At hearing today, Rep. Smith says further expansion of bilateral relationship unacceptable w/o significant & irreversible human rights improvementsPres. Obama Should Demand the Release of Prisoners of Conscience During Trip to Vietnam
The wife of a Vietnamese prisoner of conscience made a dramatic appeal at a congressional hearing today for the unconditional release of her husband Nguyen Van Dai.
Appearing at a human rights subcommittee chaired by U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04) Ms. Vu Minh Khanh testified that her husband has been detained for almost five months after being arrested in December after leaving his home to meet with a delegation from the European Union who were in Vietnam for the annual EU-Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue.
Vu Minh Khanh spoke of her husband’s commitment to religious freedom, human rights, and democracy in Vietnam and described the ways the Vietnamese government has tried to repress his activities. Ms. Vu has not been able to see her husband since his arrest and he has not had access to a lawyer.
“Nguyen Van Dai spent four years in jail and four additional years under house arrest for defending religious freedom and calling for greater democratization in Vietnamese society,” said Smith. “He was detained again and brutally beaten last December for continuing his work. His arbitrary detention undercuts any claim that the current Vietnamese leadership can become a trusted US partner. Prior to his arrest in 2007, I had the privilege of meeting with him in Hanoi in December of 2005. I was deeply impressed with his passion for truth, his defense of universally recognized human rights, and his love of Vietnam.”
“President Obama must insist on the release of Dai and other prisoners of conscience as a precondition for the President’s trip in late May,” Smith said. “If he goes without any conditionality, I appeal to the President to demand the immediate and unconditional freedom of Nguyen Van Dai and the others.”
“The Administration should make clear to Vietnam’s Communist leaders that the further expansion of trade and security partnerships are unacceptable until there is significant, verifiable, and irreversible improvements in human rights in Vietnam,” continued Smith. “Unfortunately, I have little faith that the Administration will deliver such a message as they seem eager to proceed with lucrative trade deals and on lifting the ban on lethal arms sales to Vietnam. Not imposing conditions on such generous benefits is shortsighted, misguided, and fails to advance long-term U.S. interests. The American people should not have to subsidize torture or underwrite the jailing of journalists, religious leaders, labor activists, or advocates of democracy or Internet freedom.” Cong. Smith's full statement can be found here. Or click here to watch video of Chairman Smith's opening remarks.
Vu testified, “The arrest and continued detention of my husband have to be considered as arbitrary under international human rights laws which Vietnam must comply with and especially while Vietnam is a member of the UN Human Rights Council. My husband has worked hard to protect human rights and these activities cannot possibly be seen as criminal.” Ms. Vu’s opening statement can be found here.
Smith said that, “one way to send an important message is to pass the Vietnam Human Rights Act. The bipartisan Vietnam Human Rights Act will restore the right priorities to U.S. policy toward Vietnam. The Communist Party is not Vietnam’s future, that future lies with Nguyen Van Dai and the many other advocates of political reform and human rights who seek our freedoms more than our trade. U.S. policy must send the unmistakable message to the Government of Vietnam that human rights improvements are fundamental to better relations, critically linked to our mutual economic and security interests, and will not be ignored or bargained away.”
Congressman Smith introduced H.R. 2140, the Vietnam Human Rights Act, in the 114th Congress. Full text of H.R. 2140 can be found here.