HANOI: A Vietnamese activist Tuesday said he had been stopped by authorities from meeting Barack Obama as the US leader prepares to engage with rights campaigners in the tightly controlled communist nation.
Obama is currently visiting Vietnam and is expected to meet civil society leaders, including some of the country’s long-harassed critics, on Tuesday morning.
So far during his trip he has only lightly touched on the thorny subject of Vietnam’s still dismal human rights record.
Lawyer Ha Huy Son, who has defended multiple dissidents in court, said he had been invited to meet Obama at the US embassy in Hanoi on Tuesday morning but had been stopped from going.
“Security people have been guarding me at my home for the last two days,“ he told AFP. “Now they let me out but they have stopped me from going towards the road where the US embassy is.”
“They said I could go anywhere else but not to the embassy. And they are still following and watching me,” he added.
Activists on social media said two other prominent critics of the communist authorities, banker turned dissident Nguyen Quang A and blogger Pham Doan Trang, had been taken away by security officers.
Neither were answering their phones Tuesday morning. The authorities were also not reachable for comment.
On Monday, Obama announced he was scrapping a Cold War-era ban on weapons sales to Vietnam, as ties between the former foes grow closer thanks to trade and mutual fears of Chinese expansion in disputed seas.
Obama said the decision was part of the ongoing “normalisation” of ties between two countries that have seen a remarkable transition from wartime foes to allies.
But rights groups criticised the decision, saying the US had given away one of its key bargaining chips to push Vietnam to improve its treatment of dissidents.
The one-party state ruthlessly cracks down on protests, jails dissidents, bans trade unions and controls local media.
In a muted reference to its parlous rights situation on Monday, Obama said Washington still had differences with Vietnam on human rights but “modest progress” had been made, something that rights groups rounded on.
The visit is Obama’s first to the country -- and the third by a sitting president since the end of the Vietnam War in 1975. Direct US involvement in the conflict ended in 1973. -AFP
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