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State-Owned Media Features Police Brutality With Neutral Headline, Sparks Debate

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Screen captions of abuse from victim's video clip. Source: Facebook.

Yesterday evening, January 29, 2019, Facebookers in Vietnam were circulating a video clip showing a gentleman lying on the ground while another, older man in police uniform was stomping on him, hitting him on the face, head and chest area.

By the afternoon of January 30, 30219, the story got featured on Tuoi Tre online – one of the largest newspapers in Vietnam. It was one of the rarer times where one could find stories of police’s misconducts featured quickly on state-owned news right after making waves on social media.

While Tuoi Tre was able to confirm the story and interviewed a supervisor of the police officers involved in the incident, many netizens became very critical of its headline which states: “Temporary Suspension of Deputy Ward Police Officer Using Feet to ‘Take Action’ on Witness.”

The criticisms targeted the headline for de-escalating an incident of police brutality into something a lot less severe by using vague and ambiguous language like “take action.”

The term “take action” was actually used by the Head of Tuy Hoa Police Department, Nguyen Van Dung, in his interview with Tuoi Tre regarding the incident.

Some freelance journalists believed that Tuoi Tre practiced too much self-censorship and that in this situation, they could have used the word “stomp” and would not face any disciplinary action from the Central Committee of Propaganda. Later in the day, another online newspaper, Phap Luat of Ho Chi Minh City also published the same story and used the word “stomp” in the headline.

Tuoi Tre was slammed with an order to pay a total fine of VND220 million (close to USD10,000) in July 2018 along with a 90 days suspension.

Back then, the government issued such order after finding that Tuoi Tre had reported news that was “untrue” and causing “severe impacts” when it published an inaccurate story about the late President Tran Dai Quang’s comment on the Law on Demonstration and failed to remove a “nationally divisive” comment left by a reader on another article.

However, with this story, some readers did come to the defense of Tuoi Tre, stating that it was a clever way of playing with words to get the people’s attention. Also, it should be okay for Tuoi Tre to quote a word used by a person they have interviewed.

To these people, what more important was the fact that Tuoi Tre dared to swiftly report the incident at length, letting the victim provided a detailed description of the events.

The victim in the incident was Le Huu Quoc, a resident of Phu Thanh Ward, Tuy Hoa City, Phu Yen Province. Quoc was a witness in an altercation between two other men.

According to Quoc, he and another person were trying to break up the fight of two others, and the local police have asked all of them to come to the station.

At the police station of the local ward, Quoc was physically assaulted – as seen in the video clip – by the deputy chief Huynh Minh Le.

Quoc told Tuoi Tre that when he was at the police station, officer Le started yelling at him, strangled his neck, pushed him to the ground and used his feet to stomp on Quoc. Another officer came and stopped Le.

After Quoc came home from the station, the police officers – who were fully armed – also arrived at his house later that night, asking him to go back and provide more statement. Quoc refused because he was scared from the treatment he received earlier.

Quoc said: “I was only a witness, but they had to call a fully armed police force to come and get me like a criminal, causing damage to my reputation. Further, I already came to the station earlier and got beaten up by the deputy chief so I would not go again.”

Confirming with Tuoi Tre, the Head of Tuy Hoa City Police Department, Nguyen Van Dung, acknowledged the incident and informed the public that the involved officer had been put on leave.

Vietnam faced increasing public complaints regarding police brutality in recent years. After its first review under UN’s Convention Against Torture in 2018, the government is due to elucidate about five individual cases of death while in police custody by December 7, 2019.

The debate about Tuoi Tre’s decision to publish the story and its use of certain language for its headline could be continued in the days to come regarding the practice of state’s censorship and self-censorship.

In the meanwhile, the fact that the story of Le Huu Quoc quickly made the headlines shows the inconvenient truth about police brutality in Vietnam: it continues to happen around the country at an alarming rate, causing detrimental effects on the people and society as a whole.

Press Release

The Vietnamese: Call for Pitches

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Dear Readers and Writers:

For the last five months, The Vietnamese has not been publishing regularly, something that you may have noticed. Our magazine was short on staff and it affected our publication. We are very sorry about any inconvenience it may have caused you. But here comes the good news. 

Starting in September 2019, we have been back and starting to use a new working scheme for our publication. Now we are reaching out to freelancers to submit pitches and work on articles to be published on our platform. 

As we have written in our mission statement for The Vietnamese, this magazine will be “a platform for each and every Vietnamese individual – who shares our dreams, our visions, and our daily struggles for a democratic country where the rule of law and human rights are respected – to raise their voice and bring their issues to the world stage.” 

We have probably also noticed some of the same issues as many of you, that Vietnam’s human rights situation and political scene were not being demonstrated as clearly as we want them to be on the world stage. Many of the critical issues that Vietnamese people care and are concerned about were not discussed in English writings. And now, this is the time that you can submit your pitches and start writing about what concerns Vietnamese people the most in terms of human rights, democracy, and political concerns.

Please be aware that as a magazine, The Vietnamese quite often does not publish very time-sensitive or breaking news. We decide on pitches at our weekly editorial meetings, and so it may take up to at least one week to respond to your pitch. Once we accept a pitch, it typically takes two weeks to one month before it is published as our editorial team is also made up of freelance and part-time staff, which may delay our response time. 

A few times a year, we will also be considering a specific call for pitches for certain themes and we will send out updates when there are such calls.

