FILE - Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, center, a prominent Vietnamese blogger, stands trial in the south-central province of Khanh Hoa, Vietnam.
FILE - Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, center, a prominent Vietnamese blogger, stands trial in the south-central province of Khanh Hoa, Vietnam.

WASHINGTON - Carolyn Komatsoulis contributed to this report

Twenty-five members of Congress wrote to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last week to urge greater freedom of expression in Vietnam, where the one-party communist state has aggressively jailed bloggers and activists.

The letter comes two months after the U.N. Human Rights Committee released a report criticizing the Vietnamese government for repression against activists and journalists and executing high numbers of people guilty of minor crimes after unfair trials.

The report and the letter describe pervasive state control over Vietnamese media, the conviction of Radio Free Asia (RFA) blogger and videographer Nguyen Van Hoa, Voice of America (VOA) contributor Le Anh Hung’s wait for a trial, and the abduction of an RFA contributor.

“Vietnam is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and as such has committed to respecting individual freedoms of belief, speech, association, press, and the right to uphold assembly and political expression,” the lawmakers wrote in the letter.

“The United States has an obligation to both raise these egregious human and political rights violations with its Vietnamese counterparts and take steps to shape the behavior of the Communist Party of Vietnam.”

Officials at the Vietnamese Embassy in Washington, D.C. did not return multiple requests for comment.

The Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (VCHR), a civil society group in Paris, praised the findings of the report and said one-party control prevents progress on the human rights frontier.

“Concretely, the U.N. experts recommend that Vietnam ensures political pluralism, holds transparent and genuine elections, promotes media freedom and respects the right to form independent trade unions and NGOs in order to fully implement the ICCPR”, said VHCR President Võ V?n Ái.

He called on the Vietnamese government to abolish the constitutional article that gives monopoly control to the Communist Party, “as its citizens insistently demanded during the Constitutional reform in 2013.”

Vietnam has one of the world’s worst rankings in press freedom by the group Reporters Without Borders -- 176th out of 180 nations.

Last year, a Vietnamese court sentenced a dissident writer and activist to 20 years in prison for trying to overthrow the government. The conviction came after a short trial in which witnesses who might have cleared him were prohibited from appearing.

As of May, Vietnam held an estimated 128 prisoners of conscience, according to an Amnesty International report. Vietnam increased the number of prisoners of conscience it holds, up from 97 last year, according to Amnesty International. 

The U.N. report in March explored several areas of concern, including the need for independent bodies to observe, promote and protect human rights, more clear terminology in Hanoi’s counter-terrorism efforts, and a framework for non-discrimination.

The report also advocated the right of peaceful assembly, freedom of association and participation in public affairs.

After the report, Võ V?n Ái called for international pressure on Vietnam.
“The international community should take heed of the U.N. experts’ conclusions and impress upon Vietnam that ‘business as usual’ cannot continue unless the Vietnamese government commits to substantive legislative and political reforms,” he said.

In their letter, Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., and Rep. Alan Lowenthal, D-Calif., expressed concern about troubling cases of arrests and detentions of independent journalists.