Saigon Is Under De-facto Martial Law

Quynh-Vi Tran
Quynh-Vi Tran

June 17, 2018| Hundreds of people were stopped, detained, searched, and later taken to a temporary holding center set up in the heart of Saigon (aka Ho Chi Minh City) for apparently no reasons.

The government, this time, did not even announce that there were any “illegal” public gatherings as in the previous weekend where thousands of people protested against the cybersecurity and Special Economic Zones draft laws.

What they have done instead, was to preemptively take a strike at all of the citizens who were happened to be in those hot spots of last week’s protest. Some did go out to the streets with the intent to participate in a demonstration, but they could not even start.

From the early morning, all types of police, secret police, and security forces have filled up various areas in Saigon. Many coffee shops near the Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica were asked to close by the authorities.

One witness reported that police were arresting people at a McDonald’s nearby. The only group that acted provocatively was the police and other security forces, this person wrote on Facebook.

The security forces watched every single bystander, people who happened to pass through the area. Anyone who looked “suspicious” to them would get stopped, asked for identification, searched, and demanded to show their phones where any pictures that were taken would get deleted.

All were done without any probable cause and of course, without a warrant.

It seemed as if the law no longer existed there. The city was under siege by its police force, and the people lived under martial law.

Worse, there would likely be no recourse in a court of law for the victims, even if some of them could gather enough courage to file a complaint against the authorities.

One person who was arrested while working near Nguyễn Văn Bình Books Street and detained until that evening said on Facebook, that she felt the experience eerily reminded her with words from Anne Frank’s Diary.

She also recalled that others were taken into separate rooms and some got beaten up by the police. The beatings must be very violent because everyone at that detention center could hear the screams. When they tried to run towards the room to help, the police stopped them with threats of physical violence, recalled by another witness.

The victim – who later got identified as Trinh Toan – was taken to the hospital for head injuries and reported to be in a coma since.

Those who got released were cited for “disrupting public disorder,” ironically.

Another witness live-streamed to tell her story after her release. She described how she and other Catholics got picked up by the police on their way to church. They were taken to that very same detention center in Tao Dan Park and later were both beaten and abused verbally.

A Vietnamese overseas detailed how the security forces physically subdued him and assaulted him while he was strolling near his house close to Hoang Van Thu Park. The police only released him after he screamed out some profanity in English and revealed his foreign nationality.

Some other people were already taken into police custody with no warrant a few days before last Sunday.

One of them was Nguyen Tin. He described the police physically assaulted him, smacking his face repeatedly when he refused to speak and answer questions while in custody. The right to remain silent does exist in Vietnam, but in this case, it failed to protect the citizen.

Almost all of the pro-democracy activists in Vietnam had plainclothes officers surveilled their homes this past week to prevent them from leaving the house and joined the protest.

On social media, many more people were reported missing in the past 48 hours, and efforts by civil society groups are ongoing to document and identify those who were arrested, detained and/or suffered abuse.

Phil Robertson from Human Rights Watch tweeted today:

“Brutality of #Vietnam authorities attacking activists opposed to new internet surveillance law is really off the charts! Time for #Hanoi to be called out by U.N. Human Rights Council, U.N. General Assembly for their rights crimes!”

From the June 10, 2018 protest, the authorities might have arrested about 300 people in Saigon alone. One of them was an American citizen, Will Anh Nguyen, whose story made headlines internationally. Vietnam police filed charges against Nguyen for “disturbing public order” on June 15, 2018, and continued to hold him in detention.

This past weekend, Saigon was the city that got suppressed the hardest. It is estimated that over 100 people arrested and detained and the number of injuries caused by police brutality is still being counted.

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Quynh-Vi Tran

Quynh-Vi was a litigation lawyer in California before becoming a democracy advocate and journalist in 2015. She is also a strong advocate for abolishing the death penalty.