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Vietnam Not Living Up to Political Reform Promise, Says Human Rights Group - 2002-10-09

A prominent U.S. human rights group is accusing Vietnam of stifling free speech with a crackdown on dissidents. Human Rights Watch says Vietnam is reneging on its promise to speed up reforms.

The Human Rights Watch report says the government has harassed seven people who are either vocal critics of the government or have met with dissidents.

The nonprofit group urges international aid donors to raise the human-rights issue with the Vietnamese government. The report was published on the Human Rights Watch Web site.

Among other cases, the report refers to the arrest of writer Nguyen Vu Binh in September after he wrote an editorial saying Vietnam conceded too much land in a 1999 border agreement with China. The report mentions other dissidents who have had their homes searched or faced interrogation or arrest.

Political scientist Carl Thayer at the University of New South Wales says despite Vietnam's promises of political reforms, dissidents are commonly harassed. "What we are witnessing is an unfolding saga that is a constant feature of Vietnam since the reform period. There is a kind of cycle of police raids and interrogation seizing of material. I am afraid with the new secretary general of the Communist Party we are not seeing political liberalization; we are seeing a crackdown," Mr. Thayer said. Professor Thayer says leaders are now taking a harder line against dissenting voices. The government recently toughened control over Internet content and continues to restrict information and publications entering the country.

In a separate report released on Tuesday, the State Department noted that Vietnam has improved somewhat in respecting religious freedoms. But Vietnam was one of five countries listed as attempting to control religious practices.

Hanoi rejected some of the report's assertions accusing it of lacking objectivity.