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Land-Grabbing In Vietnam Gets Serious In Urban Areas

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January 4, 2018| In the early hours of the day, various police forces and their accompanying civil security (dân phòng) surrounded an area in Ward 6, District Tan Binh, Ho Chi Minh City known as Loc Hung vegetable garden with bulldozers, firetrucks, and paramedics to forcefully evicted about one hundred households from the land that they have been disputing with the local government for close to two decades.

The residents have spent years on negotiations with the local government, starting from the time the price for their land skyrocketed and the area became desired for development in the early 2000s.

The two sides could not agree on the price. It is estimated that with such a prime location, the value should be more than 100M VND per meter square, but the government rezoned the area and only offered the people around the range of a few hundreds of thousands VND per meter square. The millions of VND in the difference between the two prices eventually killed the talks, and the authorities declared they would use forced eviction in the last few days of 2018.

Now, only less than a week into the new year, the police and security forces were barricading and blocking traffic and people from coming into the area so that they could begin demolishing the residents’ homes starting from around 9:00 A.M.

Throughout the day, our editor, Pham Doan Trang, reported from the scene and stated on her Facebook page that the security police also stationed in front of many dissidents’ homes in Saigon and even arrested Nguyen Tri Dung, the son of blogger Dieu Cay (Nguyen Van Hai) at his home in District 3. Nguyen Tri Dung was later released in the evening of January 4, 2019.

By 9:20 A.M. the authorities cut off electricity, 3G, and Wifi at Loc Hung. The police began to tear down people’s houses in the area with all means available, from shovel and hammer to bulldozer, while calling on the people to voluntary leave the area.

88 households would become homeless without compensation for their land once the demolishment is finished.

By 11:00 A.M., a large area surrounding the garden was completely sealed off by the police. Witnesses described on Facebook that they were asked to provide identification and not allowed to enter.

Face-bookers continued to report the demolishment and the dispute between the local police and the residents with updates and even live-stream videos.

Aerial view of Loc Hung. Sources: Facebook Nguyen Dat An.

According to the residents, Loc Hung is a piece of land estimated to be in between four and six hectares, belongs to the Catholics Church of Vietnam since 1954 with proper documentation, including deeds and other recordings from the former South of Vietnam’s regime. Also, starting from 1954, there were Catholics who migrated from the North of Vietnam to the South after the Geneva Accord took effect that settled in the area. This community has been living in Loc Hung continuously for generations.

In 1993, the residents were trying to register for their right to possess and use the land with the local government (in Vietnam, individual citizens do not own their land as all lands belong to “the people” and under the state’s management, but they can register for the right to possess and usage). The residents alleged that the government intentionally ignored their petitions to record land right’s usage.

Unable to register their land, the people could not construct and develop the area, and instead, relied on vegetable farming to make a living. Their peaceful existence became the thorn in the eyes of the local authorities as the price for the land continued to increase.

Nevertheless, to this day, Loc Hung garden has never been part of any development project, and it is also the most cogent argument the residents and their supporters have against the local government, that there is no imminent reason for the forced eviction and the destruction of hundreds of houses.

By 6:00 P.M. it was reported that at least four people were arrested and some houses have been torn down. The residents strongly opposed the eviction and protested. One person even lay down in front of a bulldozer to protest.

A man lay down in protest. Source: Amen TV

As of press time, there were a total of at least ten people arrested and ten houses destroyed.

The forced eviction came during the time Vietnamese people starting to get ready for the Lunar New Year which will be on February 5, 2019. Seeing hundreds of people become homeless from a land dispute in the middle of the largest urban city in the country has angered many users on Facebook. Information continued to be shared throughout the day, despite the new cybersecurity law went into effect on January 1.

Land disputes and land-grabbing have always been among the most severe issues which test the government’s ability to govern since Vietnam embarked on the economic reform in the late 1980s.

