May 6, 2014

Washington (AFP) - A prominent Vietnamese dissident who was freed after an international campaign called Tuesday on Hanoi to overhaul its laws, saying that human rights will only improve through fundamental reforms.

French-trained lawyer Cu Huy Ha Vu, the son of a Vietnamese revolutionary leader, was sentenced in April 2011 to seven years in prison after he took the bold step of suing the prime minister to stop an unpopular mining plan.

Vu, who said that he went on four hunger strikes to protest his conditions, was abruptly released last month and allowed to move with his wife to the United States.

Holding a press conference at the US Congress, Vu credited international pressure for his release. He thanked the United States for its "unrelenting efforts" and also voiced appreciation to European Union governments, Canada, New Zealand, Norway and Switzerland.

But Vu called for the United States, which next week holds its latest human rights dialogue with foe-turned-friend Vietnam, to switch emphasis to press for the repeal of specific laws.

Only such legal reforms would set the path for "the Vietnamese people to see true democracy," he said.

"Up until now, the US government in particular and Western governments in general have viewed Vietnam's release of prisoners of conscience as an indicator of improving human rights conditions," he said.

"Reality has shown that the Vietnamese government releases a number of prisoners of conscience but uses these laws to imprison many other dissidents," he said.

Vu called for Vietnam to repeal Articles 88, 258 and 79 of the penal code, which respectively ban propaganda against the state, taking advantage of freedoms to violate state interests, and actions aimed at overthrowing the government.

Vu said that the laws went against the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as well as human rights guarantees under Vietnam's own constitution.

Vu also called on Vietnam to take further action after it signed in November the UN convention against torture. Vu urged Vietnam to provide compensation for torture victims and to ensure legal counsel for prisoners.

Shortly after Vu's release, Vietnam released two more political activists. But on Monday, authorities arrested a prominent blogger, Nguyen Huu Vinh, for his anti-state articles.

According to Reporters Without Borders, Vietnam has detained at least 34 bloggers -- more than any country except China.

Representative Chris Smith, a longtime human rights activist, welcomed Vu's release but warned: "We should not be fooled into believing that the release of a few dissidents represents real progress on human rights in Vietnam."

"The underlying reality of repression in Vietnam is fundamentally unchanged," he said.