Three U.S. lawmakers have called on U.S. President Donald Trump to raise human rights issues with officials in Vietnam when he travels to the one-party Communist Southeast Asian nation next week for a meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
In a letter dated Feb. 19, U.S. House of Representatives members Zoe Lofgren, Chris Smith, and Alan Lowenthal—co-chairs of the Congressional Caucus on Vietnam—expressed concerns that Hanoi is hosting the second U.S.-North Korea summit scheduled for Feb. 27-28, given Vietnam’s poor rights record.
“Being chosen to host a summit of this magnitude is an honor the Vietnamese government neither merits nor has earned, particularly given its deplorable human rights record, the detention of American citizens, and a new cybersecurity law that has already led to the censorship of social media posts from American and German citizens,” the letter reads.
“We ask you to raise these issues in any discussion you may have with Vietnamese government and Communist Party leaders during your visit. They must not come away from the summit emboldened to expand restrictions on fundamental freedoms, but should know that the Administration views the status quo as unacceptable.”
The lawmakers highlighted what they called Vietnam’s “disturbing record” on prisoners of conscience, pointing to a list released last year by London-based Amnesty International that includes nearly 100 dissidents jailed for expressing views critical of the government, and who they said endure “alarming” treatment in detention.
American citizens have been arrested and reportedly “brutally beaten” during visits to Vietnam, they said, adding that U.S. citizen Michael Phuong Minh Nguyen has been held on what they called “trumped up charges” since July last year.
On July 31, the U.S. Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City Franc Shelton confirmed that Nguyen—a 54-year-old father of four from California—had been arrested and was being held at a detention center in the city while under investigation for “activity against the People’s government,” according to Article 109 of Vietnam’s Penal Code.
His brother-in-law said at a press conference during the time that during the investigation, Nguyen is not allowed any family visits or access to a lawyer, and cannot receive any letters or other written communication, “even from his children.”
Lofgren, Smith and Lowenthal urged Trump in their letter to make Nguyen’s case a priority during his visit “to signal that the Vietnamese government’s actions are unacceptable.”
“If you cannot reconsider the venue of the North Korea summit, we ask that you meet with Vietnamese leaders and make the case why substantive improvements in the protections of religious freedom, free speech, and other basic human rights are a prerequisite for enhanced U.S.-Vietnamese relations,” the letter read.