The US House of Representatives called on Vietnam on Friday to free jailed cyber-dissident Pham Hong Son and other democracy and religious activists.
In a near-unanimous resolution, the House said that US authorities should inform Hanoi that if it wishes to join the WTO, it must adhere to the rule of law and respect freedom of the press.
The resolution also said that the detention of Pham and some 30 others named, and continuing human rights violations, are not in Vietnam's interest and remain an obstacle to better relations between Washington and Hanoi.
US President George W. Bush is scheduled to attend an APEC summit in Vietnam in November.
"America cannot turn our back on those who fight oppression by voicing their support of freedom and democracy like Dr Son," said Republican Representative Chris Smith, who went to Vietnam in December and met with Son's wife.
"Vietnam is at a critical crossroads and is seeking to expand its trade relations with the US and join the WTO. There will be no better time to convince Vietnam of the seriousness of our human rights concerns," said Smith, who wrote the resolution.
Meanwhile, Democratic lawmaker Loretta Sanchez, the representative from California, on Friday rejected a travel visa granted by the Vietnamese authorities with "restrictive conditions" on her visit to the country, her office said.
"She was given a visa for a specific period, which means she has to cut short her schedule, so she cannot travel to Saigon [Ho Chi Minh City] to meet with dissident groups and pro-democracy supporters," her spokeswoman Carrie Brooks said.
Sanchez is an outspoken critic of Hanoi's human-rights record, and her district includes the cities of Anaheim, Garden Grove, Santa Ana and some of Fullerton in Orange County, which includes "Little Saigon," the largest Vietnamese community outside of Vietnam.
The lawmaker had wanted to go to Vietnam on Wednesday and two days later join a delegation headed by House of Representatives Speaker Dennis Hastert,who will be on a visit to Hanoi.
Vietnamese-American rights groups have written to Hastert urging him to raise with the Communist government leaders issues such as curtailed Internet usage, detention of Buddhist monks and alleged harassment of workers who participated in strikes for better pay and labor rights.
"By emphasizing to the government of Vietnam the link between political freedom and economic development, the speaker will contribute to a more stable and developed Vietnam and healthier bilateral relationship," said Dan Hoang of the Vietnamese-American Public Affairs Committee, an advocacy group.
"It is in the interests of both the American and Vietnamese people that Vietnam be a free country," he said.
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