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Vietnam Beating Case Highlights TPP Labor Rights Issue

FILE - Long-time Vietnamese labor rights advocate Do Thi Minh Hanh. Once imprisoned for helping organize labor strikes, she says she was held Monday for '13 hours without being given any reasons.'

A Vietnamese labor activist has accused authorities of beating and detaining her after she talked with fired workers in southern Long An province.

Long-time labor rights advocate Do Thi Minh Hanh, once imprisoned for helping organize labor strikes, said she was held Monday for “13 hours without being given any reasons.”

“In the end, they presented a paperwork saying I violated administrative procedure and asked me to sign, but I refused to. I am the one who was a victim of illegal arrest. I was dragged from workers, was hit on my face and head, and was put in a chokehold,” Hanh said.

The activist added that her personal belongings and leaflets advocating labor rights were confiscated.

Hanh, co-founder of Free Viet Labor Federation, and another activist, Truong Minh Duc, said they came to give support and advice to dozens of workers who maintained they had been unlawfully fired by a foreign-owned company.

The chief of the Long Binh police station where Hanh and Duc were reportedly confined could not be reached for comment.

TPP Side Pact

The allegation comes just weeks after the release of a side agreement to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) between Vietnam and the U.S., which urges Hanoi to pass laws that “ensure the right of workers to freely form and join a labor union of their choosing.”

The state-sanctioned Vietnam General Confederation of Labor, which activists accuse of favoring companies and factory owners, is the only legal trade union for Vietnamese workers.

Twelve Pacific Rim countries, including Vietnam, reached agreement on the TPP last month.

But the historic pact faces skeptics in the U.S. Congress, where some lawmakers have expressed their concerns about jobs being shifted from the U.S. to nations where unions' and workers’ rights are weak.

Addressing the legislature last week, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung said Vietnam as well as other countries “have to respect” the TPP terms related to workers’ rights.

But Hanh said the struggle for workers' rights is a long one, and nothing has really changed yet.

Brad Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said last week that Vietnam appeared to “play nice during TPP negotiations, but now that the agreement has been signed, it is taking steps to tighten government control over critics.”

Hanoi has not yet responded to the New York-based group, but said in the past that freedom of speech is protected.

According to official statistics, hundreds of unauthorized strikes took place in Vietnam last year over wage and contract issues.

This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Vietnamese service.