The government of Ho Chi Minh City is already in the middle of a heated controversy regarding land-grabbing and development started from the 1990s in the Thu Thiem peninsula. Forced eviction and ill-planning relocation plans of people living in the development area have dragged the government’s ambitious dream for Thu Thiem through the mud for over 20 years.

Adding Loc Hung – and close to one hundred people living there – to the mix, raises even more concerns about Vietnam’s failure to handle development projects according to the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals.

The Vietnamese communist government has been trying to demonstrate their ability to promote the 16 SDG’s goals with their development projects, especially during their negotiation with the EU for the EU-VN Free Trade Agreement. However, the reality of land-grabbing and forced eviction happening in the country throughout the past few decades cast severe doubts on the government’s claim.

As of tonight, at least ten households in Loc Hung are homeless and without any compensation from the government.

Vietnam Briefing

Vietnam Briefing: A Busy Week Of Cracking Down On Freedom Of Speech

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From left to right: Doan Kien Giang, Nguyen Thanh Nha, Nguyen Phuoc Trung Bao. Graphics: RSF

We release the Vietnam Briefing every Monday morning, Vietnam time.


Three Vietnamese journalists arrested over reporting on ‘toll booth’ schemes

Quote from RFA:

“Police in southern Vietnam’s Can Tho City on Tuesday arrested three independent journalists connected with the publishing of articles online last year criticizing toll booths set up under a controversial infrastructure funding program, state media sources said.  

Nguyen Thanh Nha, Doan Kien Giang, and Nguyen Phuoc Trung Bao—all writers for the popular Facebook page Clean Newspaper, which discusses Vietnamese social issues—were taken into custody in connection with an investigation into the activities of journalist Truong Chau Huu Danh, who was arrested in December.”


Vietnamese journalist gets eight years for ‘anti-state’ writings

Quote from RFA:

“A court in Vietnam sentenced a journalist to eight years Friday for writing anti-state stories and sharing them on social media, her lawyer told RFA.

The People’s Court in the south-central coastal province of Phu Yen convicted Tran Thi Tuyet Dieu of violating article 117 of the Vietnamese penal code for ‘creating, storing and disseminating information and materials against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.’”


Vietnamese Facebook user jailed for two years for ‘abusing democratic rights’

Quote from RFA:

“A court in southern Vietnam’s Can Tho City on Thursday sentenced a Facebook user to two years in prison for posting articles and livestream videos criticizing Vietnam’s communist government online, family members and media sources said.

Le Thi Binh, born in 1976, was arrested in December and charged with ‘abusing the rights to freedom and democracy to threaten the interests of the state’ under Article 331 of Vietnam’s 2015 Penal Code. Her elder brother, Le Minh The, had completed a two-year jail term on the same charge in July.”


International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) filed new submission to the UN, detailing the government’s use of laws to suppress freedom of expression

Quote from ICJ:

“The ICJ highlighted in particular how new laws have been enacted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic that aim at or can be used by State authorities to control information about the pandemic. These laws contain provisions incompatible with human rights law and standards as their vague language makes them prone to abuses. In addition, some   prescribe excessive sanctions, including severe criminal penalties, which are incompatible with the principles of necessity and proportionality.”

Read the full text here.


On foreign affairs

PM wraps up working trip to attend ASEAN Leaders’ Meeting (April 25): “On the Myanmar situation, Chinh affirmed that Vietnam, as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council for 2020-2021. and the Council’s president for April 2021, has worked to create favorable conditions for the ASEAN member nations to collaborate closely at UN forums in mobilizing support for the bloc’s efforts in approaching and finding suitable solutions to the Myanmar issue.”

Vietnamese President chairs UNSC’s high-level open debate (April 19): “In his capacity as President of the United Nations Security Council in April 2021, Vietnamese President Nguyen Xuan Phuc on April 19 chaired a High-level Open Debate on ‘Cooperation between the UN and regional organizations in enhancing confidence-building and dialogue in conflict prevention and resolution’, which was held in both online and in-person formats.”

