Hanoi. A Vietnamese blogger said on Wednesday that authorities had banned him from traveling to the United States to collect a rights award on behalf of his father and sister, a move criticized by Human Rights Watch and the US Embassy.
Huynh Trong Hieu, 24, said he was attempting to check in at Ho Chi Minh City airport on Sunday when immigration officials confiscated his passport and ticket.
“The authorities want to show everyone that if you try to fight for democracy [in Vietnam], you will be kept under pressure,” Hieu, a second-year law student who runs a pro-democracy blog, told AFP on Wednesday.
Hieu was on his way to the United States to accept the Hellman-Hammett prize from HRW on behalf of his father Huynh Ngoc Tuan and sister Huynh Thuc Vy, both prominent pro-democracy bloggers in Vietnam.
Tuan and Vy are not officially under arrest but Hieu told AFP they were routinely harassed by police.
“The Vietnam government’s banning of Hieu from traveling just compounds the rights violations they have already visited on the Huynh family for exercising their right to free speech,” said Phil Robertson, HRW’s Asia deputy director.
“It shows the depth of intolerance the Vietnamese authorities have for anyone brave enough to challenge the official line.”
The US Embassy said on Tuesday it was “troubled” by the ban on Hieu traveling to the United States. It urged the government to “allow his family and all Vietnamese to peacefully express their views without fear of retribution.”
Vietnam routinely arrests and imprisons pro-democracy activists, with dozens of bloggers, lawyers and other activists currently serving lengthy jail terms for their writing or for involvement in peaceful protest.
HRW says Vietnam, where the Communist Party forbids political debate, has jailed at least 10 activists this year while at least seven other bloggers and activists are awaiting trial.
On Monday, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung urged police to fight against “hostile forces” whom he said could be planning to incite violence against the state.
The police must crack down on “opposition political organizations that run counter to the benefits of the country and the people,” Dung said, according to a statement on the government website.
Vietnamese Blogger Prevented From Traveling to US
Vietnamese authorities stopped a blogger from flying to the United States to pick up a human rights award on behalf of his father and sister, triggering criticism from the US embassy.
Huynh Trong Hieu said Wednesday that police detained him at Ho Chi Minh City airport on Sunday night as he was checking in.
They questioned him for two hours and took his passport, which had a valid American visa. He was then released.
“I was prepared for the fact that they would ban me from leaving the country as they had prevented many people who dared to promote democracy and human rights in Vietnam,” Hieu said by telephone. “By banning those people from leaving the country, the government wants to give a warning to others that they have the authority to decide the fate of all its citizens.”
Vietnamese authorities declined immediate comment.
Vietnam converted to a market economy in the late 1980s and wants to integrate with the world, but maintains strict controls on freedom of speech and political expression. Bloggers, activists and others are routinely arrested and imprisoned. Foreign media representatives are allowed to live in the country but are subject to restrictions on where they can travel and what they can report.
Hieu was flying to the United States to receive a Hellman-Hammett award from Human Rights Watch on behalf of his father Huynh Ngoc Tuan and sister Huynh Thuc Vy, who are both prominent bloggers. Each year, the group gives cash grants to selected writers for their commitment to free expression in the face of government persecution.
Hieu said he was traveling on behalf of his father and sister because they both knew they wouldn’t be allowed to leave.
The United States is seeking closer ties with Vietnam, in large part because it shares concerns with Hanoi over China’s increasing assertiveness in Southeast Asia. But it is vocal in its criticism of the country’s human rights record, which most observers say is getting worse.
“We are troubled by the intervention of Vietnamese authorities to prevent Huynh Trong Hieu from traveling to the United States,” the embassy said in a statement. “We urge the Vietnamese government to lift travel restrictions on Mr. Hieu and take steps to allow his family and all Vietnamese to peacefully express their views without fear of retribution.”