The General Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam, Mr Nguyen Phu Trong, will today begin a two-day official visit to the UK to celebrate forty years of diplomatic relations between the two countries. English PEN has written to the Prime Minister urging him to use this visit as an opportunity to highlight the worsening situation for writers and free expression in Vietnam.
The situation for writers and social activists in Vietnam has long been a source of concern for the international human rights community, and has notably deteriorated in recent years. According to Reporters Without Borders, Vietnam is now the world’s third biggest jailer of netizens, and was ranked 172 out of 179 countries in their most recent Press Freedom Index. However, it is not only Vietnam’s internet writers and activists who are behind bars for the peaceful expression of their views. According to the latest PEN International Writers in Prison Committee case list, there are currently more than twenty writers, including journalists, poets, scholars, novelists, essayists, academics and editors, detained in Vietnam.
The recent conviction and harsh sentencing of a further 13 Vietnamese activists, on 8-9 January 2013, provoked an outcry from the international community. We were pleased to see that both the EU and the UN voiced their concerns about the outcome of this trial, echoing those expressed in an open letter signed by our colleagues at PEN International and more than 20 other members of IFEX, the International Freedom of Expression Exchange network.
We know from our previous work on behalf of Vietnamese cases of concern, in particular our former Honorary Member editor Tran Khai Than Thuy who is now living in exile in the United States, that pressure from the international community really can make a difference. As such, we hope that the Prime Minister will see fit to raise these issues with Mr Nguyen Phu Trong during his trip to the UK, and to call for the immediate and unconditional release of all those currently detained for the peaceful expression their opinions, in violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to which Vietnam is a signatory.