MP's rights trip angers Vietnamese

Herald Sun

A STATE Labor MP has made a secret trip to Vietnam to visit human rights activists.

Luke Donnellan went on a tourist visa last month after failing to get official entry as a foreign MP.

Mr Donnellan said yesterday that his interpreter was questioned by communist authorities during the trip.

A Vietnamese embassy official in Canberra also called Mr Donnellan after his return to ask if he had visited a dissident priest in Vietnam.

"He asked me if I visited Father Nguyen Van Ly," Mr Donnellan told the Herald Sun.

"They are not keen to have these dissidents publicly highlighted."

Mr Donnellan, a co-ordinator of the parliamentary human rights group MPs for Vietnam, said he visited Father Ly and other activists during the four-day trip.

Father Ly, a Catholic priest, was jailed in 2001 after campaigning for religious freedom and human rights.

He was freed last year and lives under house arrest in the city of Hue.

Mr Donnellan applied for a diplomatic visa in 2004 to visit Father Ly, but never got it.

The then-Vietnamese ambassador to Australia, Le Xuan Lieu, wrote a letter to Mr Donnellan at the time.

"I am very regret that your purpose of visit to Vietnam is to communicate with Nguyen Van Ly, who has been sentenced to imprisonment," Mr Lieu wrote.

"I think such visit should be sensitive to the sentiment of millions of Vietnamese people including the religion community."

Mr Donnellan, the MLA for Narre Warren North, said he eventually applied for a tourist visa so he could make contact with dissidents and underground union activists.

"I thought that somebody needed to do it, so that may as well be me," he said.

Mr Donnellan's visit was raised in the United States last week after Vietnam denied a visa to a member of Congress from California.

The US Congress has passed a resolution calling for the release of Vietnam's political prisoners.

Vietnamese Community of Australia general secretary Trung Doan called on the Federal Government to ban visits by Vietnamese MPs while Australian politicians were being denied diplomatic visas.

"We appreciate MPs like Mr Donnellan visiting Vietnam because their voice carries a lot of weight in the fight against human rights abuses," Mr Doan said.



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