Summer in Vietnam is a time of brutal heat. This year it's also a time of political heat for those who want more democracy in the one-party, communist state. The government has launched a major crackdown on dissent. The international community, including the United States, has protested and has been told, politely, it's not their business.
Last month, Vietnam's President Nguyen Minh Triet addressed a laywers' conference in Hanoi and vowed to go after those who "trample democracy and human rights."
Just a week later, one of Vietnam's most respected human rights lawyers, Le Cong Dinh, was arrested. His crime: "Conducting propaganda against the government" and, according to the Vietnamese media, calling for multi-party democracy. Shortly after his arrest, the president gave another speech — one that addressed the international community's criticism of the arrest.
"Every nation has its own laws, and those who violate the laws are punished," Triet announced. "In this case and some others, they say we violate human rights. But we must be strong and firm in rejecting such criticism and act according to our own law."
In short, Vietnam's communist party has no intention of loosening its grip on political power. Dinh's arrest is just one of several in the past few months — the biggest crackdown in years. And almost all of those detained, says Vietnam watcher Carl Thayer of the Australian Defense Force Academy, were associated with the outlawed Democratic Party of Vietnam.
"The most recent arrest was a Vietnamese-American student at the University of Tennessee. Another was an IT graduate from France. These are up-and-coming youth, well-educated, MA degree, law degree, highly literate, computer savvy, and I think the concern is, their ideas can spread," Thayer says.
That might help explain why the government worked so hard and so fast to make its case against Le Cong Dinh in public.
Just days after his arrest, police played videos of Dinh's confession at simultaneous news conferences in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh. The government even provided foreign reporters with DVDs of the confession, all in an effort to show the world — and their own people — that he and his "accomplices" were subversives determined to overthrow the government. The confession was given prominent play in Vietnam's state-controlled electronic media, both on TV and online.
Cracking down on dissent is unlikely to bring that criticism to an end. But it can help contain it — for now.