In the past couple of weeks, Viet Nam has released 3 prominent prisoners of conscience: Nguyen Tien Trung, Vi Duc Hoi and Cu Huy Ha Vu.
The release of the 3 prisoners seems, at first glance, to be a step in the right direction for human rights. But, is this Viet Nam playing the old “shell game?”
In the shell game, a swindler on the street puts a pea under one of three shells. The shells are shuffled around. Someone in the audience makes a bet as to where the pea is hiding. The swindler uses sleight of hand to move the pea in his favor, thus taking the bettor’s money.
Viet Nam plays its shell game by having revolving prison doors. The government moves prisoners of conscience in and out of prison, whenever it seems like a favorable move.
Just earlier this month, prominent activist Dinh Dang Dinh passed away. Mr. Dinh was jailed in 2011 after petitioning against a mining project. He was treated in a hospital for cancer in January 2014 and permanently released from prison in March 2014. He died shortly after his release.
Despite the positive news of the release of the prisoners, Viet Nam is making slow progress. Viet Nam and the U.S. are currently negotiating a free trade deal, the Trans Pacific-Partnership. In his visit to Viet Nam last year, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry urged Viet Nam to make “progress on human rights and freedom, including the freedom of religion, the freedom of expression and the freedom of association.”
The latest release of prisoners may merely be a publicity stunt by the Vietnamese government in order to gain leverage with TPP negotiations. More needs to be done for human rights in Viet Nam.
Nguyen Tien Trung had been in prison for more than 4 years. He was sentenced to prison following his pro-democracy activism, charged with “attempting to overthrow the people’s administration.”
Vi Duc Hoi was once a member of the Communist Party. He was thrown out after calling for democratic reform and later arrested for using the internet to promote democracy.
Human rights lawyer Cu Huy Ha Vu was arrested and sentenced to 7 years imprisonment for promoting anti-state propaganda, after calling for democratic reforms. He was released after 3 years and is now in the U.S., where he will live in voluntary exile.
There are still many other silenced voices in Viet Nam, including bloggers, political activists, labor activists and religious leaders. Just last month, 2 dissident bloggers were sentenced to prison for their criticism of the government.
Although we can be happy with the news of the recent release of the 3 prisoners, we must continue to fight for those who are still imprisoned, including Tran Huynh Duy Thuc. He remains in prison, sentenced to 16 years for blogging about political issues. Viet Nam needs to stop playing this shell game.