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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.

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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