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In Strasbourg, free expression linked to Vietnam diplomacy

There is good news from Strasbourg that follows up on my entry from earlier this week, "European Parliament has chance to take on Vietnam." Today, the European Parliament did exactly that when they unanimously adopted an Urgent Resolution on Vietnam. It was a wide-ranging document, but a large part was devoted the freedom of expression issues that are central to CPJ's concerns. In Article 7, the European Parliament:

... reiterated that the human rights dialogue between the EU and Vietnam should lead to concrete progress on human rights and democratisation; calls, in this respect, on the European Union to consistently raise concerns about human rights violations in Vietnam at the highest levels and to intensify pressure on the Vietnamese authorities to lift Internet and blogging controls and prohibitions on privately owned media, allow groups and individuals to promote human rights and express their opinions and dissent publicly...

While the resolution did not threaten sanctions, the European Parliament is taking an important step in pressing Vietnam for human rights reforms. The resolution also highlights the EU's own need to be more consistent in its interactions with Vietnam, particularly as the two sides negotiate a free-trade agreement. The trade talks have been going on since June 2012 with a tentative deadline set for the end of 2015.

Before the vote this week, CPJ called for the government to "allow opposition grassroots voices--many of them tied to religious or political groups with historical legitimacy going back as far as the Communist Party's. In many ways, the Vietnam conflict of the 20th century was as much a civil war as a war for independence. The country's independence has been settled but, because of suppression of dissident expression, its internal conflict has not."

In our September 2012 special report, Vietnam's press freedom shrinks despite open economy, CPJ offered a series of recommendations that would allow Vietnam's citizens to become participants in international marketplace of ideas. We called for the immediate and unconditional release of all imprisoned journalists; the adoption of reforms to bring Vietnam's laws and practices in line with international standards for freedom of expression; the immediate end to all state censorship of newspapers and other publications; and the halting of arbitrary detention, surveillance, and harassment of journalists.

We also called on the EU and the United States to insist that future political and economic relationships be contingent on Vietnam displaying greater commitment to political openness and demonstrating improvements on press freedom and Internet freedom. The release of imprisoned journalists, we said, should be a condition for enhancing diplomatic, strategic, and commercial engagement with Vietnam, including through new trade and investment pacts.

In the context of today's vote in Strasbourg, those all seem like ideas whose time has come.

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