One of the most widely circulated pictures on Vietnam’s social media in the last 24 hours was probably the picture of President Nguyen Phu Trong releasing a carp into Hoan Kiem Lake on January 26, 2019.
President Trong was with a group of overseas Vietnamese who were part of a government’s sponsored program to come back to Vietnam to celebrate Tet – which will be on February 5, 2019.
In Vietnam, like some of its neighboring countries, the Tet’s celebration starts almost a month before with many rituals that have been around for generations.
Releasing carps into ponds and lakes has been a part of the annual celebration of Tet in some regions of Vietnam, probably more in the Northern provinces than in the South.
It is being done during the ritual of sending the Kitchen God up to heaven so that he could make the report to the Jade Emperor on the 23rd of the 12th month under the Lunar calendar.
The carp is believed to be the vehicle that could take the gods up to the sky because of the folklore widely circulated in East Asian cultures: “carp leaping over the dragon’s gate”.
Moreover, the act of releasing – phóng sinh (放生) – captured carps, birds, and other animals, is believed to be done out of mercy and benevolence in Vietnamese culture.
Unfortunately, as time goes by, this practice has given rise to other social problems, such as the illegal captures of birds and animals, as well as environmental issues when people release not only the carps but also the plastic bags they use to carry the fish to the releasing waters.
However, some netizens were criticizing Trong for engaging in the practice of “releasing” this year for an entirely different reason.
About a week ago, Tran Huynh Duy Thuc’s family and lawyer announced the government still refused to either grant a review of his case or pardon him after 12 petitions and one complaint against the Office of the President.
Thuc is currently serving his tenth-year of the 16-year-sentence for “subverting against the people’s government” for calling for political pluralism and democracy in the country.
The criticizing netizens raised the issue that if the government is still detaining over 200 political prisoners, charging them with vaguely defined crimes when they were only exercising their rights to express their political opinions peacefully, then what is the benevolent meaning behind the releasing of the carps by the president?
Notwithstanding the political dissidents, there are also four wrongful convictions involving the death penalty which President Trong has continued to stay silent about their status. Three of these inmates have spent more than a decade on death-row while the evidence used to convict them have been proven to be improperly admitted.
Some people believe that it would have been a lot more meaningful for the President of Vietnam to consider releasing citizens who were wrongfully convicted during this time of the year.