U.S. Condemns Vietnam, Syria for Detaining Political Activists

By Ed Johnson

May 12 (Bloomberg) — The U.S. condemned Syria and Vietnam for their crackdown on political activists after pro-democracy campaigners were arrested in the two countries.

“All political prisoners in Syria should be released immediately,” White House spokesman Tony Snow said in a statement yesterday, adding President Bashar al-Assad’s government “continues to suppress dissent.”

Snow also called for democratic progress in Vietnam and said the Bush administration is concerned that authorities prevented Vietnamese citizens from attending meetings at the U.S. ambassador’s residence in Hanoi with a visiting member of the U.S. Congress.

President George W. Bush’s administration has previously criticized the human rights records of the two nations. In a speech in December, Bush called on the government in Damascus to free political prisoners. The U.S. State Department said in a March report that Vietnam’s human rights record in 2006 was “unsatisfactory.”

In yesterday’s statement, the White House condemned the recent sentencing of democracy activists Anwar al-Bunni and Kamal Labwani in Syria to “long terms of imprisonment” and said it is “alarmed by reports that they have been subjected to inhumane prison conditions.”

Syrian-U.S. Relations

Relations between the Bush administration and al-Assad’s government are strained. The U.S. has accused Syria of allowing insurgents to cross the border into Iraq to fight coalition troops. The administration also implicated Syria in the 2005 car-bomb killing of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. Hariri had been pressing for the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon, where they had been stationed since 1990. Syria denies both accusations.

U.S.-Vietnamese relations have improved steadily in recent years, although the U.S. continues to criticize limitations on freedom of speech and other alleged human rights violations. In its March report, the State Department noted “a change in attitude” on human rights and improved conditions for religious believers.

The White House criticized the “increasing incidence of arrest and detention” of political activists, including Nguyen Van Ly and Le Quoc Quan.

“As Vietnam’s economy and society reform and move forward, such repression of individuals for their views is anachronistic and out of keeping with Vietnam’s desire to prosper, modernize and take a more prominent role in world affairs,” said Snow in the statement.

To contact the reporter on this story: Ed Johnson in Sydney at ejohnson28@bloomberg.net .

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