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Human Rights

Vietnam: The True Victims Of Political Repression

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From the left: Pham Doan Trang, Nguyen Tuong Thuy, Nguyen Thuy Hanh, Can Thi Theu, Pham Chi Dung, Trinh Ba Phuong. Graphic: Luat Khoa Magazine.

The Absence of Choice

National elections in any part of the world are always interesting to observe. What occurs in them tends to range from comically hilarious, to shockingly horrifying, to essentially pivotal in the future progress and growth of a country. And as much as some people might say otherwise, whoever wins these elections matter; they are an important factor that determines the direction a nation will steer itself in over the coming few years. 

Living in a Communist state, Vietnamese citizens do not get the same opportunity afforded to other people in democratic countries during their general election. The Vietnamese people do not get to choose the top elected officials in their own nation; such a decision is left to the Politburo.

In effect, the direction in which the leaders of Vietnam steer the nation tends to be a one-way street with very few deviations to the plan and to the overall end goal.

While there are indeed some benefits to this kind of system, a long hard look at the failures of communist states of the past tends to raise more than a few eyebrows.

Hence, it should come as no surprise that a significant number of Vietnamese citizens do not approve of how their government handles elections, or how their leaders run the country. 

Faces in the Crowd 

CIVICUS, a global alliance of civil society organizations and activists dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society throughout the world, released a report on March 29, 2021 detailing how several activists in Vietnam were targeted, arrested, detained, or tortured by the government. 

CIVICUS noted that leading up to the conclusion of the 13th National Congress of the Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP) on February 2, 2021, the Vietnamese government and state security forces had been intensifying a crackdown on whoever they perceived to be critical of the regime.

An alarming  number of Vietnamese citizens were arrested, detained, or even tortured on the basis of trumped-up charges and the overuse of vaguely defined Vietnamese penal laws. 

Following are just some of the people mentioned in the CIVICUS report.

Tran Duc Thach at his trial. Photo: Tuoi Tre

Tran Duc Thach, an activist, writer, and co-founder of Vietnam’s Brotherhood for Democracy, was convicted on December 17, 2020. He was charged with subversion under Article 109 of the country’s criminal code and was sentenced to 12 years in prison and three years’ probation. 

State prosecutors claimed that his posts on Facebook “threatened social stability, encroached upon national independence and socialism, reduced people’s trust in the political institution of the state of Vietnam, and infringed upon national security and social safety and order.” On March 24, 2021, his appeal was denied and his sentence was upheld.

In December 2020, Nguyen Dang Thuong, Huynh Anh Khoa, and Tran Trong Khai were sentenced to serve 18, 15, and 12 months in prison, respectively. The three were administrators of a Facebook political discussion group. They were arrested under Article 331 of the 2015 Penal Code for “abusing democratic freedom rights to infringe upon the benefits of other individuals and/or organisations.” 

Their Facebook group had a following of around 46,000 users before it was shut down.

From left to right: Le Huu Minh Tuan, Nguyen Tuong Thuy, and Pham Chi Dung. Graphic: Luat Khoa Magazine

On January 5, 2021, Pham Chi Dung, Nguyen Tuong Thuy, and Le Huu Minh Tuan were convicted for allegedly “making, storing, and disseminating documents and materials for anti-state purposes” under Article 117 of Vietnam’s Penal Code. The three men are all members of the Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam (IJAVN). They wrote blogs and articles critical of the Vietnamese government. Nguyen Tuong Thuy also testified in front of the US House of Representatives in 2014 regarding the lack of freedom in Vietnam. 

Dinh Thi Thu Thuy. Photo: The 88 Project.

Dinh Thi Thu Thuy, an environmental activist, was jailed for seven years on January 20, 2021, after having been in police custody since April 2020. She was charged with “conducting propaganda against the state,” also under Article 117 of the Penal Code. Thu Thuy had made just a total of five social media posts that had garnered a total of 130 likes and 50 shares. 

