Since normalizing diplomatic relations in 1995, the United States and Vietnam have significantly expanded the scope and depth of their dealings in many areas, including trade, security, environment, health and regional cooperation. Progress on human rights issues, however, continues to lag in the Southeast Asian nation. Vaguely worded laws enacted to protect state security have been used to intimidate and in many cases imprison peaceful political and religious activists. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other top U.S. officials have made it clear that progress on human rights is needed to build closer relations between our two countries.
In one of the latest incidents of human rights abuses, the pastor of an outlawed Christian church was sentenced to 11 years in prison for allegedly sowing division between the communist government and the Vietnamese people. Nguyen Cong Chinh, 43 years old, was convicted of undermining the government policy of unity at his trial in the Central Highlands province of Gia Lai.
The Vietnamese government maintains tight control of many areas of civil society and does not accept attempts to create a more politically tolerant environment. The court convicted Pastor Chinh of authoring and disseminating documents that allegedly slandered authorities. Prosecutors also said he collaborated with “reactionary groups” and incited ethnic minorities to commit wrongdoing.
The United States is deeply troubled by Pastor Chinh’s arrest, conviction and sentencing. This case reflects a wider deterioration of human rights conditions in Vietnam. We call on the Vietnamese government to release all facts of the case in the interest of transparency and judicial accountability.
If our two nations are to build on the significant progress that we have made in bilateral relations, improvement in and greater respect for human rights there is needed. We continue to urge Vietnam to allow its citizens to exercise their universally recognized human rights.