Smith Welcomes Release of Vietnamese Rights Defender Nguyen Van Dai
News of release announced at Congressional hearing on human rights in Vietnam
Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), who visited Vietnamese human rights defender Nguyen Van Dai in 2005 in his Hanoi law office, welcomed today his release from prison, along with the release of his law firm colleague, Le Thu Ha.
“I am overjoyed that Nguyen Van Dai and his wife, along with Ms. Le Thu Ha, are now finally safe and free to speak and worship as they see fit,” Rep. Smith stated. “But I am saddened that the Vietnamese government choses to torture, jail, and exile some of its best and brightest citizens—individuals who only wanted their country to live up to human rights standards found in Vietnam’s Constitution and in its UN obligations. I want to commend the German government for their work gaining these releases.”
Nguyen Van Dai and Le Thu Ha were members of the Brotherhood for Democracy and were arrested in December of 2015 and held without trial for over two years. In April, 2018 the two were given prison sentences of 15 and 9 years respectively for alleged subversive activities. The Brotherhood for Democracy was formed in 2013 to provide training on human rights and provide legal assistance to Vietnamese citizens who were victims of human rights abuses.
The three safely arrived in Germany at 6pm (EST) on Thursday, and were offered asylum by the German government.
Smith has long advocated for the release of Nguyen Van Dai, whose wife Vu Minh Kanh testified at a Smith-chaired House Foreign Affairs hearing in December, 2016.
The news of Nguyen Van Dai’s release was announced at a Congressional hearing on “A Bad Year for Human Rights in Vietnam.” Smith, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations, chaired the hearing which explored the deterioration of human rights conditions in Vietnam, particularly over the past year, including efforts to silence bloggers and clamp down on the Brotherhood for Democracy.
“U.S. policy has failed the Vietnamese people. This is a bipartisan criticism,” Chairman Smith stated in his opening remarks at the hearing. “We have enriched Vietnam’s Communist leaders and coddled their interests at the expense of the hopes and desires of the Vietnamese people of liberty and human rights.”
“The Trump Administration has an opportunity to bring about real reforms in Vietnam if tangible human rights improvements are linked to better U.S.-Vietnam relations,” Rep. Smith stated. [To read Chairman Smith’s full opening statement, click here]
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Witnesses at the hearing told of how, in the past year, the Vietnamese government’s forceful repression of human rights like due process, free speech, and religious freedom, has grown worse as the government has sought greater economic and military cooperation with the U.S.
“The Vietnamese government in 2017 committed what is regarded as an ‘outright assault on freedom and universal human rights,’” Hon. Joseph Cao, former Member of Congress, stated in his testimony before the subcommittee on Thursday. Although Vietnam hosted the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit in 2017, the government “systematically harassed, arrested, imprisoned, and tortured dissidents, democracy activists, bloggers, and religious leaders on unprecedented scale not seen since the end of the Vietnam War,” Cao stated. [To read Cao’s full testimony, click here]
Religious persecution by the government was particularly bad in 2017, stated Nguyen Dinh Thang, Ph.D., Executive Director of Boat People SOS, in his testimony before the subcommittee
“There are worrying signs that Vietnam’s new law on belief and religion, which took effect on the first day of this year, only makes this dire situation worse. The new law restrictively defines religion and belief,” Thang said. “The language of this law and its related implementing decrees is intentionally left so vague that the government may interpret it in whichever way to justify their policies,” he said.
“More stringent registration requirement is the most troubling aspect of this law; it deepens the government’s already tight control of all religions and religious activities,” he stated. [To read Thang’s full testimony, click here]
“Anthony Le,” a spokesperson for the Brotherhood of Democracy, a pro-democracy group in Vietnam, testified at the hearing under an alias. Although he left home in 2015, he said, “I am lucky to have safety here in the United States but my wife and children continue to be harassed, my wife has been attacked by local police within the confines of her home and my children have been detained while travelling to school to question them about me.” [To read the testimony of “Anthony Le,” click here]
“Police have installed 5 cameras around my home in Saigon and anyone who approaches my home is questioned immediately after. No one has come to my home over the past 2 years,” he said.
In order to hold the government accountable for its abuses, the U.S. must tie any cooperation with Vietnam to concrete improvements on human rights, witnesses said.
“Every congressional office, and every federal agency that engages with Vietnam--whether on trade, military assistance, hardware and software transfers, education or any other subject--should be expressing deep concern on human rights to its counterparts,” Ms. Dinah PoKempner, general counsel at Human Rights Watch, stated in her testimony before the subcommittee. “Congress should send delegations to Vietnam who can speak to these concerns face to face.” [To read PoKempner’s full testimony, click here]
Smith also recently introduced H.R. 5621, the bipartisan Vietnam Human Rights Act, to hold accountable Vietnamese officials who are complicit in torture and arbitrary detention and to make sure that human rights concerns are placed at the center of U.S.-Vietnam relations.
“Now that Nguyen Van Dai is released, we will continue to press for the release of an estimated 170 other prisoners of conscience. I will be working with my Congressional colleagues and the Administration to make sure not one prisoner is forgotten,” Smith stated.