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Vietnam, A Step Closer to Democracy With The Latest Nationwide Protests?

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Protestors gathering in front of Reunification Palace aka Independence Palace in Saigon this morning. Photo Courtesy: Manh Kim.

June 10, 2018| Nationwide protests broke out in several major cities in Vietnam in the morning and lasted well into the afternoon. As of press time, the demonstrations are still ongoing with reports of several arrests and incidents of police assaulting protestors while observers mostly described the participants as peaceful.

This time, the protests seemed to have not been organized by any groups, and the more well-known dissidents and activists were not leading the crowd. However, it was the small groups of concerned citizens coming together with substantial knowledge on their right to assemble and protest that made June 10, 2018, both memorable and surprising to people.

People were gathering and rallying in several cities this morning, Hanoi, Saigon, Nha Trang, Da Nang, and even smaller areas such as My Tho – Tien Giang, Ho Nai – Dong Nai and a few Catholics parishes in Nghe An Province.

But it may very well be the turn of events in Saigon – Hochiminh City today that has shown a level of political awakening that many observers have not seen before.

People started to gather at around 8:30 a.m. local time, coming to several areas in Saigon, from the Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica in District One, walking district Nguyen Hue, in front of the U.S. Consulate, to Hoang Van Thu park near Tan Son Nhat airport. From around 500 people at one area to thousands more at another spot.

The participants have used the Livestream feature on Facebook to record the protests where they showed how knowledgeable the regular persons could be when it comes to their rights as citizens.

People at one location, while demanding that the police released those who were arrested, have questioned them:

“Have you read the Constitution. Do you know what Article 25 is? Do you know that arresting protestors is unconstitutional?”

Even when faced with assaults from police and security forces, the videos showed people were trying to tell each other to remain calm, to document the incidents with photos and videos, and do not fear because: “We did not do anything wrong!”

In Hanoi, the security forces acted swiftly in rounding up protestors and broke up the rallies. But in Saigon, thousands of people were on the streets, and by the afternoon, it seemed as if the demonstration has become unstoppable even with the police started their crackdown.

An online call to protest against the draft law creating three Special Economic Zones (SEZ) received over 160,000.00 shares on Facebook this past week. The government acted and postponed the SEZ draft law on early Saturday morning when the probability that the people will take to the streets started looming, but such efforts seemed to be futile.

The SEZ draft law was not the only bill that the citizens find problematic.

The people have a major concern regarding the SEZ draft law is because of the China factor. Anti-China rallies are nothing new in Vietnam, and for the past decades, it was the most common reason for the people to let go of their fears and gather on the streets protesting.

This time, many fear that their government has sold them short to the Chinese investors and that the SEZs will turn into mini China(s) inside Vietnam once the law goes into effect.

However, there is also the Cybersecurity draft bill pending for a vote on June 12, 2018, where Vietnam attempts to place all of its people under Big Brother’s watch, criminalizing many online activities, from misrepresenting historical facts to merely speaking unfondly of the government.

Thus, efforts were also made by several civil society groups leading by Hate Change, calling on people to also protest against the Cybersecurity draft law.


Protestors on motorbikes in Saigon, denouncing the SEZ draft law. Photo Courtesy: Nguyen Nu Phuong Dung’s Facebook.


One of the groups that showed up early at the Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica in District 1, Saigon, protesting against both draft laws, SEZ and Cybersecurity. Photo Courtesy: Nguyen Nu Phuong Dung’s Facebook.


The crowd at one spot near Hoang Van Thu park, Saigon. Photo Courtesy: Nguyen Nu Phuong Dung’s Facebook.


Crowd near Tan Son Nhat airport. Photo Courtesy: Nguyen Nu Phuong Dung’s Facebook.


People gathered in front of Reunification Palace aka Independence Palace in Saigon. Photo Courtesy: Nguyen Nu Phuong Dung’s Facebook.


