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ICC NOTE: Vietnamese Human Rights organizations attended a meeting with White House National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes on the President’s upcoming visit to the Communist nation. The main focus was to emphasize on the country’s porous human rights record and advocate for the weapons ban to not be lifted until its human rights record has improved. countless Christian pastors, lawyers, church members, and their families have been imprisoned, beaten, and threatened for their faith. Vietnam continues to crackdown on freedom of expression through speech, religion, and assembly. The President is expected to visit Vietnam and speak with government officials regarding the sale of weapons from the United States and it is the hope he discusses human rights on the visit. However, in previous trips the President has made to nations who violate the basic human rights of its citizens the topic has either been mentioned in passing or not at all. 

5/19/2016 Vietnam (VOA) – Vietnamese activists are stepping up their campaign to get the Obama Administration to pressure Hanoi to clean up its human rights act before Washington decides to make any major changes in its policies toward the Southeast Asian nation.

In a White House meeting on Tuesday stateside representatives of Vietnamese rights organizations including Vietnam for Progress, VOICE, Viet Tan Party, Boat People SOS and influential human rights blogger Dieu Cay met with Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes and State Department representatives in advance of President Barack Obama’s visit later this month.

“We pushed the development of civil society, stressing that Vietnam does not have a civil society in the true meaning like that of democratic countries,” Nguyen The Binh, a representative of the Vietnam for Progress, told RFA’s Vietnamese Service.

Vietnam’s dismal record on human rights is emerging as a flash point for President Barack Obama as he travels to the communist country later this month.

Not only has the one-party state restricted freedom of speech, press and religion, but the authorities there have also assaulted and imprisoned dozens of rights activists and bloggers.

U.S. envoys have visited Vietnam in recent weeks to assess the rights situation, according to media reports.

Last month, Deputy Secretary of State Anthony Blinken told a university audience in Hanoi that he noted “some progress” in the country’s human rights record, such as ratifying the United Nations Convention against Torture in 2013 and the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2014, USA Today reported.

Arms vs rights

To the activists who visited the White House that is not enough to warrant major changes in U.S. policy such as lifting the arms embargo that Washington imposed in the 1980s.

“Everybody was concerned that Vietnam would be allowed to buy lethal weapons from the U.S.,” she said. “The embargo should only be lifted if Vietnam improves on human rights.”

Obama should also press Vietnam to release the dozens of political prisoners it currently holds. Vietnam says it doesn’t hold any political prisoners and that it has jailed only lawbreakers.

“We talked about Tran Huynh Duy Thuc and many other political prisoners, urging president Obama to raise this matter with the Vietnam’s leaders,” Nguyen The Binh said. “They have to be freed immediately and unconditionally.”

Tran Huynh Duy Thuc is a Vietnamese engineer, entrepreneur and human rights activist who was arrested in 2009, initially for “theft of telephone wires,” and was later imprisoned “conducting propaganda” against the state, one of the vague, catch-all Vietnamese authorities use to incarcerate dissidents.

A new crackdown

Hanoi‘s case isn’t being helped much as it has cracked down on protesters demonstrating over an environmental disaster that caused tons of dead fish to wash up on Vietnam’s central coast. Demonstrators have taken to the streets as people have become dissatisfied with the government’s reaction to the disaster, which many believe was caused by pollution from a Taiwanese steel plant.

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