Phan Bui Bao Thy and Le Anh Dung, two Vietnamese state media bloggers, were detained on February, 10, 2021, for publishing articles accusing provincial officials in Quang Tri Province of corruption. They were charged with “abusing press freedoms.” Phan Bui Bao Thy was the bureau chief of the online magazine Age and Education.

More recently on March 9 2021, Tran Quoc Khanh was detained for “defaming the government and distorting its policies.” He had used his personal social media page to post about the state’s human rights abuses, corruption, and the South China Sea. He is currently held in pre-trial detention and if found guilty faces 12 years in prison.

Tran Huynh Duy Thuc at his trial.

Nguyen Van Hoa, a contributor for Radio Free Asia (RFA), and Tran Huynh Duy Thuc, an imprisoned blogger, started hunger strikes in protest against the appalling conditions in Vietnamese prisons. Hoa was arrested in the past for filming a toxic waste spill after the Formosa environmental disaster happened in Vietnam in 2016. Tran Huynh Duy Thuc has remained in prison since his arrest in May 2009.

Nguyen Van Duc Do, an activist currently incarcerated for “carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the people’s administration” under Article 79 of the 1999 PenalCode, has been in prison since October 5, 2018. Amnesty International reports that he has been in solitary confinement since May 2020 and has been subjected to various forms of torture. According to the human rights group, both his legs were bound by chains for 10 consecutive days. He was also fed food mixed with human excrement. 

The Measure of Their Reach

These people are just a drop in the ocean compared to the total number of Vietnamese who are facing the ire of the government. In reality, it is difficult to ascertain how many people have been subjected to unjust prosecution by the Communist Party. Yet, the one thread that seems to be in common with all of them is that they were all very vocal in their criticisms. 

It would be easy to claim that only high profile individuals are the target of the ever watchful gaze of state authorities. Yet, Dinh Thi Thu Thuy only made five social posts and she was sentenced to 7 years in prison. Even members of the Vietnamese state media itself – like Phan Bui Bao Thy – were arrested. 

On social media, a person’s message can reach 10, a hundred, a thousand, or even a million people. However, the popularity of your posting hardly even matters in the eyes of the Vietnamese government. If the regime does not approve the message’s content, it will treat everyone equally, everyone as the same, because no one is above the VCP’s supreme authority. That would mean it will arrest and sentence anyone who dares to write in contradiction with its propaganda. 

Anyone is in danger, no one is secure, and even the slightest word critical of the government might be the last one you ever get to say. 

All the people mentioned above and the countless others like them are indeed victims of a government so thin-skinned that it responds to even the slightest whiff of dissent with arrests, coercion, and brute force. Yet, these journalists, activists, and human rights defenders account for just a tiny part of the whole. They are not the only casualties under the Communist regime. 

The actual victims of political repression are you, me, and everyone living and breathing under the iron heels of despots and dictators. And even though Vietnam always insists that it upholds and respects all of the human rights treaties it has entered into, in reality, all citizens are living in fear that one sentence or even one word may destroy our lives and the lives of those we love.

We are not free, and we will never be truly free if we still condone this type of government Vietnam has.

Human Rights

Vietnam To Try Pham Doan Trang For Propagandizing Against The State On November 4, 2021

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Pham Doan Trang. Graphic: Luat Khoa Magazine.

On October 14, 2021, attorney Dang Dinh Manh, one of Pham Doan Trang’s lawyers, posted on his Facebook that the People’s Court of Hanoi will try the prominent journalist and writer on November 4, 2021. Manh further indicated that the same court will also try Trinh Ba Phuong and Nguyen Thi Tam – two of the Duong Noi farmers – on November 3, 2021.[1]

Furthermore, sources informed The Vietnamese Magazine that the authorities have yet to officially approve any of Doan Trang’s attorneys to be her legal representatives. Attorney Manh confirmed that the government informed him of the information about Doan Trang’s trial via telephone. 