OUR RATES:

– US$200 for text (approximately 1,500 words for written pieces)

– US$200 for 7-10 minute (edited) video clips with English subtitles, US$150 for a recorded op-ed or interview. 

Invoices should be submitted after the article has been published on our website. We are committed to paying timely and promptly.

PITCH FORMAT:

Please answer all of these questions in an email to be sent to editor@thevietnamese.org or vi.tran@thevietnames.org. 

– What is your name?
– What section are you pitch to, is it written form  or video?
– What’s your idea? (Please be as specific as you can.)
– Who could you talk to or have access to?
– What makes this story interesting or insightful?
– When can you submit the first draft?
– Will you submit photographs with the article that you or another person has taken?
– Please provide any links to your previous published articles or videos.

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Press Release

Pham Doan Trang Received Prize for Impact from Reporters Without Borders’ 2019 Press Freedom Awards

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Photo credits: RSF

On September 12, 2019, our editor Pham Doan Trang had received the Prize for Impact from Reporters Without Borders’ Press Freedom Awards 2019 in Berlin, Germany.

Trang was not able to travel and received her award in person. Instead, our editor Trinh Huu Long and also the editor-in-chief for Luat Khoa magazine was representing Trang to accept it.

Being her colleagues, The Vietnamese magazine’s staff is delighted and honored that Doan Trang received the Impact award. We have all been inspired and moved by her tireless efforts – as she stated – to make sure that “journalism is not a crime anywhere in the world.” Together with her, we all work for Vietnam to soon be a democratic country.

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Imprisoned Dissident – Anh Ba Sam – Encountered Odd Events Before Release Date

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Portrait of Anh Ba Sam. Photo credits: Luat Khoa Magazine.

Journalist Nguyen Huu Vinh (whose pen name is Anh Ba Sam) faced quite a few peculiar encounters in Prison Center Number 5, Yen Dinh district, Thanh Hoa province in recent months.

According to Le Thi Minh Ha, his wife, on December 9, 2018, a man in a police uniform came to visit Vinh in his prison cell and spent an hour and a half talking to him. At the end of their conversation, the man left behind an envelope full of money and told Vinh that after his release from prison he should support To Lam, the current minister of public security – the national police force in Vietnam.

Mrs. Ha told Luat Khoa magazine: “My husband recounted the story to me when I visited him. Neither one of us could grasp what was happening. Who was this man and who had directed him to do such a thing? Was he someone who works for To Lam or someone who wanted to harm To Lam? Nevertheless, it could also be intimidation. We think we should publicize this information to protect Vinh.”

Both Ha and Vinh went to college with the current Minister To Lam in the 1970s, where all three were studying at the People’s Security Academy. This school is where the Vietnamese government trains its future secret police force officers.

Vinh was arrested on May 5, 2014, and at the time, To Lam was the vice minister of the Ministry of Public Security (MPS). He was held in pre-trial detention for almost two years before being convicted of “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the state, the rights and interests of other entities and citizens,” and sentenced to five-year-imprisonment on March 23, 2016. Before his arrest, he was the owner of the blog site Anh Ba Sam – one of the most famous online newspapers in Vietnam during the past few years.

Another event – which also caused Ha to have more concerns over her husband’s safety – happened on January 27, 2019, the day of her monthly visit to Prison Center Number 5.

She stated that one prison guard had requested to meet her in private and told her: “On the release day (which will be May 5, 2019), if there are only family members then the center will process the paperwork and release him at the gate of the prison. If there are other non-family members accompanying (you), carrying banners and posters with them, then the prison center will take Vinh to a remote area and leave him there by himself.”

“On March 4, 2019, my husband called me from the prison center in accordance with the monthly allowance of five-minute-phone calls, where he told me that the same prison guard met with him again in private and told him the same thing,” Ha informed Luat Khoa magazine.

Mrs. Ha had already sent a letter of complaint to Prison Center Number 5 on February 1, 2019, to report the previous incident. She received a response dated February 25, 2019, which insisted that no prison guard had communicated any such content to either her or Vinh at the center.

Luat Khoa indicated that its reporter contacted the prison center with the number Ha had provided in April 2019, but the person who answered the phone refused to acknowledge the name of the alleged prison guard. Instead, he stated that the name belongs to someone who lives near the prison center. When the Luat Khoa reporter pressed for the current condition of Nguyen Huu Vinh, the person then said he did not know.

Mrs. Ha had also lodged complaints regarding the threat to release Vinh in a desolate area with Minister To Lam, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, the National Assembly Judicial Committee and its Chairwoman Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan, as well as Ho Thanh Dinh – The head of the Prison Management Bureau. However, all of her complaints eventually were passed down to Prison Center Number 5 to resolve.

“The person who threatened me and my husband was an officer at Center Number 5, and if all of my complaints were making their way back to this same place, then it would be meaningless. Both of us are feeling anxious and scared now that they (the prison guards) might try to harm Vinh one way or another,” Ha said.

On March 4, 2019, she also sent a letter to an alumni group consisting of her and Vinh’s former classmates at the People’s Security Academy, to suggest that if any one of them is going to accompany her on his release day, then please don’t bring any banner or poster so that they would be “in compliance with” the prison center’s request.

*** This story was first written in Vietnamese by Tran Ha Linh for Luat Khoa magazine on April 12, 2019. The Vietnamese has reviewed all of the complaints and letters which Mrs. Ha submitted and the official reply from the prison center. But because we only received information from Mrs. Ha, we decided at this time not to reveal the names of the prison guard or of the man in police uniform mentioned in this story.

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