PARIS 24 February 2017 (VCHR) – A delegation of Members of the European Parliament visiting Vietnam from 20-24 February 2017 expressed serious concerns about violations of social and political rights including freedom of expression and association, freedom of religion or belief and freedom of the press. They said they were prevented from meeting prisoners of conscience and independent religious groups, and that several bloggers, human rights defenders and independent civil society activists were “harassed and persecuted” to prevent them meeting the MEPs.
The cross party delegation was made up of members of the European Parliament’s Subcommittee on human rights, led by its Chairman Pier Antonio Panzeri (Italy, S&D) and including Soyara Post (Sweden, S&D), David Martin (UK, S&D), Lars Adaktusson (Sweden, EPP), Adam Kosa (Hungary, EPP) and Beatriz Becerra Basterrechea (Spain, ALDE). The objective of the mission was to assess the human rights situation in Vietnam and raise the human rights impact on the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (FTA). The FTA, which was approved in December 2015, has still not been ratified by the European Parliament.
At a Press Conference in Hanoi on Thursday, Mr. Panzeri said that repression of free speech, lack of transparency in the legal system and restrictions on human rights were serious obstacles to ratification of the FTA. “We need progress in human and social rights”, he said. “But at this time progress has not been made. We have told the Vietnamese authorities that it will be extremely difficult to approve [the trade agreement] under these circumstances”.
MEP Lars Adaktusson said delegation had also raised concerns about lack of media freedom in Vietnam’s one-Party state: “We were also very clear that freedom of the press is one of the areas the government of Vietnam needs to do much more about”, he said.
Regarding religious freedom, the EP delegation stated: “We called on the authorities to put an end to religious persecutions and to ensure that newly – adopted law on freedom of religion or belief from November 2016 fully complies with the international standards. We expressed concerns about the registration at the “fatherland front” which excludes independence from the political system”
In separate interviews, MEPs Beatriz Becerra and Soraya Post denounced Police harassment of civil society activists during the visit. “We met some civil society organizations when we arrived in Hanoi on Monday, and when we met them again today [Thursday], they told us they had been under surveillance, threatened and harassed. We had a meeting with the Ministry of Public Security today, I would call it a historic meeting, where we very clearly expressed our very serious concerns about this harassment of civil society”, Ms Becerra said.
Before the visit, the delegation formally requested to visit prisoners of conscience, including human rights lawyer Nguyễn Văn Đài in Hanoi and Buddhist monk Thích Quảng Độ in Saigon. They also asked that members of non-recognized religious groups such as the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV) be allowed to attend the meetings with official religious bodies. But Ms Becerra said that did not happen: “We only met the Government Board of Religious Affairs, and we did not visit any prisoners. The government said it was against the law to visit prisoners under investigation. But we clearly expressed our concerns about that, and made our expectations very clear that Vietnam must respect international standards in the treatment of prisoners, because these international standards are the basis for any international agreement”.
“We are in the process of ratifying the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement in the European Parliament, and, given the strong opposition in Europe for this kind of Free Trade Agreement, we will have problems in getting it accepted unless we have a strong message from Vietnam and a clear, concrete roadmap to improve this situation,” she said.
MEP Soroya Post said that “conditions [of human rights] are very bad.” The delegation was unable to travel to Saigon to meet Buddhist monk Thích Quảng Độ. “We were not allowed to meet any members of independent religious groups. The ones we met told us they were free and independent, because they said there was a new law on belief and religion. But these groups were all registered, so we know they come under the umbrella of political power”.
Ms Post also stressed the delegations’ concern for Vietnam’s broad definition of “national security”. “We asked the Ministry of Public Security to be more clear about what they mean by that. We do not see how demonstrations or bloggers can be considered a threat to national security”.
She added that the EP delegation had handed the Vietnamese authorities a list of prisoners including religious leaders, bloggers, human rights defenders and environmental defenders, calling for their immediate and unconditional release.
This post is also available in: Vietnamese