Vietnam, May 24: U.S. President Barack Obama chided Vietnam on political freedoms on Tuesday after critics of the communist-run government were prevented from meeting him in Hanoi, a discordant note on a trip otherwise steeped in words of amity between the former foes.
Obama announced on Monday that Washington was scrapping its embargo on the sale of lethal arms to Vietnam, clearing the biggest hurdle remaining between two countries that have been drawn together by concern over China’s military build-up.
Critics said that by removing the ban, a vestige of the Vietnam War, Washington had put concerns about Beijing’s assertiveness in the South China Sea first and given up a critical lever to push Hanoi for an improvement in human rights.
One prominent intellectual, Nguyen Quang A, told Reuters that about 10 policemen had come to his house at 6:30 a.m. and put him in a car that was driven out of the capital until Obama was about to leave the capital.
An outspoken lawyer said he was also stopped from joining a meeting that Obama held with six other civil society leaders.
Speaking later, Obama noted that several activists had been blocked from attending and said this was an indication that, despite some “modest” legal reforms “there are still folks who find it very difficult to assemble and organise peacefully around issues that they care deeply about”.
“There are still areas of significant concern in terms of freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, accountability with respect to government,” he said, adding in a speech later that upholding human rights is not a threat to stability.
Quang A, a former IT entrepreneur, was one of more than 100 Vietnamese who tried to run as independents for last weekend’s election to the parliament, which is tightly controlled by the Communist Party. Almost all failed to get on the ballot.
Before he was taken away, Quang A posted on Facebook a photograph of himself dressing for the meeting with Obama, with the message: “Before going. May be intercepted, arrested. Advising so people know.” REUTERS