On October 6, 2021, Pham Chinh Truc, Doan Trang’s brother, received a notice from the Hanoi People’s Procuracy Office regarding his sister’s case status. That day also marked one year since the Vietnamese authorities arrested Doan Trang in Ho Chi Minh City. During this entire time, she has been held incommunicado. Her lawyers also received minimal information from the authorities about her case. 

Hanoi People’s Procuracy notified Truc that they had decided to transfer the case to the People’s Court of Hanoi after recommending her indictment on August 30, 2021. 

The Procuracy, however, did not specify what its recommendations are and what have been her conducts that fall under its possible charges against Pham Doan Trang. It is charging her with “conducting propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam,” which falls under either Article 88 of the 1999 Penal Code; she faces the possibility of a 20-year sentence. The Procuracy also failed to provide any evidence that it may have found during the year-long investigation leading up to the case being transferred to the Court. 

However, because none of her attorneys have yet to be officially recognized by the government, they did not receive the government indictment. In other words, both her family and her attorneys still do not know what evidence the government has against Doan Trang or the details of the charges against her. In the next few days, her attorneys will file a motion to delay her trial so that they can better prepare for her defense, The Vietnamese Magazine has learned.

Trinh Huu Long, the co-director of Legal Initiatives for Vietnam (LIV) and one of Doan Trang’s closest colleagues told The Vietnamese:

“It’s highly unusual that an activist is held completely incommunicado until just before the trial such as has happened with Doan Trang. This is nothing less than an extremely severe violation of both domestic and international laws. It is also ironic. The government wants to punish Doan Trang because she made it look bad, and Vietnam calls this is the rule of law, while the government itself has long gotten away with all sorts of inhuman treatment and violations of its own laws.”

Notes:

[1] Our previous version of this article has stated that Pham Doan Trang’s trial will be on November 3, 2021. However, Attorney Dang Dinh Manh since then has corrected his earlier statement and her trial will be on November 4, 2021.

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Human Rights

Tightening The Noose: The Latest Developments In Vietnam’s Assault On Internet Freedom

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Screenshot of Vietnam section on CIVICUS website. Photo source: CIVICUS.

On August 25, 2021, U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris met with several of Vietnam’s top leaders. According to a report by Reuters, while the focus of their dialogue centered on the South China Sea dispute and the strengthening of U.S presence in the region, she also brought up several human rights concerns with the Vietnamese government. Although Harris did not provide details about what they had discussed, the vice president assured the press that “[the United States] was “not going to shy away” from difficult conversations with countries the United States has partnerships with.

Prior to her arrival, Vietnam was already dealing with a surge in Covid-19 infections, which resulted in lockdowns and travel restrictions in several places in the country, including Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi. As of September 26, Vietnam has tallied over 476,000 confirmed cases with 18,000 deaths. The Vietnamese government’s approach to containing the spread of the virus has been questionable at best with its use of state media and propaganda to control the narrative and deployment of the military to enforce lockdown measures. 

Yet, despite the ongoing health crisis and the dialogue with the U.S. vice president, Vietnam continues its crackdown, detention, and imprisonment of several online critics, journalists, and activists. 

Freedom on the Net 2021

Freedom House, a US-based organization founded to support and defend democracy worldwide, released its annual Freedom on the Net report on September 21, 2021. This report analyzes the state of accessibility and censorship of a country’s cyber domain, alongside violations of internet users’ rights, and ranks each nation as being Free, Partly Free, or Not Free. It comes as no surprise that Vietnam continues to fare poorly in this regard; it has been classified as Not Free for three consecutive years and has been performing terribly under the standards set by Freedom House. 

This research highlights several aspects of the state of internet freedom in Vietnam. Regarding accessibility, Freedom House states that smartphone and internet penetration in the country has been good with internet prices becoming more affordable. However, connectivity continues to remain an issue for those living in extreme poverty and for ethnic minorities who live in the remote mountainous areas of Vietnam. Censorship also continues to be practiced by the Vietnamese government as it blocks or filters content coming from individuals and organizations that are critical of the regime. Predictably, Vietnam’s violation of internet-user rights is just as rampant compared to prior years with “police routinely [flouting] due process, arresting bloggers and online activists without a warrant or retaining them in custody beyond the maximum period allowed by law.”

