U.S. President Barack Obama chided Vietnam on political freedoms on Tuesday after critics of the communist-run government were prevented from meeting him in Hanoi, a discordant note on a trip otherwise steeped in words of amity between the former foes, Reuters reports:
One prominent intellectual, Nguyen Quang A (above), told Reuters that about 10 policemen had come to his house at 6:30 a.m. and put him in a car that was driven out of the capital until Obama was about to leave.
An outspoken lawyer, Ha Huy Son, said he was also stopped from joining a meeting Obama held with six other civil society leaders. Human Rights Watch said a journalist who was also invited had been arrested on Monday…
Obama noted that several activists had been blocked from meeting him and said this was an indication that, despite some “modest” legal reforms “there are still folks who find it very difficult to assemble and organise peacefully around issues that they care deeply about”.
“There are still areas of significant concern in terms of freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, accountability with respect to government,” he said.
He made his case in a speech to thousands in Hanoi, a day after meeting with Vietnamese leaders.
“Nations are more successful when universal rights are upheld,” the president said, adding that countries prosper when they embrace freedom of expression, speech and assembly.
“It’s my hope that the government of Vietnam comes to recognize what we’ve recognized and what so many countries around the world have recognized, and that is that it’s very hard to prosper in this modern economy if you haven’t fully unleashed the potential of your people.”
Obama hailed “a new moment” in U.S.-Vietnamese relations and hoped that the latest move “removes a lingering vestige of the Cold War,” The Washington Post adds:
But critics and rights groups point to the enduring authoritarian practices of Vietnam’s one-party government.
“Even as it faces the glare of global attention with the US President’s visit, the Vietnamese authorities, shamefully, are carrying out their repressive business as usual,” Rafendi Djamin, Amnesty International’s director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, said in an emailed statement to journalists.
“I would contest his characterization that there has been modest progress in Vietnam…there has been little or no progress in Vietnam,” said Phil Robertson, Asia division deputy director of Human Rights Watch:
Robertson told VOA that human rights organizations had been promised by the White House and State Department that there would have to be significant progress demonstrated by Vietnam before any total removal of Washington’s ban on selling weapons to Hanoi, which was announced Monday.
“What did they (the U.S.) get? They got nothing,” Robertson asserted. “You got a big fat goose egg when it comes to human rights.”
Robertson also criticized the references to human rights in the joint statement as “pretty thin gruel.”