May 30, 2017
Vietnam’s prime minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc is visiting Washington on May 31 and meeting with President Trump, the latest of a growing list of autocrats Trump has hosted, visited, or praised on the telephone.
After Trump’s glowing endorsement of Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte, his praise of Egypt’s strongman Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, his warm words for Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and cozy visit with the Saudi royal family, one might be tempted to think that the idea of the US promoting human rights in Vietnam is absurd. For decades, even as the United States has steadily strengthened its ties, it has pressured Hanoi on political prisoners, religious liberty, and labor rights. But how can those efforts possibly continue in a Trump administration? Even if the administration cared about human rights, it now lacks credibility.
There are plenty of cases for Vietnam to address. There is the detention of dissident blogger Tran Huynh Duy Thuc, who is serving a 16-year prison sentence for his internet writings and attempts to form a group to promote democracy. The cases of religious activists Ngo Hao and Nguyen Cong Chinh, who are serving 15- and 11-year prison sentences respectively for their advocacy on religious freedom. There is lawyer Nguyen Van Dai, bloggers Nguyen Huu Vinh, Nguyen Dinh Ngoc, Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh (“Mother Mushroom”) and Ho Van Hai, and the longtime human rights advocates Tran Anh Kim and Le Thanh Tung.
When US leaders raise names publicly, it can often lead to those prisoners being treated better in prison—and released sooner. That is reason enough to mention them by name.