Rights groups have slammed the Vietnamese government
for thwarting activists' attempts to discuss pressing social issues as they seek better public services for the public, by forcibly breaking up a high-profile conference. Some 100 policymakers and civil society activists were attending a two-day annual conference at Hanoi Club Hotel on Dec. 19 when "the lights went off and the organizers said we had to leave, at the government's request," one of the participants told ucanews.com. The authorities accused the organizers of violating a draconian law written over 70 years ago that requires the government be given at least 24 hours' notice for any gatherings featuring 20 or more people. Amnesty International described the shutdown as an alarming signal of how repression was being stepped up
against civil society groups fighting for change and advocating various civil rights issues. "This is an absurd and shocking crackdown on a well-established, peaceful event," said Minar Pimple
, Amnesty's senior director for global operations. Neither of the previous annual meetings was disrupted in this way, said the organizers, a collective of eight groups including the People's Participation Working Group, the Partnership for Action in Health Equity, and the Group of Public Administration Reform, Human Rights Space. This year's meeting focused on the role of social organizations and assessed how good of a job the state was doing in supplying public services. The conference serves as a platform for domestic civil organizations to discuss ways to advise and engage with the government on proposed solutions to social issues. Rights groups said the latest manifestation of state intervention in a public discussion highlights how the communist government is trying to frustrate the democratic process by clamping down on civic groups
. Minar, who was refused an entry visa to Hanoi in September, said using an arcane wartime decree on holding events in public spaces to stop a private gathering was not justified. He accused the government of violating international law and its own constitution. "The authorities must allow this vital gathering of respected grassroots groups to go ahead, and put an end to this worsening crackdown on civil society groups," Minar said in a statement. In 2017, police in Ho Chi Minh City closed down a workshop on computer security held by local activists.