Updated: 01/17/2014 07:48 | By Agence France-Presse

Mother of jailed Vietnam activist warns on trade pact

The mother of a jailed Vietnamese labor activist appealed Thursday for the United States to use a Pacific trade pact as pressure to end what rights groups call widespread violations.

Mother of jailed Vietnam activist warns on trade pact

Tran Thi Ngoc Minh, mother of jailed Vietnamese activist Do Thi Minh Hanh, listens as Nguyen Dinh Thang of Boat People SOS (R) speaks about torture and abuse of political and religious prisoners in Vietnam, in Washington, DC, January 16, 2014 - by Jim Watson

The mother of Do Thi Minh Hanh, one of three organizers at a shoe factory sentenced in 2010 to up to nine years in prison, said Vietnam's authorities were eager to seal the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an ambitious trade deal under negotiation among 12 nations including the United States, Japan and Australia.

"This would give a great occasion for the US to impress on Vietnam the need to release political prisoners including my daughter and to improve conditions for workers and labor rights in Vietnam," the mother, Tran Thi Ngoc Minh, told a news conference at the US Congress.

President Barack Obama has made the Trans-Pacific Partnership a top priority, seeing it as a way to solidify US ties with the dynamic Asia region.

But the deal has met wide criticism within his Democratic Party, where a number of lawmakers have raised concerns about labor rights and other issues.

Representative Chris Smith, a Republican active on human rights, also voiced concern about the Trans-Pacific Partnership, saying the United States prematurely eased pressure before normalizing trade relations with the former war foe.

"The TPP, I think, would be a serious mistake if we, without any kind of conditionality, say let's trade even more," Smith said.

Vietnam tightly controls labor unions and sentenced the three activists in 2010 on charges of disrupting security.

Minh, who said she fled Vietnam for Austria due to pressure over her daughter's activities, told reporters that campaigners have faced physical abuse, which she saw first-hand when she earlier took her daughter to authorities to renew an official identification card.

"They just handcuffed her right there and started beating her in front of me," causing bruises and bleeding, she said.

Human rights groups and the US government say Vietnam has increasingly repressed domestic dissent. Amnesty International in November listed 75 prisoners of conscience in the authoritarian state.

Vietnam says it is making progress and in November signed the United Nations convention against torture.

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