Vietnamese president and former security chief Tran Dai Quang died Friday after what state media described as a serious illness.
Quang, aged 61 at his death and regarded as a political hard-liner, had served for over 40 years in Vietnam's Ministry of Public Security before being named to the largely ceremonial post of president in April 2016.
China quickly expressed condolences to Vietnam over Quang's death, calling him "an outstanding leader" who had worked hard to promote economic reform in the one-party communist state.
But in another statement Friday, New York-based rights group Human Rights Watch called Quang's true legacy "a multi-year crackdown on human rights and putting more political prisoners behind bars in Vietnam than at any time in recent memory."
"More than anyone else, he's responsible for the Ministry of Public Security's expansion into all aspects of daily Vietnamese life, bringing with it all the rights abuses, corruption and extortion that come with increased police presence," HRW deputy Asia director Phil Robertson said.
Vietnam's Ministry of Public Security had secured "unprecedented power" in the ruling Communist Party's Politburo during Quang's years in office, "and now we'll have to see whether that MPS influence will be maintained," Robertson said.
"For all his power, however, he was hardly a man of the people and it's rather doubtful that the ordinary Vietnamese will miss him very much."
Vietnam's one-party communist government currently holds at least 130 political prisoners, including rights advocates and bloggers deemed threats to national security, Human Rights Watch says.
It also controls all media, censors the internet, and restricts basic freedoms of expression.
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