Another group of protestors on motorbikes in Saigon. Photo Courtesy: Nguyen Nu Phuong Dung’s Facebook.


One protestor being assaulted by the security forces. Photo courtesy: Will Nguyen’s Twitter.


Security forces arrested people in Hanoi. Photo courtesy: Hien Trinh’s Facebook.


Security forces arrested people in Hanoi. Photo courtesy: Hien Trinh’s Facebook.


Protestors against Cybersecurity draft law in Saigon. Photo courtesy: Vi Yen Nguyen


Young people raised banner against Cybersecurity draft law in Saigon. Photo courtesy: Vi Yen Nguyen


The pictures above are from today’s protests in Hanoi and Saigon-Hochiminh City. The Vietnamese thanks the owners of these pictures for their courtesy, and please contact us for photo credits because we have received them from a few sources on Facebook and Twitter.

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People in Vietnam Openly Challenge Appellate Court’s Decision in Child Molestation Case, Demanding Tougher Sentence

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Photo courtesy: Will Crocker/Getty Images.

On May 11, 2018, an appellate court in Bà Rịa-Vũng Tàu Province reviewed the verdict of the lower court in a child molestation case and reduced the sentence for the convicted, from a three-year prison term to 18 months sentencing with no actual jail time.

People became outraged as soon as the appellate verdict came out.

Some are particularly critical over one of the mitigating factors considered by the appellate court: the convicted person is a member of the Vietnamese Communist Party whose dedications and contributions to his profession in the banking field was noted.

According to Vietnam’s 2015 Penal Code, Article 51(v), any person convicted of a crime (not necessary VCP members), who could demonstrate past dedications and contributions in their professional capacity, may receive considerations for a mitigating factor.

Thuỷ, 78-year-old, was initially been convicted of multiple charges, involving different victims. However, the appellate court dismissed all but one conviction against him, citing insufficient evidence for the rest. Couple with his past contributions, his elder age also played a role in his reduced sentence.

But the people are not convinced, and they quickly showed their disagreement on social media.

Child molestation, like child sexual abuse and even sexual harassment, has recently earned public awareness in Vietnam, where more victims are willing to speak out against it, and the public strongly demands perpetrators are appropriately prosecuted.

Thus, the recent appellate decision in Nguyễn Khắc Thuỷ’s case is seen by many as if the court has taken a step backward and against the momentum to raise awareness about sexual abuse crimes in society.

The Association for Children’s Right Protection of Hochiminh City (Hội bảo vệ quyền trẻ em TP Hochiminh) also condemned the court’s decision.

Attorney Trần Thị Ngọc Nữ – Head of the association – commented in a conversation with Kenh 14 news: “a person who was convicted of any crimes, especially crimes against children, shall not receive a sentence with no actual jail time.”

The People’s Supreme Procuracy Office of Bà Rịa-Vũng Tàu Province also confirmed with Người Lao Động newspaper on May 13, 2018, that their office had submitted an urgent report to their superiors in Hochiminh City regarding their concerns over the appellate court’s decision.

A trial of cessation would be the next step in the case, and the public’s close monitoring of this matter could mean that the judicial authorities may take it up for further review.

In the past two days, a petition was created in on Change.com where people request a higher court’s review of the case. It has managed to receive over 8,000 signatures and still being shared widely on social media in Vietnam.

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Human Rights

Will #MeToo finally have its break in Vietnam?

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Photo credits: Alex Ivashenko/Unplash.com

In the late evening of April 18, 2018, many journalists in Vietnam began to share on social media a story that could come with the power to shatter the nation’s culture of playing down sexual harassment in the workplace and silencing victim.

A female intern at Tuổi Trẻ newspaper was rumored to have attempted to commit suicide and was hospitalized, after alleging that she was raped by her superior. Tuổi Trẻ is considered one of the largest – if not the largest – state-owned newspaper in Vietnam, owned by the Ho Chi Minh City Chapter of the Communist Youth Union.

By the next day, information about the alleged attacker surfaced, again, via social media.

