High-profile Vietnamese Activist Arrested

Dissident’s arrest sparks fears of many to come . . . 

Prominent Vietnam dissident and human rights blogger Pham Doan Trang was arrested late yesterday at her home in Ho Chi Minh City for conducting anti-state propaganda, a charge that carries a maximum 20-year jail term. Trang, a 42-year-old former journalist, has faced state-sanctioned detainment and harassment over the years for her advocacy for human rights and democracy. Her writing addresses various issues, including LGBTQ+ and women’s rights, the environment, and activism. Trang’s arrest came hours after the 24th Annual U.S.-Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue, which discussed co-operation on human rights issues. Some activists say this may be part of an intensified crackdown on dissidents in the lead-up to the Communist Party’s 13th Congress.

Repression and responsiveness in the one-party state . . .

According to Defend the Defenders, an organization that reports and documents human rights violations in Vietnam, the government has so far arrested at least 25 activists and 29 land petitioners this year. The frequent jailing of dissidents is nothing new in Vietnam – in 2018, six prominent activists received harsh prison sentences, which received attention across the country. The explosion of internet access offers citizens of all ages and backgrounds a platform to publicly express their discontent. Although the one-party state severely limits basic freedoms, its response to criticism is not always repression. On certain issues such as labour rights and anti-China sentiments, officials have tolerated and sometimes even accommodated citizens’ demands. Yet crackdowns have been swift when the Party deems individuals or groups to be threats.

Human rights: Souring U.S.-Vietnam relations?

The U.S. has so far not issued any immediate comment on Pham Doan Trang’s arrest. Human rights promotion in Vietnam remains a key element of the U.S.-Vietnam Comprehensive Partnership. As the two nations mark the 25th anniversary of diplomatic relations, ties have never been better, with both Hanoi’s and Washington’s strong opposition to China’s growing assertiveness in the region turning these former enemies into close allies. Vietnamese-Americans have also been vocal in their calls for the U.S. government to pressure Vietnam over human rights violations. The thorny issue of human rights will remain for any president in the Oval Office.