March 12, 2008 / 10:40 PM / 12 years ago

U.S. to keep pressing Vietnam on jailed activists

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States will use human rights talks with Vietnam in May to press for the release of political prisoners, including a U.S. citizen jailed last year, the top U.S. diplomat for Asia said on Wednesday.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Chris Hill, who visited Hanoi this month, told a U.S. Senate hearing he had raised the jailings of Nguyen Quoc Quan of California and other democracy activists with Vietnamese authorities and would keep on pressing these and other cases.

“We will continue to push vigorously for a greater expansion of the civil and political rights of all Vietnamese citizens and for the release of all political prisoners,” Hill said in a written statement to the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.

Hill testified before the Subcommittee on East Asian and Pacific Affairs a day after the State Department’s annual report on human rights conditions around the world said the situation in Vietnam in 2007 “remained unsatisfactory.”

“The government continued its crackdown on dissent, arresting a number of political activists and disrupting nascent opposition organizations, causing several political dissidents to flee the country,” that report said.

Hill told the subcommittee that economic and social reforms had given Vietnamese more freedom than they had enjoyed since 1975, “but there is no question that serious deficiencies remain in political and civil liberties.”

U.S. officials in May plan to conduct bilateral human rights talks in Hanoi — the third since the countries normalized relations in 1995, 20 years after the end of the Vietnam War — “without pulling any punches at all,” Hill said.

Do Hoang Diem, head of the pro-democracy group Viet Tan, whose activists were arrested last November, told the panel that Communist Vietnam’s nascent democracy movement was growing similar to those of Czechoslovakia and Poland decades earlier.

Describing last year’s arrests the worst crackdown in 20 years, he said: “Scores of democracy leaders have been imprisoned; others put under house arrest or subjected to constant harassment by the police.”

Reporting by Paul Eckert; Editing by Cynthia Osterman

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