Tuổi Trẻ – while along with some 800 other state-owned media did not publish an official story – yet did announce that they have suspended journalist Đặng Anh Tuấn – whose pen name is Anh Thoa – the Head of Tuổi Trẻ television news because of the allegations.

But at the same time, the editorial board denied in the same announcement that the intern was admitted to the hospital due to an attempted suicide.

On April 20, 2018, the faculty at the university where the victim is enrolled, delivered a deadly blow to Tuổi Trẻ’s editorial board.

In possibly one of the very first moves ever done by a university in the country for cases involving sexual harassment of their students, the Head of the Department of Journalism and Communications of The Vietnam National University Ho Chi Minh City sent an official letter to the editorial board at Tuổi Trẻ, demanding them to perform a formal investigation and provide the public with an explanation.

What surprised people was the fact that the faculty of the university stood by their student’s allegations by clarifying and denouncing Tuổi Trẻ’s description of her conditions in their press announcement.

The letter read, in parts:

“We would like to bring your attention to this specific issue so that it could be dealt with directly, that Student ‘Doe’ has endured a prolonged period of psychological trauma which produced catastrophic effects on both her physical and mental health, which in turn deteriorated her health and led her to face the negative decision concerning her life.”

The current story of the female journalist intern from Vietnam resembles very closely the ordeal of Japanese journalist Shiori Ito last year, who went public with the allegation that veteran journalist, Noriyuki Yamaguchi, raped her in April 2015.

But while Ms. Ito currently has to fight not only her ongoing legal battle but also a culture that preferred silence and shaming victims in a country like Japan – where #Metoo could not quite take off – the situation may be different in Vietnam this time.

It is encouraging to see that Vietnamese men and women – especially women – from all walks of life came out in support of the victim. The hashtags #MeToo and #letherdoherjob have been surfacing on Vietnam’s social media since Wednesday’s night, and they keep spreading.

First, other female journalists shared equally horrific stories about how they and their female colleagues too, were harassed and assaulted at works.

The amount of compassion – from journalists who used to work at Tuổi Trẻ – for the victim is also comforting to know. The reactions from many of the popular and veteran journalists on social media in the country are also positive.

The message from the majority was actually quite simple and clear: speak up if you have been a victim or know a victim; and call on Tuổi Trẻ to perform a thorough investigation and be transparent and accountable to the victim and the public.

But make no mistake that the culture of victim blaming and silencing does not exist in the country.

On the contrary, as in any other patriarchal society, Vietnam carries its own baggage, full of prejudice against female victims in most of the sexual harassment and sexual violence cases.

In Vietnam, while sexual harassment in the workplace was recognized in the Labour Code for the first time almost three years ago in May 2015, many victims still do not speak up or come forward with their stories.

One reason could be that there are still no clear and well-defined legal definitions for conducts that would constitute sexual harassment.

According to CARE, an international organization working on gender-based violence in Hanoi, Vietnam, 78.2% of victims of sexual harassment in the workplace are women.

Without a clear legal framework to protect them, female workers in Vietnam dare not to speak up because they are afraid of losing their job.

In 2014, ActionAid International Vietnam reported that their survey of over 2,000 women in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City revealed, that 87% of those answered have been a victim of sexual harassment in public where 67% of the bystanders who witnessed such conducts did nothing to help the victims. 31% of female students also reported that they were sexually harassed in public.

Many of the stories published on social media in Vietnam in the past two days seem to show a pattern. The perpetrators often targetted young interns who are still in school or female employees who are freshly minted from college.

Inexperienced, young, and in need of a job, the victims – who are also facing a culture that got influenced heavily by Confucianism with very strict standards when it comes to gender roles – would incline to choose to quit their jobs and internalize their emotional wounds rather than speaking up against the perpetrator.

Yet, now, there is hope with the latest case involving the Tuổi Trẻ’s intern.

