As President Bill Clinton prepares to visit Vietnam on 16 November, Human Rights Watch (HRW) urges him to prioritise human rights and free expression issues in his discussions with authorities. While Vietnam has recently made some progressive moves towards greater freedoms with its release of many political detainees, the government "continues to seriously curtail fundamental freedoms - particularly freedom of expression by dissidents and freedom of association by independent religious groups and trade unions," says HRW. Among its other recommendations, HRW urges the US government to demand that Vietnam immediately release all political and religious prisoners, and "end its censorship and control over the domestic media, including the Internet and electronic communications, recognizing that a free press is essential in promoting civil and political rights." In particular, HRW suggests that the Vietnamese government amend or repeal its 1999 Press Law and its 1993 Law on Publications, both of which "limit the right of the domestic and foreign press to report independently and accurately without penalties or censorship."
In addition, on 10 November, the Freedom House Center for Religious Freedom uncovered eight official Vietnamese documents that show "a concerted and ongoing government campaign to arrest and reverse the country's growing Christian movements, particularly among minority peoples in the northwest provinces, where hundreds of thousands have converted to Christianity over the past decade." The documents include statements such as "we must carefully control the thinking and the activities of the religions" and others that forbid citizens from listening to foreign religious broadcasts. The documents, dating from 7 February 1998 to 6 June 2000, can be viewed at the Center's website: http://freedomhouse.org/religion/