Vietnam arrests prominent parliamentary official as UN rights envoy visits

By Francesco Guarascio

HANOI (Reuters) -Vietnamese authorities arrested a prominent parliamentary official on suspicion of links to an extortion racket, the ministry of public security said on Wednesday, while a U.N. representative on human rights visited the country.

Luu Binh Nhuong, an outspoken former member of Vietnam’s National Assembly until 2021 and current deputy chair of a parliamentary committee, was arrested on Tuesday night, state media reported.

He was known for occasionally expressing critical opinions about government officials and the security forces.

Nhuong’s detention coincided with a visit to Vietnam of the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the right to development, Surya Deva.

In a press conference on Wednesday at the end of his 10-day visit, Deva warned about “the selective use of the law” by authorities in Vietnam to target some human rights defenders and climate activists.

When asked about Nhuong’s arrest, Deva said he had not been informed, adding: “The government should not use the law as a device to target certain people because of their political or religious views”.

In a subsequent comment sent to Reuters via email, he said it was hard to say from newspaper reports whether he had actually committed the crime or was being framed for his critical views, but because the latter may be inferred by some people, “the government should dispel any perceptions of selectivity in applying the law”.

Vietnam’s ministry of foreign affairs, which is in charge of communicating with foreign media, did not immediately respond to questions about the timing of Nhuong’s arrest.

Reuters was not immediately able to contact people close to Nhuong, and his mobile phone was turned off.

In September, days after U.S. President Joe Biden signed agreements with Vietnam and elevated bilateral relations, an energy expert was detained in the Communist-ruled country for misappropriating government documents.

That followed the arrest of five climate activists since 2021 over tax evasion charges. That apparent crackdown occurred while Hanoi was negotiating with Group of Seven (G7) nations for financial support to reduce the use of coal.

(Reporting by Francesco Guarascio; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore, Robert Birsel)