political activities.

Human rights lawyer Nguyen Van Dai was arrested in Hanoi on March 6, along with activist-lawyer Le Thi Cong Nhan, with authorities telling both they would be detained at least four months.

Doan Viet Hoat, one of the best known Vietnamese dissidents who now lives in the United States, says the recent crackdown shows that the government in Hanoi has never really moved away from its pattern of human rights oppression, despite the trade concession it won from the U.S. Congress last year:

"The dictators in Hanoi believe that they now have been welcomed into the international community, and so they can oppress the Vietnamese dissidents and human rights advocates freely without facing any sanction," he said.

Frank Wolf and Dana Rohrabacher are Republican congressmen known for their sharp attention to human rights issues.

"We just gave this government, this evil government, [Permanent Normal Trade Relations], and now look and see what they are doing," Wolf said. "Where is the Bush administration on this issue? The Secretary [of State] and the Assistant Secretary ought to be speaking out."

"Because the Communist government of Vietnam is acting like a Communist government, it should be of no surprise to all of us," said Rohrabacher. "Gangsters act like gangsters, which the Vietnamese government is again reaffirming for us today."

The statements came a day before a scheduled meeting in Washington between Vietnam's foreign minister Pham Gia Khiem, who also serves as deputy prime minister, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Republican Congressman Ed Royce says he and others are sending this message to the visiting Vietnamese delegation, as well as the government in Hanoi.

"We here today and many others in Congress are making this point, we know the administration is going to make this point, we want a response from the government in Vietnam on this important issue of erasing human rights and any dignity and freedom of the people of Vietnam," he said. "We must have an answer."

Congressman Smith has introduced a resolution condemning recent arrests and calling for the immediate and unconditional release of dissidents.

The measure warns that ongoing harassment, detentions and arrests will harm the broadening of ties with the U.S., and result in Vietnam being put back on a list of Countries of Particular Concern (CPC) for severe and ongoing violations of religious freedom.

Among the dissidents specifically mentioned in Smith's resolution is Father Nguyen Van Ly, a human rights and democracy activist, who was moved by authorities in February to an isolated location in Ben Cui central Vietnam.