CIVICUS: Latest Developments in Vietnam

On September 27, 2021, CIVICUS, an international alliance of various organizations that aim to strengthen citizen action and civil society worldwide, released its own report that details more recent events regarding the state of internet freedom in Vietnam. Similar to Freedom House, CIVICUS classifies Vietnam as Closed according to its own standards; a country with this rating exhibits “a complete closure of civic space” where “an atmosphere of fear and violence prevails, where state and powerful non-state actors are routinely allowed to imprison, seriously injure and kill people with impunity.” Criticism of those in power is also severely punished. Likewise, media freedom is virtually non-existent and the internet is heavily censored.

The CIVICUS report begins by highlighting the cases of several Facebook users who were arrested or imprisoned under Articles 117 and 331 of Vietnam’s Criminal Code. Nguyen Van Lam and Tran Hoang Minh were both found guilty by Vietnamese courts of violating these statutes on July 20, 2021. Lam was sentenced to nine years in prison for “posting anti-state writings and sharing videos and other content, including broadcasts considered politically subversive,” and for “creating, storing, disseminating information and materials against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.” Minh was given five years of jail time for “abusing democratic freedom” and for his objections to the Dong Tam land dispute incident

The report continues with the arrests of Facebookers Tran Hoang Huan and Bui Van Thuan, on August 10, 2021, and August 30, 2021, respectively. Huan’s recent posts voiced his objections and concerns regarding Vietnam’s use of Chinese-made COVID-19 vaccines. He was charged by the Tien Giang People’s Procuracy for “making, storing and spreading or propagandizing information or documents against the state under Article 117 of the Penal Code.”  Bui Van Thuan was arrested in his home by policemen who pretended to be medical workers. Bui Van Thuan’s wife, Trinh Nhung, stated with The 88 Project that Thuan had previously posted “biting commentaries against the government’s handling of COVID-19 and other political issues.”

The more recent cases of Nguyen Thuy Duong and Nguyen Duy Linh are also mentioned in the report. CIVICUS states that Amnesty International had reported on September 2, 2021, that Duong had been fined 5 million dong (US$220) for sharing a Facebook post that accused Vietnamese authorities of neglect during the COVID-19 lockdown. This post blamed the government for the rampant spread of hunger among city residents during this time. Nguyen Duy Linh was arrested on September 14 and charged by state authorities with “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 of the country’s Criminal Code.

Updates regarding the case of detained human rights defender, journalist, and co-founder of The Vietnamese and the Luat Khoa online magazines, Pham Doan Trang, are also included in the CIVICUS report. On September 6, 2021, the government informed Doan Trang’s lawyer, Luan Le, that his client would be “formally indicted with ‘conducting propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam under Article 88 of the 1999 Penal Code.” Despite her case being brought to the attention of the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (UNWGAD), she still faces the very real possibility of being sentenced to 20 years imprisonment. 

Radio Free Asia’s coverage regarding the arrest of five journalists from the Facebook-based news outlet, Bao Sach (Clean Newspaper) is also mentioned in the report. Truong Chau Huu Danh, Nguyen Thanh Nha, Doan Kien Giang, Nguyen Phuong Trung Bao, and Le The Thang were charged with violating Article 331 of Vietnam’s Criminal Code for posting “anti-state and reactionary information” which delved into information that was “inappropriate, distorting, against the country’s interests, and slanderous of the people’s administration.” Thang is currently released on bail while the other four journalists are still in detention. Truong Chau Huu Danh, the founder of Bao Sach, also faces the additional charge of posting stories that “generated bad interactions between internet users in the cyber environment” which “propagandized, distorted, defamed and seriously slandered Party organizations and local Party committees.”

