HANOI, April 21 2006 (AFP) – A top EU diplomat said Friday she would discuss human rights and push for the release of jailed political and religious dissidents when she meets Vietnam’s communist leaders.
The European commissioner for external relations, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, was due to meet Prime Minister Phan Van Khai and Foreign Minister Nguyen Dy Nien during her two-day visit, which comes during the ruling party’s five-yearly congress.
Activists for freedom of speech and religion earlier called on Ferrero-Waldner to urge Khai and other leaders to release five jailed cyber-dissidents and two Buddhist leaders under de facto house arrest.
“Certainly, that is clear,” Ferrero-Waldner told AFP when asked whether human rights issues would be on the table. “We always talk about different detainees and we have a special human rights dialogue”.
Vietnam says it is not holding prisoners of conscience, only criminals.
Ferrero-Waldner said she welcomed the release of several detainees recently.
“Obviously, there are still a number of issues: the lack of freedom of expression, freedom of the press, the death penalty, religions … all of these questions will be among the items absolutely on the agenda.
“We usually do convey a list” of prisoners of conscience… We will talk specifically, but also in general terms,” she said.
Earlier, Vo Van Ai, president of the Paris-based Vietnam Committee on Human Rights, wrote to Ferrero-Waldner, asking her to appeal for the release from house arrest of detained Buddhist dissidents Thich Huyen Quang, 86, and Thich Quang Do, 77.
Quang, patriarch of the banned Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV), and his deputy Do have both spent decades under effective house arrest in their monasteries for promoting religious freedom and human rights, Ai said.
“The Vietnamese government claims that these prominent Buddhists are free, yet in February 2006 Thich Quang Do was arrested, assaulted by security police and forcibly returned to his monastery as he attempted to travel to Binh Dinh (province) to visit the UBCV patriarch,” Ai wrote.
Media rights watchdog Reporters without Borders (RSF) also wrote to Ferrero-Waldner, urging her to push for the release of jailed cyber-dissidents Pham Hong Son, Nguyen Vu Binh, Truong Quoc Tuan, Truong Quoc Huy and Lisa Pham.
The five “are being held for speaking out in support of democracy in articles posted on websites and discussion forums,” the Paris-based group said.
RSF said three of the cyber-dissidents — Tuan, Huy and Pham — were arrested in Ho Chi Minh City last October after discussing democracy in an online forum and have not been heard from since.
Son was arrested in March 2002 for spying because he translated articles about democracy and human rights and posted them online, said the group, adding that he was now seriously ill.
Binh is a former journalist with a communist party newspaper who was arrested later the same year, accused of links with “subversive dissidents” as well as criticising a Chinese-Vietnamese border agreement.
“Vietnam should be required to make progress in the areas of human rights and freedom of expression as a prior condition for membership of the World Trade Organisation, to which it aspires,” RSF said.