GENEVA (Reuters) - Western countries on Wednesday denounced Vietnam’s jailing of bloggers and curbs on the Internet and called on its Communist government to respect basic freedoms of worship and expression.
Britain’s diplomat Ruth Tumer told the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Council that her country regretted “recent trends to control the Internet” and, with diplomats from France and Australia, called for reducing the number of crimes punishable by death and for a moratorium on executions.
“Vietnam still harasses and detains those who exercise universal rights and freedoms, such as freedoms of expression and association,” acting U.S. Ambassador Peter Mulrean said in a debate that was part of the 47-member forum’s scrutiny of the record of all U.N. member states every four years.
The United States was also concerned at restrictions placed on religious freedoms and on forming independent trade unions, the use of child labor and the government’s use of compulsory labor, he said.
Vietnam should “revise vague national security laws that are used to suppress universal rights and unconditionally release all political prisoners”, he said.
Benjamin Ismail of Reporters Without Borders said journalist Pham Chi Dung had been prevented from coming to the U.N. talks, stopped at Saigon airport on Saturday and his passport taken.
“There is a worsening trend, with much more violence and collateral reprisals when families or relatives of bloggers are also targeted in order to dissuade bloggers from discussing activities. Currently we count 34 jailed bloggers,” Ismail said.
But two prominent Vietnamese under house arrest gave testimony in audio messages recorded in secret and aired at an event sponsored by major rights groups in Geneva on Tuesday. Reuters could not verify their authenticity.
Thich Quang Do, patriarch of the banned Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam, said that he remained under house arrest at Thanh Minh Zen Monastery in Saigon and wanted to speak out for all those whose dissenting opinions were being stifled.
“I have spent the past three decades under different forms of detention - 10 years in internal exile, 7 years in prison and the rest under house arrest without charge,” he said.
“What is my ‘crime’? That of calling on Vietnam to respect its people’s rights to freedom of expression, association, peaceful assembly, religion and belief,” he said.
“But I am not alone. In Vietnam today, hundreds of dissidents and human rights defenders are subjected to the torture of house arrest without any due process of law.”
Le Cong Cau, the head of a Buddhist youth movement with 300,000 members, said he had been stopped by police at the airport near Hue in central Vietnam on January 1.
“I am launching this message at the United Nations today as a cry of alarm,” he said. “This may be my last opportunity to speak out, as I am told that I may be arrested in the coming days.”
Some 160 people in Vietnam have been sentenced to a total 1,062 years in prison between May 2009 and June 2013 under “vaguely-worded national security provisions in the criminal code”, the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights said.
“In Vietnam today, planting a bomb or sending an e-mail abroad carries the same punishment,” Vo Van Ai, president of the Paris-based exile group, told reporters.
Vice Foreign Minister Ha Kim Ngoc told the Geneva forum that Vietnam’s policy had always been to protect and promote freedoms, citing booming Internet use, with 30.8 million users and 3 million bloggers.
Editing by Sonya Hepinstall