In the past two days, Facebook statuses have shown an influx of stories of similar experiences and offers of support.

People published allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct against the Director of the largest legal online research company in the country, Thư viện Pháp luật (The law library) online. This story again was a rumor among the legal professionals but never brought to broader public attention.

Female activists in the country already start calling on people to use the hashtag #MeToo. And while it is true that we still have to continue looking out for development, it is not too early to say that #MeToo has made an important breakthrough in Vietnam where many have begun to say, Vietnam needs #MeeToo now.

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From Nguyễn Văn Đài’s April 5, 2018 Trial – What Constitutes “Overthrowing the People’s Government” in Vietnam?

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April 5, 2018 | Nguyễn Văn Đài – probably one of the most prominent dissidents in Vietnam for almost two decades – received one of the harshest sentences for political dissent in recent years.

A court in Hanoi, Vietnam sentenced Nguyễn Văn Đài to 15 years imprisonment and 5 years probation under house arrest. His colleagues tried and convicted in the same case, also received equally harsh sentences. Nguyễn Trung Tôn, 12 years imprisonment and 3 years probation; Trương Minh Đức, 12 years imprisonment and 3 years probation; Nguyễn Bắc Truyển, 11 years imprisonment and 3 years probation; Lê Thu Hà, 9 years imprisonment and 2 years probation; Phạm Văn Trội, 7 years imprisonment and 1 year probation.

The 48-year old former attorney was among the first group of Vietnamese lawyers who took up political cases in the early 2000’s and defended dissidents, as well as those who were persecuted for exercising religious freedom.

Đài was the type of lawyer who would defend those accused of the very same crime he is facing today: “conducting activities to overthrow the people’s government.”

This crime is infamously known among international human rights groups and foreign embassies as the Article 79 of Vietnam’s Penal Code 1999.

While carrying capital punishment as the maximum sentence, Article 79 however, utterly lacks a clear, well-defined description of conducts which would constitute a person’s criminal liability, and as such, making it impossible for people to cry out mea culpa.

The law only states that “a person conducting activities to form or participate in any organization to overthrow the people’s government shall be punished as follows,” and then immediately dwells into specifying the sentencing guidelines from twelve years, twenty years, life imprisonment, up to the death sentence for the main perpetrator, and five to fifteen years for those who act as accomplices.

Because of this ambiguity per se in its language, Article 79 had faced strong criticism from the international community over the years, especially during the last Vietnam’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in January 2014.

Critics continue pointing out, that along with Articles 88 and 258 of the Penal Code, the government has used these criminal provisions almost exclusively against political dissidents and pro-democracy activists, taking advantage of the vague language of these codes to criminalize peaceful protests and suppress political dissent.

Facing such international pressure during the 2014 UPR, Vietnam agreed to amend Article 79, and they did, in 2015.

However, except for some minor, cosmetic changes such as the number of the code section from 79 to 109, and adding a category for those who are “preparing to commit the crime” with the punishment ranging from one to five years imprisonment, the remaining of the “new” Article 109 is taken verbatim from Article 79.

In short, we still have to look to actual cases to define which conducts would constitute the crime of “overthrowing the people’s government” in Vietnam, and in Đài’s case today, such conducts would be:

“Opening an office, having a website to operate, developing a ‘shortening manifesto’, having a structured organization, having internal and external affairs strategy, operating to increase membership, capacity, …; abusing the right to promote ‘democracy, human rights,’ ‘civil society’ to conceal the objectives of the Brotherhood for Democracy … waiting for the appropriate timing to openly operate in opposition of the government through changing the political structure in Vietnam, developing ‘pluralism with multiple parties’ and a government with ‘separation of powers’ to overthrow the people’s government while using a private sector economy as its basis.”

The above paragraph was an excerpt taken from the Conclusion section at page 10 of the 16-page long indictment issued on December 31, 2017 against Nguyễn Văn Đài and his five colleagues, Lê Thu Hà (who was arrested together with Đài on December 16, 2015), Nguyễn Bắc Truyển, Nguyễn Trung Tôn, Trương Minh Đức, and Phạm Văn Trội.

