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US House demands Vietnam free bloggers

WASHINGTON — The US House of Representatives on Wednesday called on Vietnam to free jailed bloggers, voicing concern that the communist country is stepping up curbs on Internet freedom.
From AFP

WASHINGTON — The US House of Representatives on Wednesday called on Vietnam to free jailed bloggers, voicing concern that the communist country is stepping up curbs on Internet freedom.

The House approved a resolution by voice vote calling on Vietnam to free all political prisoners, listing the names of of 18 cyber-activists in custody, and to repeal laws restricting the Internet.

The resolution called on Vietnam “to become a responsible member state of the international community by respecting individuals’ freedom of speech, freedom of press and freedom of political association.”

Representative Loretta Sanchez, who sponsored the resolution, said that the Internet “has become a crucial tool for the citizens of Vietnam to be able to exercise their freedom of expression and association.”

Sanchez — a Democrat whose southern California district has a large Vietnamese-American community — said that US efforts to encourage Vietnam to open up have not been working.

“Unfortunately, instead of improving, the human rights conditions in Vietnam continue to deteriorate and I am concerned that the United States has not yet taken a firm stand against the government of Vietnam’s blatant disregard for human rights,” she said on the House floor.

The United States and Vietnam normalized relations in the mid-1990s, two decades after the end of their war, and have since enjoyed growing economic and political ties.

But the US embassy in Vietnam this month criticized Vietnam’s convictions of nine activists — who were jailed for up to six years for offenses such as displaying pro-democracy banners — triggering a rebuke from Hanoi.

The US embassy also voiced alarm at the expulsions of monks and nuns following revered monk Thich Nhat Hanh from their monastery.

Joseph Cao, the only Vietnamese-American member of Congress, called for the United States to take action “on behalf of Vietnamese citizens who simply hope for a better future.”

“It is vital that the United States take a firm stand against the tyranny of the Vietnamese government and more effectively promote democracy there and throughout the world,” said Cao, a Republican from Louisiana.

He also called for the United States to re-designate Vietnam as a “country of particular concern” on religious freedom, a listing that can carry economic sanctions.

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom, a non-partisan government advisory body, has also called for Vietnam to return to the list, from which it was removed in 2006.

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