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Vietnam Mulls Clarification of 'Anti-state' Laws

The Chairman of Vietnam’s legislature has surprised many by saying his country should clarify its so-called anti-state laws in order to prevent arbitrary arrests that violate human and civil rights.

During a debate on the revision of criminal laws Monday, Nguyen Sinh Hung said, “We should not let the [overly vague] laws exist, paving the way for virtually anyone to be detained.”

Such a move would be a major shift for Vietnamese authorities.

The remarks have sparked a mixed response of caution and optimism among those who have frequently criticized Vietnam's anti-state laws.

Lawyer Tran Thu Nam, who has defended many government critics facing anti-state propaganda charges, said he was “really surprised” by Hung’s speech.

“I hope things would be clearer and more transparent in trials related to national security in the future. Defense lawyers, non-governmental groups and diplomatic missions in Vietnam have repeatedly raised concerns about anti-state laws," he said.

Nam added the laws have had long-term social and political impacts on people who were charged.

Calls For Reform

Writing on VOA’s Vietnamese Facebook page, citizen Ba Long Ngo hopes that Hung is truthful about what he said.

“We, ordinary people, do not want to get into trouble, but corruption, land-grabs and other issues force us to stand up. And we are unfairly convicted with anti-state laws,” Long said.

International rights groups have criticized Vietnam for using vaguely worded national security laws to silence and imprison critics of the government.

Hundreds of Vietnamese bloggers have launched a campaign, calling for reform of some articles of the penal code, which rights advocates say, are often used to punish freedom of speech.

In response, Hanoi said it only jails those who violate the laws. Vietnam released over 10,000 convicts in a mass amnesty to mark National Day early this month, but no political prisoners were pardoned.

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