The new Penal Code of Vietnam was not taken effective until January 1, 2018. Thus, Đài and his colleagues were charged with Article 79 of the old code.

Nguyễn Văn Đài has never shied away from his political ambitions and his outspoken criticism of the current regime, especially regarding the political monopoly the Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP) has over the country.

In 2006, Đài openly called for the establishment of other political parties and forming political opposition to challenge the VPC’s ruling. According to a research on Vietnam’s democratization advocates conducted by the Australian scholar, Benedict J. Tria Kerkvliet, Nguyễn Văn Đài would fall under the category of those who chose to confront the regime head-on.

He holds a firm personal belief that every Vietnamese people do have the intellectual capacity and enough knowledge to participate in a pluralistic form of governance with multiple parties.

He previously wrote that Vietnam had had other political parties in the past, during the 1930’s and the early independent days from 1945-1946. Notably, in the South of Vietnam – before the fall of Saigon – political parties were very active. Moreover, Đài always believes that the current Constitution supports the formation of other political parties besides the VPC.

His direct challenge to the ruling party’s power resulted in a conviction for “propaganda against the state” under Article 88 in 2007, where he served four years in prison and was released in 2011.

Coincidentally, 2011, the year in which Đài was released, also marked the beginning of an unprecedented rise of the young pro-democracy and pro-human rights movement in Vietnam.

Starting in the summer of 2011, Vietnamese people – especially youths – swarmed the streets of major cities such as Hanoi and Saigon, protesting against China’s aggression due to the incident involving the cutting of Vietnam’s Binh Minh vessel’s cable cab in the South China Sea.

People organized protests through Facebook’s pages, and statuses, calling for massive turnouts all over the country like never seen before, at least not anything like that had happened since after the Vietnam War was over in 1975.

At first, the government allowed the protests, but when faced with thousands of youths on the streets, they quickly decided to change course and started cracking down on peaceful protesters. Yet this very conduct of the government had opened doors to another era of civil disobedience in Vietnam: the birth of the independent civil society organizations (CSO) movement inside the country. Many of the protesters on those streets in Vietnam six years ago are now the prominent faces of the pro-democracy movement.

The undeterred Nguyễn Văn Đài quickly caught on to this phenomenon and organized his own CSO – the Brotherhood for Democracy (which got named in the indictment) – continuing pushing for political changes through challenging the one-party rule. A person with charisma, Đài again rose to the occasion, becoming the familiar face during those meetings with foreign officials and diplomats from many embassies in Hanoi.

And that was documented in his December 2017 indictment as well, where it detailed how he was able to connect with foreign institutions and individuals to secure funding for his CSO – activities that are normal for any non-governmental organization around the world. The indictment even named diplomats from the U.S. and Germany as people who acted as his references.

It also worths noting that almost two years ago, Vietnam’s National Assembly attempted to pass a law on association with restrictions on receiving “foreign funds.” However, such efforts failed when faced with stern opposition from NGOs and CSOs from Vietnam, both registered and non-registered.

Thus, except for the indictment in Đài’s case making it out to be a crime, Vietnam’s laws have yet to prohibit NGOs to receive foreign financial aids.

But the reality remains, that as of right now, Vietnam still only has one political party – the Communist Party – and Nguyễn Văn Đài and his colleagues’ latest trial and conviction demonstrate that any efforts aiming at forming a political opposition would constitute conduct punishable by very long and harsh sentences.

In December 2008, many people gasped as China sentenced Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Liu Xiaobo, to 11 years for “suspicion of subversion against the state.”

Now almost ten years later, in April 2018, using an eerily similar charge against Nguyễn Văn Đài and his colleagues, Vietnam has demonstrated that it too, does not yield to international pressure and would even go the extra miles in sending political dissents to prisons for even longer terms than its communist big brother.

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