HANOI - Authoritarian Vietnam has stepped up an alarming crackdown on domestic dissent even as it seeks a seat on the UN Human Rights Council, Amnesty International said Thursday.
The one-party Communist state is using a raft of draconian legislation to clamp down on a growing number of citizens who seek to question the party's stranglehold on power, the rights group said in a report.
"Vietnam is fast turning into one of Southeast Asia's largest prisons for human rights defenders and other activists," said Amnesty researcher Rupert Abbott.
"The government's alarming clampdown on free speech has to end," he added.
A longstanding crackdown on free speech in Vietnam appears to have accelerated in recent years, Abbott told AFP, even as the region's former pariah Myanmar has released political prisoners.
New technology - around a third of Vietnam's 90 million population is online - changing demographics and a string of high-profile corruption and mismanagement scandals are encouraging more people to "challenge the status quo," Abbott said.
"Vietnam is trying to stop this trend of people wanting more say by putting laws in place to restrict free speech further," Abbott said, referring to Decree 72, which came into effect in September.
The sweeping new Internet law, which bans bloggers and social media users from sharing news stories online, has been criticised as a further suppression of online freedom.
Vietnam, branded an "enemy of the Internet" by Reporters Without Borders, bans private media and controls all newspapers and television channels.
Vietnam's bid for a seat on the UN Human Rights Council, as well as a domestic debate about a series of constitutional amendments, provide a key opportunity to lobby the country's leaders to improve their rights record, Abbott said.
The Amnesty report details the cases of some 75 prisoners of conscience in Vietnam. They include blogger Dieu Cay - imprisoned for 12 years for anti-state propaganda - and activist lawyer Le Quoc Quan, who is serving a 30-month jail term for tax evasion charges criticised as politically motivated.
Amnesty has called upon Vietnam to immediately release all prisoners of conscience.