The European Parliament is demanding the immediate release in Vietnam of three journalists jailed this month on anti-state charges, calling respect for freedom of expression an essential element of a free trade agreement signed between the EU and Vietnam in 2019.
“Parliament calls on the Vietnamese government to immediately and unconditionally release human rights defenders Pham Chi Dung, Nguyen Tuong Thuy and Le Huu Minh Tuan, as well as all others detained and sentenced in the country for merely exercising their right to freedom of expression,” the European Parliament said in a Jan. 21 statement.
“Respect for human rights constitutes a key foundation of the bilateral relations between Vietnam and the EU and is an essential element of the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement,” the Parliament said in a resolution approved by lawmakers with 592 votes in favor, 32 against, and 58 abstentions.
“Parliament calls on all involved parties to make use of the existing EU-Vietnam agreements to improve the human rights situation in the country,” the Parliament said.
Signed in June 2019, the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA) will eliminate 99 percent of tariffs on goods between the EU and the Southeast Asian country, which sent the EU $42.5 billion worth of goods, mostly garments and footwear products, in 2018.
The vote to approve the agreement was made over the objections of international and Vietnamese NGOs who had urged lawmakers to postpone consent on the agreement until Vietnam’s government agrees to protect the rights of workers and ensure human rights in the one-party communist state.
Worsening rights record
European lawmakers on Jan. 21 condemned what they called Vietnam’s worsening human rights record, with some calling for tariffs between the EU and Vietnam to be restored.
“The EU has recently extended its hand to Vietnam with a Free Trade Agreement which widens the horizons for companies in Vietnam and Europe. But we cannot ignore the violations of human rights currently happening in our economic partners,” said Adam Bielan, a Polish lawmaker and member of the European Conservatives and Reformists group.
“So today we call on the Vietnamese authorities to immediately release the 3 journalists as well as all journalists, bloggers and human rights defenders currently detained for trying to express their opinions,” Bielan said.
Pham Chi Dung, Nguyen Tuong Thuy, and Le Huu Minh Tuan—all members of the Vietnam Independent Journalists Association—were convicted in Ho Chi Minh City on Jan. 5 on charges of anti-state activity under Article 117 of Vietnam’s Penal Code, with Nguyen, a blogger for six years for RFA, sentenced to an 11-year prison term.
Pham Chi Dung, who had corresponded with the European Parliament on rights issues in connection with the trade deal, received a 15-year sentence, while Le Huu Minh Tuan was jailed for 11 years.
Call to end Agreement
Belgian parliamentarian and president of the European Parliament’s subcommittee on human rights Maria Arena said on Jan. 21 that she will not now speak out to the “authoritarian Vietnamese Communist regime” about the parliament’s concern, “because I do not believe Vietnam has any intention of changing the situation of human rights.”
“But I do speak out to European democracy,” Arena said.
On Feb. 12, 2020, the European Parliament ratified the EVFTA in spite of reporting by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch on Hanoi’s “crimes and violations of the rights of [the] Vietnamese people,” she said.
“These serious violations exist. They existed before, and they will exist in the future. Therefore, I ask for the suspension of EVFTA and all preferential trade agreements with Vietnam,” Arena said.
EU activity on the international scene is based on values “that it aims to promote in the rest of the world—democracy, the rule of law, [and] the universality and indivisibility of human rights and fundamental freedoms,” added Pascal Durand, a lawmaker in the European Parliament and member of France’s Renew party.
These values and principles should always be respected and applied in practice, Durand said.
“Or, failing that, by intellectual honesty, let’s add a paragraph or two to the Treaty, let’s say that its principles do not apply when markets, profits and European interests are at stake.”