Every year the United States marks May 11 as Vietnam Human Rights Day to highlight our nation's support for promoting and protecting basic freedoms in that Southeast Asian nation.
While Vietnam's human rights record has improved in recent years, there remain serious concerns. The Vietnamese government, for example, imposes limitations on freedoms of expression, assembly, association, and religion or belief.
Vietnamese authorities apply vague provisions of the penal code to criminalize peaceful expression and unregistered religious activities. There have also been repeated reports of plainclothes police seeking to intimidate and silence government critics.
Courts convicted twelve activists in 2016 for peacefully exercising their views, compared with just two in 2015, and overall there has been an uptick in harassment and arbitrary detention of activists in the past year.Authorities have arrested seven peaceful activists so far in 2017, compared to six in all of 2016.
Among the recent arrests is Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, an outspoken human rights blogger and online activist. She has been held incommunicado since her arrest in October 2016 after blogging about a toxic waste spill, viewed by many as one of the worst environmental disasters in Vietnam\'s history.
The government also recently pressured Internet providers such as Google and Facebook to remove content it finds politically “toxic,” including by pressuring brands to pull their advertisements from the sites.
On a more positive note, Vietnam has made steady, albeit incremental, progress on legal reform. In November 2016, Vietnam's National Assembly passed a new law on belief and religion that relaxed some restrictions on religious communities, but still did not go as far as many hoped. The Vietnamese government has pledged to undertake further legal reforms to bring Vietnam's laws in line with its international human rights and labor commitments.
As U.S Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has made clear, "the United States will continue to advocate for universal values such as human rights and religious freedom," including for the people of Vietnam.