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Vietnamese Police Continue Questioning People Over Facebook Activities

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Phan Chi Toan at the police station. Photo courtesy: Vietnamnet.

The police force in Ben Tre Province, Vietnam seemed to have been quite busy in the last few months, going after people’s postings on Facebook.

In January 2019, their Domestic Security Bureau took a university student in and questioned him over his Facebook’s usage, including whether he had joined a group calls “Liking BBC Vietnamese” (Thích BBC Tiếng Việt) – which the police classified as “politically hostile.”

On February 13, 2019, Vietnamnet newspaper reported that Ben Tre provincial police conducted an investigation and interrogated a 35-year-old man, Phan Chi Toan, about his Facebook’s activities under the username “Phan Rio.”

Police alleged that the Facebook account calls Phan Rio was conducting “subversion against the people’s government.”

How did he do it according to the authorities?

He did so by joining numerous groups, allegedly “politically hostile” towards the Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP) and the State, posting, sharing, and commenting on contents that incited demonstrations, as well as propagating to defame the policies, guidelines, and directions of the VCP and the government.

The police had not formally charged Toan with a crime but did declare that they would proceed with the case according to the regular procedures.

The same Vietnamnet’s article further mentioned that the People’s Committee of Mo Cay Bac District, also in Ben Tre Province, had fined a 55-year-old man – Dang Tri Thuc – under Government’s Decree 174/2013/ND-CP, Article 64, Section 4, for using his Facebook account to incite public demonstration in December 2018.

Accordingly, Thuc, a driver, was accused of using the live-stream feature on Facebook to make video clips, calling on others to protest on a few major road intersections on December 22 and 28. He allegedly admitted guilt, confessed and promised he would not repeat the offense, so the authorities fined him with 15M VND or approximately 650 USD.

Decree 174/2013/ND-CP, Article 64: Violations against regulations on websites/ news websites

Section 4. A fine ranging from VND 30,000,000 to VND 50,000,000 shall be imposed for any of the following violations:

a) Propagating information against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam; sabotaging the bloc of great national unity at a degree of severity which is still not liable to criminal prosecutions;

b) Propagating information with the aims of inciting war of aggression, causing hatred between ethnic groups or people of countries, inciting violence or propagating reactionary thought at a degree of severity which is still not liable to criminal prosecutions;

c) Distorting history, denying the revolutionary achievements or offending the nation, people or national heroes at a degree of severity which is still not liable to criminal prosecutions.

While the right to demonstrate is constitutionally protected in Vietnam, the government had routinely violated this right by applying their Decree 38/2005/NĐ-CP – to regulate “public gatherings – during protests to arrest the participants.

Since the nationwide mass protests broke out in June 2018 against the draft bills on the cybersecurity law and the development of three special economic zones, the security police have continued to track down those who had participated and made arrests in different cities and provinces.

The family of a woman names Doan Thi Hong from Binh Thuan Province has recently made a public plea on social media, alleging that Hong was taken into police custody by a group of plainclothes police on September 2, 2018. She was a participant in the same June 2018 protest mentioned above.

Although she has a young child under 36-month-old at the time of the arrest, which under Vietnam’s laws is a factor to consider against pre-trial detention, her sister claimed that Hong had been arbitrarily kept incommunicado since September of last year.

According to her sister, Hong was not a dissident and only exercised her right to protest that one time.

It seems that the police’s recent investigations targetting Facebook’s activities and usage in Vietnam also focus primarily on the average users and not necessarily the more well-known bloggers and dissidents.

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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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Press Release

Luat Khoa and The Vietnamese’s Press Release on the Indictment of Three Members of The Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam (IJAVN)’s

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As media organizations, Luat Khoa and The Vietnamese magazines vehemently denounce the three recent arrests of the three members of IJAVN: Le Huu Minh Tuan (detained on June 12, 2020), Nguyen Tuong Thuy (detained on May 23, 2020, and Pham Chi Dung (detained on November 21, 2019).

All of these three journalists were charged with the crime “publish, store, and disseminate or propagandize information, documentation, and products against the Social Republic of Vietnam” (Article 117 of Vietnam’s current Penal Code). This penal code has already been viewed as a blatant violation of people’s freedom of speech and free press by many human rights organizations. 

IJAVN – together with running its Vietnam Thoi Bao newspaper – is a regular civil society organization formed under the right to associate, and it sets to implement the right for a free press and promote an independent and decent media for Vietnam.

Luat Khoa and The Vietnamese magazines share and support the values in which the IJAVN pursues. 

As journalists, we ultimately care for the safety of our other colleagues. We consider the reality of a government trying to silence any journalist to be an imminent threat to us and anyone who practices free speech.

Silencing journalists is also a violation of the right to read free and independent media of the people.

We have realized that the call for the government of Vietnam to release immediately and unconditionally these three journalists of IJAVN would be unrealistic in the situation of Vietnam. However, that action is the only righteous conduct that the Vietnamese government could act right now, and therefore, we call on them to immediately do so.

We also call on all of the journalists, the activists, the public, the international organizations, and the foreign governments to jointly monitor and pressure the Vietnamese authorities to release the three journalists, Pham Chi Dung, Nguyen Tuong Thuy, and Le Huu Minh Tuan; and to call on the government to respect the Vietnamese people’s right for a free press and the freedom to form associations.

___

To contact us, please email editor@luatkhoa.org

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