Japan targets Vietnam for first ASEAN oil-sharing deal (April 21): “The deal is part of Japan’s attempt to build oil-sharing arrangements with Associations of Southeast Asian Nations members. Under one proposal, each participant would build up individual reserves of crude oil, along with gasoline, diesel fuel and other petroleum products, to prepare for disruptions in supplies.”


A busy week of the South China Sea issue, too

Vietnamese, Chinese defence ministers hold talks in Hanoi (April 25): “ Both sides agreed that the year of 2020 witnessed complicated developments in the world and regional situation with great risks of instability, creating new challenges to the trend of peace, cooperation and development and greatly impacting the security and development environment of all countries.”

China, Vietnam agree to boost trust amid South China Sea tensions (April 25): “China and Vietnam have agreed to work together to improve trust amid simmering tensions between the two neighbours over their territorial claims in the South China Sea.”

Vietnam building up its maritime militia (April 25): “Vietnam is building up its maritime militia in the South China Sea in an apparent challenge to Chinese efforts to dominate the disputed waterway, according to a Chinese military magazine.”

Indonesia, Vietnam renew calls to finish EEZ negotiations (April 25): “Indonesia and Vietnam have renewed calls to finish ongoing negotiations on the delimitation of the maritime boundary between their exclusive economic zones (EEZ) near the South China Sea to provide clarity and avoid incidents in the waters.”

Japanese destroyer in Vietnam on friendly visit (April 20): “The visit is part of efforts to boost defense and security cooperation between Vietnam and Japan and maintain the countries’ strategic partnership, officials said.”

India offers help to Vietnam in warship-building & maintenance (April 20): “India on Tuesday offered all possible help by its defence and other shipyards to Vietnam in construction and maintenance of warships, build.”


New research on Vietnam’s politics

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Vietnam Briefing

Vietnam Briefing: VCP Has Finalized The List Of Candidates In The Very Election They Are Running For

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The Vietnam Fatherland Front held their third round of hiệp thương in Hanoi on April 15, 2021. Photo: mattran.org.vn

We release the Vietnam Briefing every Monday morning, Vietnam time.


The Vietnamese Communist Party is finalizing the list of eligible candidates for the  upcoming general election

The way elections in Vietnam work is to pre-determine the results, and the way to achieve that is to determine the list of candidates.

Vietnamese citizens can’t just register themselves as candidates and expect their names will go straight to the candidate listings on the ballots. If they want to be candidates, they have to go through a vetting process called hiệp thương, which is conducted by the Vietnam Fatherland Front, the extended political arm of the Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP). After the third and final round of hiệp thương, the list of candidates will be released and voters can vote for only these candidates.

The Fatherland Front’s local committees of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh city did exactly that just last week. Similar events were held in other provinces as well.

Context:

  • At least two independent candidates have been arrested before the third round of hiệp thương.
  • Dozens of candidates in Hanoi withdrew before the final list was adopted.
  • Almost no dissidents or activists are running for election this year. This is a major change compared to the last election in 2016, when at least 30 of them ran (and failed to make it to the final list).

A prominent activist, Nguyen Thuy Hanh, was arrested

Quote from VietnamPlus:

“Hanoi’s police have taken a woman into custody as they investigate allegations of ‘making, storing, distributing, or disseminating information, documents, and items against the State of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam’ under Article 117 of the 2015 Penal Code.  

The Investigation Security Agency under the municipal Department of Public Security said on April 8 they had arrested Nguyen Thuy Hanh, born in 1963 and living in Thuong Dinh ward, Thanh Xuan district.”

Context:

  • Nguyen Thuy Hanh has been a prominent advocate for democracy and human rights in Vietnam since 2011. She also participated in several anti-China movements.
  • Hanh ran for election in 2016 as an independent candidate but failed to make it through the VCP’s vetting process.
  • She founded and managed a well-known charity called the 50k Fund (Quy 50k) to assist family members of political prisoners financially for several years before shutting it down in late 2020.

