BANGKOK — Five days of joint US-Vietnam naval exercises that started Monday in Vietnam are the latest signals of growing cooperation between the one-time enemies.But as the US and Vietnam draw closer, the communist government’s human rights record is raising questions among activists whether the US is sufficiently vocal about political, economic, and free speech violations in Vietnam, a single party state.According to Phil Robertson, Deputy Asia Director at Human Rights Watch: “There is a real need for sustained US pressure on Vietnam to free political prisoners, respect freedom of expression and the vibrant blogosphere that is making Vietnam one of the fast growing users of the Internet in South East Asia, and repeal repressive laws that Hanoi uses to quash individuals and groups that the government doesn’t like.”
HO CHI MINH CITY — Late on a Tuesday evening, sitting four floors up in a Ho Chi Minh City cafe overlooking the city’s landmark opera house, a worried man who used the pseudonym Long had the look of someone who thought he was being watched. “I drove around the city for 45 minutes before heading here,” he said, hunched over and leaning forward on his seat in a restaurant that was almost empty. Looking around uneasily, he confided, “I wanted to make sure I wasn’t being followed.” At the heart of Long’s problems, and those of his fellow members of a Mennonite Church offshoot, are what they deem as unfair land seizures that see the government turn over property over to companies as land for factories and apartments. Landowners frequently complain about unfair compensation and criticize the laws on land use, which they say are often abused by corrupt local officials.