Loss of New Freedoms in Vietnam
The recent arrest and conviction of prominent Vietnamese dissident Father Thadeus Nguyen Van Ly is an alarming indication that freedom of religion and expression are again under attack in Vietnam , Freedom House said today.
Father Ly, a well-known activist who has been pushing for greater religious and political freedom in Vietnam for decades, was arrested together with four others for disseminating anti-government materials and trying to organize a boycott of upcoming legislative elections. In a four-hour trial during which the defendants were not allowed to present a defense, he was sentenced to eight years in prison. His arrest and conviction, along with that of other lesser-known activists, comes on the heels of a period of modest increased political openness in the country.
“Over the past year, the Vietnamese government was starting to show small signs of greater respect for fundamental rights by allowing its citizens some basic freedoms of religion, speech, and association,” said Jennifer Windsor, Executive Director of Freedom House. “Unfortunately, however, Friday’s convictions vividly demonstrate that the country’s recent economic liberalization is not equally matched by necessary improvements in political rights and civil liberties” she added.
Over the last year, the Vietnamese government released a number of high-profile political prisoners and allowed the media greater freedom to report on graft and corruption. In part, these reforms were linked to Vietnam’s entry into the WTO, which occurred on January 11, 2007, as well as its status of Permanent Normal Trade Relations with the U.S., granted last December.
Also last year, although the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom recommended that Vietnam remain on its list of Countries of Particular Concern, the State Department chose to remove Vietnam from the list. At the same time, Freedom House improved Vietnam’s civil liberties rating in the 2006 survey of political rights and civil liberties, Freedom in the World, and noted some continued reforms the next year.
“It is very worrying that the Vietnamese government is increasing its repression of citizens so soon after having been granted inclusion as a trading partner with the U.S. and the rest of the world,” said Ms. Windsor. “Freedom House’s ratings have noted the modest improvements that occurred in the country last year, but we will be observing very closely to see if those reforms continue or were just temporary window dressing.”
Vietnam ranks as Not Free in the 2007 edition of Freedom in the World. The country received a rating of 7 (on a scale of 1 to 7, with 7 as the lowest) for political rights and a 5 for civil liberties.
Freedom House, an independent non-governmental organization that supports the expansion of freedom in the world, has monitored political rights and civil liberties in Vietnam since 1972.
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