Read her profile in The 88 Project’s database and an op-ed about her.


Vietnam unveils tools for taxing and tracking big tech

Quote from Nikkei Asia:

“Vietnam is proposing a pair of regulations that would compel global tech players such as Alibaba and Google to hand over more taxes and data, in a move to increase government oversight in one of the world’s fastest-growing digital markets.”


US stops short of branding Vietnam a currency manipulator

Quote from Reuters:

“The U.S. Treasury Department on Friday said Vietnam, Switzerland and Taiwan tripped its thresholds for possible currency manipulation under a 2015 U.S. trade law, but refrained from formally branding them as manipulators.”


US names new ambassador to Vietnam

Quote from VnExpress:

“U.S. President Joe Biden on Thursday nominated Marc Evans Knapper as the new ambassador to Vietnam.  

The Senior Foreign Service member, who will succeed Daniel J. Kritenbrink, is currently serving as the deputy assistant secretary for Japan and Korea in the State Department.  

He has previously served in the U.S. embassies in Seoul, South Korea, Baghdad, Iraq, and Tokyo, Japan, and the State Department’s Office of India Affairs and Office of Japanese Affairs.”


What’s special about April for Vietnamese?

April is a special month not only in Vietnam but also in Vietnamese overseas communities. It marks the end of the Vietnam War on April 30, 1975. The event widely divides Vietnamese people around the world with the winning side, which is the ruling Communist Party, celebrates and the losing side mourns. The losing side is millions of people in the South and Vietnamese former refugees as well as their families now settled in countries such as the United States, Canada, and Australia. Discussing the loss of the losing side and the nature of the fall of Saigon is still largely taboo in Vietnam.

However, this day is not only about the war, it is also the end of the first and the only Vietnamese democracy in history thus far, the Republic of Vietnam.

Curious about it? Here are the books you might be interested in:


Learn more about Vietnam

Why the #MilkTeaAlliance movement has little appeal to Vietnamese youth

Dien Nguyen An Luong/South China Morning Post | April 16, 2021

“Against that backdrop, outsiders may wonder why Vietnam’s internet-savvy youth have remained an outlier in the #MilkTeaAlliance. How have Vietnam’s leaders afforded to stave off such a movement? Will anti-government sentiment materialise any time soon in the country? A closer look at how social media and geopolitics have become increasingly interwoven provides some clues.  While some observers have talked up its role, there has been a growing body of evidence that social media alone could not have fanned the likes of Arab Spring-style uprisings.”

Vietnam’s Great Debate Over Democracy

Trien Vinh Le/The Diplomat | April 15, 2021

“Inspired by the development stories of East Asian countries that have experienced the benefits of embracing democratic principles, there are official and informal opinions that Vietnam needs a second Doi Moi centered around political reform. If new political institutions and practices are allowed to emerge and lead to new ways of governing and fresh policy ideas, the economy can pivot to more open and more innovative activities based on science and technology. It is appropriate to ask how the current government system can usher in a new era of economic transformation when so many at the top benefit from the old model based on exploitation of labor and natural resources.”

Vietnam restores regional balance to top leadership

Le Hong Hiep/Nikkei Asia | April 14, 2021

“In an attempt to address southern politicians’ grievances, the party appears to be taking steps to gradually restore the regional balance.  Soon after the 13th congress, the party installed Vo Van Thuong, a politician from the southern province of Vinh Long, as the standing member of its secretariat, the No. 5 position in the party’s hierarchy. Last week, the National Assembly also elected three southerners into senior state and government positions, including Vo Thi Anh Xuan from An Giang Province as vice president, Tran Thanh Man from Can Tho city as deputy chair of the National Assembly, and Le Minh Khai from Bac Lieu Province as one of the deputy prime ministers.”

