France asked to put “forbidden” questions to visiting Vietnamese leader

When Vietnamese Communist Party general secretary Nguyen Phu Trong visits France next week, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on the French authorities to ask him the questions that are forbidden in Vietnam, questions about his crackdown on the freedom to inform in his country.

Scheduled to arrive in Paris on 25 March for an official two-day visit at President Emmanuel Macron’s invitation, Trong has much more power than Vietnam’s president or prime minister. As the country’s real leader, he bears more responsibility than anyone else for the persecution of journalists and bloggers since his faction seized power within the party in 2016.

Trong’s visit marks the fifth anniversary of the strategic partnership between France and Vietnam, the aim of which is “reinforcement of the relationship in all domains.” But respect for the freedom to inform has until now been the partnership’s big omission.

“What is the point of this ‘strategic partnership’ if press freedom is missing?” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk. “We call on the French authorities to ask the party’s general secretary the questions that are forbidden in his country, the questions that get Vietnamese journalists imprisoned if they dare to ask them.”

When does Vietnam plan to end the series of arrests and sham trials of bloggers that it launched in late 2016?

Since the start of 2017, more than 20 citizen-journalists have been arrested, deported or sentenced to nine, ten or even 14 years in prison just for trying to inform the public. The trials in which these sentences have been imposed never last more four hours. The defence is systematically sidelined. This is the worst crackdown on the freedom to inform in more than 20 years.

How does Vietnam justify the appalling conditions that citizen-journalists must endure in its prisons?

According to their families, they are subjected to shocking conditions that include forced labour and lack of medical care. The health of many imprisoned citizen-journalists, including the bloggers Nguyen Van Dai and Me Nam, is deteriorating alarmingly. Their mental health is also endangered by isolation. They are often taken to prison a thousand kilometres from their families.

What is Vietnam’s response to calls by European parliamentarians to block ratification of the Europe Union’s free trade agreement with Vietnam?

The European Parliament adopted an emergency resolution last December demanding the release of citizen-journalists wrongfully detained in Vietnam. The free trade agreement was supposed to be approved in the coming months and come into effect by the end of 2018. But many MEPs now question whether the EU should have such an agreement with a country that has of late become one of the worst enemies of the freedom to inform.

RSF issued a joint statement (attached) with two other organizations today calling on the French authorities raise the issue of human rights in Vietnam with complete frankness during General Secretary Trong’s visit.

Vietnam is one of the bottom ten (175th out of 180 countries) in RSF's 2017 World Press Freedom Index.

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Updated on 23.03.2018