Monday, May 4, 2015

Vietnam: A not so happy anniversary

The Australian Navy’s treatment of 46 Vietnamese asylum seekers in sending them back to their home country last month after a hurried on-sea ‘assessment’ process, was without any real attempt to discover why the people were leaving and what would happen to them when they were returned.

Since then it has been a case of out-of-sight-out-of-mind, with the suggestion from at least one apologist for the action that the asylum seekers were obviously economic migrants as Vietnam had transformed into a stable society that no longer persecuted its citizens.

While the situation has improved in recent years, Vietnam is still ruled by an authoritarian clique that brooks no opposition to its rule and takes action against those who question it.

One such opposing organisation is the Vietnam Reform Party, or Viet Tan, that seeks to bring about democratic reform in the country and which the Vietnamese Government, alone among the nations of the world, regards as a terrorist group. Even the United Nations has stated that Viet Tan is a peaceful organisation which advocates for democratic reform.

That does not stop party members within the country suffering harassment. Viet Tan has published a list of more than 20 individuals who have been barred from leaving the country since 2013. Most recently, the editor of an independent website, Anton Le Ngoc Thanh was stopped from boarding a flight to Manila in March where he was due to speak at a conference promoting an open internet.

His passport was seized and he was never given an official reason why he could not exit the country.

Last year an activist who did slip through the net, Nguyen Dinh Ha, underwent 24 hours of interrogation on his return and had personal possessions, including his laptop and passport, confiscated.

In most cases Vietnam authorities quote a 2007 decree “safeguarding national security, social order and safety”.  This appears in contradiction to the country’s constitution which guarantees freedom of movement.

A few days ago, Vietnam marked the 40th anniversary of the fall of Saigon and the end of the civil war with lavish parades, massed flag-waving and giant video screens extolling the virtues of the Communist Party.

But behind the strutting soldiers and smiling children in national dress there are still many who find it difficult to call Vietnam their country. The fact the Government needs laws to restrict its citizens from coming and going underlines that fact.

Which is why Australian authorities should not have been so fast with their ‘tick and flick and send them back’ policy towards the 46 asylum seekers who finally decided to take matters into their own hands last month.







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