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Supporters hold signs with names of jailed activists at an event held to call for their release in Hanoi, Vietnam, August 27, 2017. 2017 Kham/Reuters. Human Rights Watch.

Rights Group Urges Australia to Confront Vietnam Over Human Rights Abuses

Why Global Citizen Should Care
Human rights protect people against abuse by those who are more powerful. Vietnam has frequently been internationally criticised for its poor human rights record. You can take action to ensure every person has access to human rights here.

As Vietnam and Australia gather in Hanoi this week for their bilateral summit, the region's Human Rights Watch association has released a collective statement calling on Australia to challenge the Communist Party over its “abysmal human rights record”.

"The Australian government should press the Vietnamese government to release political prisoners and detainees, end repression of free speech, association, and assembly, and take steps to end police brutality," Human Rights Watch announced in a statement Monday, on the eve of the 15th Australia-Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue.

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Human Rights Watch has long highlighted concerns over the nations number and treatment of political prisoners, claiming many are subjected to prolonged periods of isolation and intense physical torture.

At least 28 rights activists have been convicted thus far in 2018, including eight members from the activist organisation Brotherhood of Democracy, who were sentenced to between seven and 15 years in prison. Throughout 2017, 24 rights activists were imprisoned.

"Many Vietnamese are detained or imprisoned for exercising basic rights that Australians take for granted,” said Elaine Pearson, the director of Human Right Watch Australia. "We've seen a surge in lengthy prison sentences handed down to people peacefully calling for democracy and an end to the one-party rule in Vietnam. Australia should pressure Vietnam to set concrete and measurable benchmarks to improve its abysmal rights record.”

The Vietnamese government has also clamped down on news and online freedom within the republic in recent months.

In June, protests erupted across the nation as the National Assembly passed a law on cybersecurity, which will force internet providers to abolish offending content within 24 hours of receiving an appeal from the government and reveal data to officials on demand without a court order. The highly problematic law hinders the right to privacy and heightens government control over online activism and free speech.

“In light of Australia’s Trans-Pacific Partnership with Vietnam — an agreement that includes provisions for protecting personal information – the Australian government should raise concerns about the harmful effects of the cybersecurity law and urge Vietnam to postpone its implementation,” the group announced in the statement.

Australia has previously called out Vietnam over its human rights record. During the 2017 Australia-Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue in Canberra, “robust and constructive” discourse occurred around a "wide range of human rights issues."

"Australia expressed concern regarding ongoing restrictions on civil and political rights, including freedom of expression, association, and assembly," Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade announced in a statement. "Australia reiterated its serious concerns about the harassment, arrest, and detention of human rights activists. Australia raised particular cases of concern."

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In March, former Prime Minister of Australia Malcolm Turnbull and Prime Minister of Vietnam Nguyen Xuan Phuc enhanced bilateral ties by announcing a new strategic partnership aimed at increasing security, education, defence, and development links.  

"These are areas of great strength in our partnership and we will work to advance our cooperation in these fields; just as we work to boost trade and investment and all of the other ties that bring Australia and Vietnam closer together all the time," Turnbull announced at the time of the partnership.

Vietnam, a country of 92 million people, is Australia’s eighth-largest trading partner, whilst Australia is Vietnam's 15th largest. The nation is regulated by the 1992 Constitution, which details that the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam is the “force leading the State and society.”