At least two prominent members of Vietnamese civil society were prevented from attending a small gathering with President Obama Tuesday to discuss human rights and social issues.
Journalist-turned-blogger and activist Doan Trang said she was held at a hostel in the northern province of Ninh Binh for a day, when she was on her way from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi to see Obama at the invitation of the U.S. embassy in Hanoi.
“They told me I was detained because of my Facebook posts related to my report on the undemocratic election process in Vietnam," she told VOA. "They denied preventing me from meeting President Obama, but one can really see why they did that. When I told them that it is not right and undiplomatic to do so, they challenged me to sue them. They even told me that it is a lie, as there was no schedule of President Obama’s meeting with activists on [the] official agenda.”
Meanwhile, Dr. Nguyen Quang A, another absent invitee, said he was “thrown into a car” and taken to the outskirts of Hanoi until Obama left the capital for Ho Chi Minh City, the last leg of his state visit.
President Obama met with six Vietnamese civil society members, but also confirmed that there were “several other activists who were invited but prevented from coming for various reasons.”
News reports said that White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry raised the issue with Vietnamese officials. Facing criticism from rights organization, Vietnam has on numerous occasions denied detaining dissidents, reiterating that it imprisons only those who break laws.
This report was produced in collaboration with VOA's Vietnamese Service.