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#SaveTamDao: A Cry for Help from Vietnam’s Primary Rainforest

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Photo courtesy: Save Tam Dao Facebook group

One of Vietnam’s most famous preserved national parks – Tam Dao – is crying for help.

Tam Dao is among the country’s oldest primary rainforests, locates in the Red River Delta – arguably, the heart of Vietnam.

But the heart of Vietnam is bleeding from deforestation committed by business interest groups.

It faces imminent danger from a development project calls Tam Dao II, jointly sponsored by Vinh Phuc Province and Sun Group – a private enterprise.

Sun Group is among of the largest real estate development corporations in Vietnam, but it also faces the most accusations from environmentalists and environmental protection groups as one of the worst violators in major deforestations happening across the nation.

A group of Vietnamese discovered back in October 2018 that the National Park was closed and visitors were not allowed to enter.

Facebook’s community in Vietnam immediately suspected that a private company must have obtained the right to develop their real estate project in the area.

After all, in recent years, Vietnamese people have repeatedly uncovered one deforestation disaster after another in primary rainforests throughout this tropical country.

Every time, the citizens found out that the deforestation resulted from improper conducts of both the provincial government and the private company that won the bid for the development project.

Every time, the last line of defense in protecting the rainforests of Vietnam has been the online campaigns organized by ordinary citizens.

This time, it is the same.

A group of environmentalists created a new Facebook group with a new hashtag #SaveTamDao.

What are the people trying to save? What is Tam Dao?

Tam Dao National Park is a 36,000 hectares primary rainforest, preserving the original ecosystem of the Red River Delta that has been around for some 160,000 million years.

Standing tall at about 1,200 meters above sea level with the highest peak reaching up to 1,500 meters and about 80 km from Hanoi, Tam Dao is known not only for its natural beauty but also the sanctuary and profound spiritual impact it imprints on visitors.

Since 1996, the government has designated Tam Dao as a national park with the highest level of protection.

In 2006, an attempt to develop a resort in Tam Dao with Vietnam Partner, LLC (registered in the U.S.) as the investor was proposed. However, it quickly came to an indefinite halt after facing opposition and harsh criticisms from scientists and others who work on rainforest preservation.

Ten years later, it seemed as if the old development project was revived quietly by a new investor.

According to the Facebook group – Save Tam Dao – in 2016, the commencement of the resort development project was witnessed by Vietnam’s top officials, including Prime Minister, Nguyen Xuan Phuc, and representatives from Sun Group.

300 hectares of forest land belongs to the national park will be converted to land that could be used in development projects this time.

Most worrisome, as in other development projects on forest lands across the country, the government did not disclose the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) to the public.

The community and the people to date have not had the opportunity to participate in the EIA process.

They could not even take a look at the development’s map.

During an attempt to hike up Tam Dao recently, a group of citizens has obtained testimony from the residents living in a village at the bottom of the trail, that there must be a plan in place to build a “huge hotel.”

This group also took pictures along the way, showing logs from the rainforest’s hundred-year-old trees lying around after got chopped off.

According to Lonely Planet, “there are at least 64 mammal species (including langurs) and 239 bird species in the park” and added, “illegal hunting remains a big problem”.

From Vietnamnet online newspaper in 2016:

“Tam Dao National Park is covered by a rich flora, consisting of 490 species from 34 genera and 130 families.

Tam Dao National Park is also home to 281 species of fauna from 281 genera, 84 families and 26 orders belonging to 4 main classes: animals, birds, reptiles and amphibious ones.

Among the variety of life forms in the park are several rare species, including cheek black monkey, Tam Dao snake-head fish, silver pheasant wood grouse, etc.”

According to Save Tam Dao group, the development project, as planned, will cause detrimental and irreversible impacts on the rainforest’s rich ecosystem which in turn, will affect the livelihood of the nearby residential areas and the people who rely on it for their sources of clean water and air.

Pictures from Save Tam Dao Facebook group showing illegal logging and deforestation in Tam Dao National Park:

Press Release

Statement On The Upcoming Trial Of Three members Of The Independent Journalists Association Of Vietnam

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Le Huu Minh Tuan (left), Nguyen Tuong Thuy (middle), Pham Chi Dung (right). Photo Courtesy: SBTN.

January 4, 2021

We, the undersigned media organizations, condemn the arrest, detention, and the upcoming trial of the three journalists, Pham Chi Dung, Nguyen Tuong Thuy, and Le Huu Minh Tuan. The Vietnamese government has charged them with Section 2, Article 117, of the 2015 Penal Code (revised in 2017) for “making, storing, spreading information, materials, items that contain distorted information about the people’s government.” The trial is expected to commence on January 5, 2021, at the People’s Court of Ho Chi Minh City.

The three journalists mentioned above have been active members of the Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam (IJAVN). Mr. Pham Chi Dung is the president, Mr. Nguyen Tuong Thuy is the vice-president, and Mr. Le Huu Minh Tuan is the editor. All three have also been journalists for the Vietnam Time newspaper, a media organization of the IJAVN.

These journalists are being persecuted and brought to trial because they have exercised their rights of free speech, free press, and the freedom of assembly. These are the fundamental human rights that both Vietnam’s Constitution and international law wholeheartedly recognized. The Vietnamese regime may use whichever propaganda to rationalize its decision, but it cannot change the facts and the reality of this case. The truth is that in Vietnam, the current regime has put itself in the same position as the feudal monarchies of the past and is sentencing people in a literacy inquisition.

We declare that we stand with Pham Chi Dung, Nguyen Tuong Thuy, Le Huu Minh Tuan, and the IJAVN to build a free media in Vietnam. We demand the Vietnamese government immediately and unconditionally release the three journalists.

Jointly signed,

Luat Khoa Magazine

The Vietnamese Magazine

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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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