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More Vietnamese Activists Say They Were Barred from Obama Meetings

FILE - U.S. President Barack Obama attends a town hall meeting with members of the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, May 25, 2016.

Several activists who had been scheduled to meet with President Barack Obama during his recent visit to Vietnam say they were prevented from doing so, adding to similar reports from earlier in the week that underscore Hanoi's ongoing human rights violations.

The White House had requested a meeting with 10 leaders from both government-backed and independent civil society organizations, but all representatives of the independent groups now say they were blocked, including land rights activist Mai Phuong Thao and prominent blogger Pham Doan Trang.

Nguyen Quang A, an intellectual and open critic of Hanoi's policies, along with well-known human rights lawyer Ha Huy Son, were also among the activists who were restricted from meeting Obama despite White House invitations.

In a roundtable discussion with Vietnam-based Youth Magazine, Thao said Hanoi's actions Tuesday only supported their arguments that Obama still needs to press Hanoi on legal and political reforms, points they had intended to relay in person.

FILE - Pham Doan Trang
FILE - Pham Doan Trang

"The Vietnamese government tends to trade prisoners of conscience for economic gains, ignoring the demands for a comprehensive legal reform," Trang told VOA. "This has to stop. ... Mr. Obama, please don't just call for the release of individual cases, but urge for fundamental reforms so that there will be no more prisoners of conscience in Vietnam."

Added Thao: "Independent civil society organizations in Vietnam need more support from the U.S. in our fight for human rights and freedom here. We hope Washington would closely monitor Vietnam's rights and tightly bind this condition into every single step of arms and trade relations with Hanoi as promised by President Obama."

Neither activist commented on Obama's historic decision to lift the more than 50-year ban on weapon sales to Vietnam, which was his latest move to highlight a foreign policy rooted in diplomacy and engagement.

Some U.S. legislators and the head of New York-based Human Rights Watch criticized Obama's decision to scrap the long-established arms embargo, saying the White House has now lost its ability to leverage the Southeast Asian country's human rights record.

This report was produced in collaboration with VOA's Vietnamese Service.

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