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Vietnam: Deputy PM’s Flip-Flopped Position Signaled Government Will Take Tough Measures on Cybersecurity Law?

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Deputy PM Vu Duc Dam. Photo credits: Giao duc Vietnam newspaper.

Once regarded as the poster’s child for – what was hoped by some – the progressive faction within the Communist Party, Deputy Prime Minister Vu Duc Dam, had recently shown his allegiance to the Party’s hardlines, at least on the issue of cybersecurity.

As the Vietnam’s National Assembly is currently reviewing the latest Draft Law on Cybersecurity, on November 17, 2017, the 54-year old Deputy PM Dam delivered a passionate speech defending why Vietnamese government must control social networks and limit the numbers of Internet users.

Dam even praised China’s efforts on controlling social media through the use of an Intranet and heavy censorship on search contents.

But just last year, in March 2016, it was also the same man, Deputy PM Dam, who spoke at a World Bank conference and praised technology, pledging his commitment to support an uncensored Internet in Vietnam.

“I want to say that now is not the time to discuss the benefits of digital technology, but to affirm: Though digital technology itself has negative sides, this is not by its own faults but rather by those who use it. Thus, we cannot restrain it because of the negative impact, but must find all means to allow it to grow.”

Would Mr. Dam’s recent change of heart on the issue of Cybersecurity demonstrate the impossibility for Party’s cadres to break free from its political ideology, namely those who are in the Politburo?

Mr. Dam had long been trusted with the tasks of managing the field of Information and Communications in Vietnam. He has also been viewed as an official who’s more open and friendly with the IT community, given his background working at the National Central Bureau of Post Office and had served as the Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Post Office and Telecommunications.

It was as recent as February this year, during a talk with FPT University’s students, Dam recalled how he had met with top technology personnel in the country and advised them that the World’s Fourth Industrial Revolution shall be defined by the term “connection”.

And by connection, Dam meant, “the eight billion equipment which connects at every level, every angle, and does not limit itself to one university, one province, one country but is a global connection. This revolution would have an intimate relationship with technology.”

So what had changed?

What would make a man went from one who believed in the ability for people to have a global “connection” as the core element of the Fourth Industrial Revolution to a defender of government’s Internet censorship, and a supporter of an “Intranet” construction – identical to that of China?

Because now, during his last presentation in front of the National Assembly, Dam also proposed using “technical measures to block, filter or slow down [information] when necessary.”

The people wonder, who is then, the real Vu Duc Dam and what does he really believe in?

If there were any hopes for a progressive faction within the Communist Party, Deputy PM Dam probably would be among the top runners to lead such group.

He was a foreign-educated politician, graduated from university in Brussels, whose popularity rose among the younger population in Vietnam with his English abilities, his support for educational reforms, environmental protection, and his friendliness towards IT community and technology development.

Yet, Dam’s latest speech on the National Assembly’s floor two Fridays ago showed where his true allegiance lies: The Party’s doctrine which values censorship and putting absolute restraints on free speech.

Vietnam was a member of the Human Rights Council last year when a resolution was passed without a vote, to include an addition to Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, recognizing the right to Internet access is a human right.

But that obviously did not stop the government to adamantly insist on tougher Cybersecurity Law, one that mirrored China’s laws. Mr. Dam apparently seems to have forgotten it as well during his latest speech, when he insisted that Vietnam would not break any international law standards with its tougher stand on social media and Internet management.

The government has recently claimed boastful records in working with Google and Facebook to successfully remove thousands of content that were deemed to be “anti-State” materials during just this year alone.

Since the Internet was first publicly introduced in Vietnam 20 years ago, now, social media networks have grown to become the main platforms for people to raise their concerns over a number of issues. Many of which would be deemed politically sensitive or even outright dissenting opinions.

No one seems to deny that both the independent civil society movement and the emerging independent media in the country are the results of ordinary people having access to the Internet.

As such, the need for an authoritarian government – like Vietnam – to censor and control the Internet and social media networks is real and urgent.

Deputy PM Dam’s recent defense of the government’s use of technical measures to censor and control the Internet and social media – to some people – adds worries that Vietnam would – by all means – pass the proposed Cybersecurity Draft Law.

