UPDATED:  September 13, 2012 2:09 PM
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Promote Human Rights in Vietnam, Advocates Urge President, Congress

By: Jackie Bong-Wright

Above: At Capitol’s Rayburn House Office Building, U.S. Congressman Ed Royce (R-CA), surrounded by some 700 Vietnamese American advocates from all over the U.S., called on the Vietnamese government to free all prisoners of conscience in Vietnam. 
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Washington, D.C.–Area Vietnamese Americans have united to urge President Obama and Congress to stop expanding trade with Vietnam at the expense of human rights.

In a petition to the President–which garnered within two weeks of being posted online, the signatures of over 130,000 Vietnamese Americans and Vietnamese elsewhere–area organizers urged him “to leverage Vietnam’s desire for the Trans-Pacific Partnership and Generalized System of Preferences to force the immediate and unconditional release of all detained human rights champions.”

The petition, formulated by Truc Ho, CEO of California-based SBTN- Saigon Broadcasting Television Network, asked President Obama to stop expanding trade with Vietnam at the expense of human rights. The petition stated: “The Vietnamese government (has) waged a brutal crackdown against human rights advocates.”

Organizers also noted that Vietnam has arrested religious leaders, as well as, most recently, songwriter Viet Khang, who posted two protest songs online. Similar to the Abouzizi incident in Tunisia, Viet Khang’s arrest has lit a flame in the hearts of the three million Vietnamese immigrants overseas.

Last March 5, as a result of the numerous signatures in the petition, organizers met with panels of White House and State Department officials, who focused on dialogue and partnership between the Administration and the Vietnamese American community, amid talk of using global engagement among governments as a measure to promote human rights.

The following day, Dr. Nguyen Dinh Thang, Executive Director of Boat People SOS, a well-known advocacy organization based in the nation’s capital, assisted in organizing about 700 people. These were divided into teams from various states, for visits to almost 435 House and 100 Senate offices.

In a departure from their previous tendency to leave such matters to their elders, many young Vietnamese Americans joined their parents and grandparents to lobby their representatives to pass two bills in the 112th Congress. These are H.R. (House Resolution) 1410, The Vietnam Human Rights Act, and H.R. 484, the Vietnam Human Rights Sanctions Act.

It takes 25,000 signatures on a petition on the White House “We the People” website to get a meeting with White House officials. A Vietnamese American petition reached over 130,000 within two weeks. As a result, 200 Vietnamese Americans were invited to attend a briefing at the White House last March 5.

Organizers also presented the 2011 Human Rights Report, as well as Lists of over 800 specific prisoners compiled by the Vietnam Human Rights Network, to the White House and U.S. Congress.

Similar petitions were sent to governments in Australia, Canada, and Europe. Rallies of thousands of Vietnamese Americans in support of the petition were organized at Lafayette Park outside the White House and elsewhere.

The event has united Vietnamese all over the world, and they have continued to sign the petition. Signatures have topped 149,856 in the seven weeks since the petition was posted on February 7.

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