How a Vietnam-Malaysia Fishing MOU Could Ease the Wider South China Sea Dispute

Ralph Jennings/VOA News | April 16, 2021

“Malaysia and Vietnam intend to sign a memorandum of understanding that experts say could eventually help ease a decades-old, six-party dispute over sovereignty in the resource-rich South China Sea.  Maritime law enforcement agencies from the two Southeast Asian countries aim to sign the memo this year and resolve at least 15 years of trouble over the movement of Vietnamese fishing vessels, the official Bernama news agency in Malaysia reported in early April. Bernama quoted the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency director-general saying he’s confident the deal, now in its final stages, will solve the issue of Vietnamese fishing boats that enter Malaysian-claimed waters.”

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Freedom of expression

Reporters Without Borders Calls For The Release Of Pham Doan Trang

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Pham Doan Trang. Photo courtesy: Thinh Nguyen

On April 7, 2021, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) released a press statement condemning the arrest of jailed Vietnamese journalist Pham Doan Trang

Phan Doan Trang, co-founder and editor of the online magazines The Vietnamese and Luât Khoa, and a recipient of the 2019 RSF Press Freedom Prize for Impact, was arrested at her home on the night of October 6, 2020. She was taken away by plainclothes policemen and has not been heard from since She has been denied access to a lawyer and her family has also been unable to contact her. Currently, she faces up to 20 years in prison under Article 117 of the Vietnamese Penal Code, under the charge of engaging in “anti-state propaganda”. 

Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk, says: “The Vietnamese Communist Party’s current leadership… needs to understand that history will hold them to account for the crackdown on press freedom …. They can save face by freeing Pham Doan Trang and all of the other unjustly detained journalists.”

This is not the first time RSF has demanded her release. On October 7, 2020, just one day after her arrest, it published its first statement which echoes much of the same sentiments here. It has also launched an international awareness campaign to fight for her cause. 


Support from Other RSF Laureates 

Several other RSF awardees have called for Phan Doan Trang’s immediate and unconditional release. They have also released several videos in various social media outlets to show their support for her, and to help bring this situation to the attention of the international community. 

Tomasz Piatek, a Polish journalist and an RSF prize recipient in 2017, addressed Vietnam’s leaders:, “I am asking you to release my friend from prison immediately and stop harassing and tormenting her for writing the truth. If you want to present yourself to the world as politicians and leaders of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, you must immediately stop harassing your citizens and give your citizens the right to the truth.”

Swati Chaturvedi, an Indian journalist and Reporters Without Borders prize awardee in 2018, said, “RSF stands for the fight of all journalists. Please help and speak out for my colleague, my Vietnamese colleague Pham Doan Trang right now.”

Can Dündar, a Turkish journalist, documentary filmmaker and 2016 RSF laureate, similarly asked that the Vietnamese authorities release Phan Doan Trang and to respect the freedom of the media.

Inday Espina-Varona, a Filipina journalist and awardee of RSF’s Prize for Independence in 2018, stated that Pham Doan Trang “has been charged with disseminating information that opposed the state of Vietnam… [it is] every journalist and citizen’s obligation to criticise and when necessary to oppose policies and actions inimical to the welfare and rights of people… it is also the duty of journalists and citizens wherever we are in the world to stand up when those who seek to do the right thing are battered for their efforts.”


Statement from the Publication: 

The Vietnamese joins Reporters Without Borders and our other international allies in demanding for the expedient release of Pham Doan Trang. The trumped-up charges against her are clearly false and the only thing she is guilty of is providing Vietnamese citizens with accurate and independent information free from the manipulation and misdirection of the Vietnamese government and its selfish misguided agenda.

The fight for freedom, democracy, and a better tomorrow for Vietnam continues and we at The Vietnamese will do our part to see this through till the end. 

To show your support for this cause, kindly consider signing this petition for the swift release of our co-founder, colleague, and friend. 

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