To defend the government’s legitimacy and absolute power, the control over the media had never slipped off the Party’s grips. Deputy PM Dam’s stand on the issue of Cybersecurity could give glimpses of the Party’s unanimity on maintaining that control by expanding and strengthening Internet censorship in the country, regardless of how many factions within the Politburo we may think there are.

Press Release

Statement On The Recent Arrest of Pham Doan Trang

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Reporters Without Borders (RSF) awarded Pham Doan Trang RSF Prize for Impact in 2019. Photo courtesy: RSF.

On October 6, 2020 at 23:30, the Vietnamese authorities arrested Pham Doan Trang, a current member of our editorial board, in Ho Chi Minh City. She was charged with “conducting propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam” under Article 88 of the 1999 Penal Code, and “making, storing, spreading information, materials, items for the purpose of opposing the State of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam” under Article 117 of the 2015 Penal Code.

The Vietnamese Magazine, strongly condemn this blatant violation of human rights committed by the Vietnamese authorities. Pham Doan Trang is a highly-respected journalist who has diligently expanded the political and legal information for the masses in Vietnam, encouraging people to practice the universal values of freedom and democracy that are stated clearly in Vietnam’s Constitution and which the government has also supported in many of the international treaties it has signed. A journalist should be allowed to report and a writer must be able to publish her books in every corner of this world. Journalism is not a crime and journalists should not be treated as criminals. The suppression of these basic human rights should be treated as a crime.

We demand the Vietnamese government release journalist Pham Doan Trang unconditionally and immediately. In the meantime, from now until she is released, we demand that the authorities uphold her rights and legal interests, including her right not to be tortured, right to have legal representation, right to meet her family, right to privacy, right to medical assistance, and the right to have a full and complete access to all the files related to her case.

We also encourage our readers and those who care about Vietnam and Vietnamese citizens to raise objections against this arrest and join us in our demand to have Pham Doan Trang released immediately. Please join us in continuing her fight for freedom and in reporting, publishing, translating, and raising our voices against injustice whenever and wherever possible.

Tran Quynh Vi – editor-in-chief

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COVID-19: Why Vietnam’s Second Positive Wave Might Not Be Entirely Negative

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Vietnamese people quickly wear masks as protective gears. Photo courtesy: The Vietnamese

After nearly 100 days of zero new confirmed cases in the local community, within the last 10 days, there has been a jump in the number of patients contracting the virus in various cities in Vietnam.

According to official figures, in the six months from January 23  to July 25, there were only 140 local cases, the rest were imported patients, and zero fatalities. Since July 25, in a period of less than two weeks, more than 300 new local cases have been confirmed with 10 deaths so far.

Da Nang, the third largest city of the country, has become the new epicenter of the pandemic. 

While this new surge seems to have caught the entire nation by surprise, in reality it is a scenario that was long written on the wall, with the pandemic having never really ceased to rock countries after it first appeared on the world stage in January 2020 (the first reported case outside of China). And though it has created a new scare among citizens, it is a positive and necessary alarm.

Empty street in Hoi An city in August 2020. Photo Courtesy: The Vietnamese

To the moon and back

More than three months without domestic positive cases had put the whole nation in a complacent mode. Even the health care staff at hospitals had lowered their guard. Most of the initial cases from July 25 were linked to patients and their caretaker relatives in Da Nang hospitals.

Since then, the virus has quickly spread throughout the community and to other cities.

Fortunately, it does not take long for the whole system to restart and quickly return  to crisis mode. Da Nang was almost immediately put under partial lockdown, with thorough contact tracing being carried out for every new case. People who had been in close contact with new positive cases were put under quarantine. Medical teams and personnel from Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh were sent to the epicenter to help relieve the pressure and the wearing of face masks in public in big cities became mandatory again. 

There is reason to be optimistic about the ability of the country to contain the new wave despite it having caught everyone off guard.

Local wet market in Hoi An City. Photo courtesy: The Vietnamese

Through the looking glass of Taiwan

With the initial success in containing Covid-19, there has been an ongoing debate among citizens on whether Vietnam’s authoritarian system is better equipped than other democratic societies to cope with a pandemic. However, focusing on governing systems might miss some critical points.

Comparing Vietnam with Taiwan, an exemplary success in the fight against this pandemic, may provide some useful insights.

