Vietnam has denied entry to two prominent human rights advocates invited to speak at the World Economic Forum on ASEAN hosted by the Southeast Asian nation, in what rights groups say is a continued crackdown on those critical of the repressive government’s dismal human rights record and an attack on freedom of expression.
Minar Pimple, senior director of global operations at London-based Amnesty International, and Debbie Stothard, general secretary of the Paris-based International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH), were turned away by immigration officials at Noi Bai International Airport in Hanoi on Monday.
Amnesty called the barring of Pimple, who is scheduled to speak on diversity and pluralism at the Sept. 11-13 event, “further evidence of the Vietnamese government’s ongoing crackdown against freedom of expression.”
The Vietnamese government informed World Economic Forum officials that Pimple’s visa was designated for refusal, Amnesty said in a statement issued Monday.
“We condemn this decision to stifle debate from a regular contributor to the WEF who has spoken at the highest levels on human rights issues around the world,” Amnesty’s secretary general Kumi Naidoo said.
“This comes at a time when freedom of expression is under deep threat in Vietnam,” he said. “The government’s actions undermine an event that depends on a plurality of views, and they are giving ASEAN a bad name.”
Immigration authorities prevented Stothard, who was scheduled to participate on the panel “Innovation under Stress,” from entering Vietnam upon her arrival at the Hanoi airport, under Article 21(9) of a 2014 law on the entry and exit of foreigners. The article bars foreign nationals from entering Vietnam for reasons of “national defense, security or social order and safety.”
Stothard was detained overnight before authorities deported her to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, according to a statement by The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint partnership of the FIDH and the World Organization Against Torture.
“The Observatory strongly condemns Ms. Stothard’s detention and imminent deportation, which seems aimed at punishing her for her legitimate human rights activities in the region,” the statement said.
Pressure on Japan
Vietnam’s one-party communist government is currently detaining at least 130 political prisoners, including rights advocates and bloggers deemed threats to national security, according to New York-based Human Rights Watch. It also controls all media, censors the internet, and restricts basic freedoms of expression.
During the first eight months of 2018, at least 28 rights activists and bloggers have been put on trial, convicted, and sentenced to long prison terms, including prominent blogger and democracy advocate Tran Huynh Duy Thuc.
Thuc, who is serving a 16-year sentence, has been on a hunger strike for nearly a month to protest police pressure on him to plead guilty in exchange for amnesty.
On Sunday, HRW sent a letter to Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono, urging him to raise human rights issues with Vietnam's Deputy Prime Minister Pham Binh Minh, while Taro is in Hanoi on an official visit on Sept. 13.
“We urge you to publicly highlight the cases of political prisoners and strongly convey that improving Japan-Vietnam relations will require improvements to Vietnam’s human rights record,” said the statement by Brad Adams, HRW’s Asia director.
Adams appealed to Kono to pressure Vietnam to improve its human rights record as part of their bilateral discussions.
“As the largest bilateral donor to Vietnam, and as a large export market for goods produced in Vietnam, Japan is uniquely positioned to encourage the Vietnamese government to improve its abysmal human rights record,” he said in the letter.
The Geneva, Switzerland-based World Economic Forum hosts regional meeting annually where business, political, and academic leaders discuss global, regional, and industry issues.
Dignitaries from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries and from other nations, leaders of around 1,000 leading ASEAN companies, and hundreds of foreign correspondents will attend the forum in Hanoi, according to Viet Nam News, the national English-language daily.