At first glance, the two countries could not be more different. One is a communist state, the other one of the most vibrant democratic systems in the world. At closer look, Vietnam and Taiwan share some vital similarities in the fight against Covid-19. 

They both are next to China, the origin of the pandemic. Both governments, and especially their people, have the same distrust of the Chinese Communist Party, hence the high alert mode from the very beginning, long before other countries took this infectious disease seriously. They also share painful experiences from the SARS pandemic in 2003, which also originated from China. With those scars still fresh in mind, going through this crisis is like bathing in the same river twice. They knew how and where to swim.

The culture and society also played an important role here. 

Both countries are still dominated by Confucious-like ideals about the need for a harmonious society where collectivism trumps individualism. In the case of major crises like a pandemic, this kind of mindset helps glue the community together faster, quickly putting everyone into the same “for the common good” mode. 

This particular pandemic, Covid-19, in which the elderly are the most vulnerable, also highlights one important aspect: how societies treat and value their aged populations.

In Vietnam, like Taiwan, most families have at least one senior member living under the same roof. Therefore, most people, even the younger generations, despite being in low-risk groups, still voluntarily took extra precautions to protect their family members.

Opportunities lie in the midst of every crisis, as the old saying goes. And there are many opportunities for a change-demanding society like Vietnam.

While the resurgence has shattered the illusion of exceptionalism, deflating many hardcore aficionados of the authoritarian system, it has also inflated the constant alert mindset, which is a life-and-death difference in the fight against most infectious diseases.

The health crisis also puts the whole governing system in the spotlight, pushing the need for greater transparency and accountability.

With the virus always seeming to have a head start, the authorities have had no other option than to constantly play catch-up. Around-the-clock updates and publicized data and numbers are now the new normal. Government officials are forced to focus on containing the spread of the pandemic. Even when the pandemic is over, it is hard to imagine returning to “the old normal”. 

The virus has also created space for a newborn civil society. With the government’s resources stretched thin and vastly inadequate, citizens and volunteer groups have organized themselves for a wide range of mutual-support activities, from donating basic necessities to setting up coordinating teams to offer transportation for supplies and people in need. Again, when the pandemic is over, citizens who have trained themselves in this new normal will not be easily caged again. Instead, they will demand a greater place on the stage in building a common and better society for themselves.

A deadly pandemic is obviously not an ideal scenario to push for a positive change in any society. But as in any crisis, a good response brings along good reforms. 

There are reasons to be optimistic about the emergence of some form of positive change after the country has gone through this extraordinary period. 

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9th Annual Vietnam Advocacy Day

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Vietnam Advocacy Day is an annual event, organized by Boat People SOS, where Vietnamese Americans across the United States come to Washington, DC to meet with their representatives to voice about human rights issues in Vietnam and to connect with other Vietnamese diaspora community, human rights witnesses and advocates. Due to COVID-19, the 9th annual VNAD 2020 will take place through several webinars.

Please register for the webinars at the links below.

Webinar 1: Friday July 31st, 9AM- 11AM EDT

Topic: Freedom of Religion and the Rights of Indegenous Peoples

Register for Webinar 1: http://tiny.cc/VAD2020-FORB-1

Webinar 2: Friday July 31st, 1PM- 3PM EDT

Topic: Freedom of Religion and the Rights of Indegenous Peoples continued

Register for Webinar 2: http://tiny.cc/VAD2020-FORB-2

Webinar 3: Friday August 7th, 9AM- 11AM EDT

Topic: Freedom of Expression, the Press and Internet

Register for Webinar 3http://tiny.cc/VAD2020-EXPRESSION

Webinar 4: Friday August 7th, 1PM- 3PM EDT

Topic: Freedom of Expression, the Press and Internet
Topic: Prisoners of Conscience and Torture

Register for Webinar 4: http://tiny.cc/VAD2020-POC

Webinar 5: Friday August 14th, 9AM- 11AM EDT

Topic: UN Mechanisms and Sanctions

Register for Webinar 5: http://tiny.cc/VAD2020-UN

Webinar 6: Friday August 14th, 1PM- 3PM EDT

Topic: Freedom of Expression, the Press and Internet
Topic: UN Mechanisms and Sanctions – continued

Register for Webinar 6http://tiny.cc/VAD2020-SANCTION

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