Tran Huu Duc and Le Thi Kim Phi were accused by the authorities of using Facebook to connect with members of the U.S.-based Provisional Government of Vietnam, an organization founded in 1991 by former soldiers and refugees who remained loyal to the South Vietnamese government after the war. Than Huu Duc was arrested in January 2021 and charged under Article 109 of Vietnam’s Penal Code for “gathering information on Nghe An residents … for a referendum on naming [Provisional Government of Vietnam] member, Dao Minh Quan, as president of Vietnam.” Duc was also accused of “posting political content online” that opposed government policies and “slandering leaders of Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party.” In September 2021, Le Thi Kim Phi was arrested and charged under the vague clause of “carrying out activities to overthrow the government.” 

In January 2018, the Provisional Government of Vietnam was labeled a “terrorist organization” by the Vietnamese authorities. 

Additional Restrictions on Internet Freedom 

Following the passage of the controversial Cybersecurity Law in 2018, the CIVICUS report further mentions a draft of a government decree which further restricts internet freedom by limiting live-streaming on popular social media sites. CIVICUS states that, “under the terms of the decree, any account that operates on a social media platform in Vietnam and has more than 10,000 followers must provide contact information to authorities” and that “only registered accounts will be allowed to live-stream.” The draft also imposes additional responsibilities on social media providers, requiring them to block or remove content within 24 hours if they receive a “justified complaint” from an individual or organization. 

When passed this decree, coupled with the already draconian Cybersecurity Law, will serve to further cement the Vietnamese Communist Party’s (VCP) rule over the country’s already restrictive cyberspace, putting social media users more at risk of the government’s retribution and reducing social media platforms to tools of government surveillance. 

Freedom on the Net 2021 provides an overall look at the state of internet freedom in Vietnam while the CIVICUS report presents recent, documented, and specific events that support Freedom House’s outlook on the country. Both illustrate a very grim and depressing reality about Vietnam: that despite international pressure, in the form of U.S Vice-President Harris’ visit, and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the VCP is more concerned about maintaining power and control over its people than prioritizing their welfare and safety during these difficult times; the Party would rather control the narrative than work to give actual aid to much of its struggling populace. 

In the end, the actions of the Vietnamese government serve only as a reminder of its ineptitude during times of crisis and its callousness to the plight of everyday Vietnamese; in its relentless attack against internet freedom and freedom of speech, the more pressing and immediate threats to the welfare of the Vietnamese people remain half-heartedly addressed. 

Citations:

  1. Bose, N. (2021, August 25). U.S. VP Harris offers Vietnam support to counter Beijing in the South China Sea. Reuters. Retrieved September 28, 2021, from https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/us-vp-harris-offers-vietnam-support-counter-beijing-south-china-sea-2021-08-25/
  2. Jaffe, A. (2021, August 26). Harris says she urged Vietnam to free political dissidents. – The Diplomat. Retrieved September 29, 2021, from https://thediplomat.com/2021/08/harris-says-she-urged-vietnam-to-free-political-dissidents/
  3. Nguyen, J. (2021, August 19). State media and social media during the COVID-19 pandemic: A tale of two cities in Vietnam. The Vietnamese. Retrieved September 29, 2021, from https://www.thevietnamese.org/2021/08/state-media-and-social-media-during-the-covid-19-pandemic-a-tale-of-two-cities-in-vietnam/
  4. Nguyen, J. (2021, September 12). Why did the Vietnamese Communist Party militarize its fight against COVID-19? The Vietnamese. Retrieved September 29, 2021, from https://www.thevietnamese.org/2021/09/why-did-the-vietnamese-communist-party-militarize-its-fight-against-covid-19/
  5. Shahbaz, A., & Funk, A. (n.d.). Freedom on the net 2021: The global drive to control Big Tech. Freedom House. Retrieved September 30, 2021, from https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-net/2021/global-drive-control-big-tech
  6. Reed, A. (2021, September 21). New research: Vietnam remains “not free” on internet freedom, Freedom House says. The Vietnamese. Retrieved Sept 30, 2021, from https://www.thevietnamese.org/2021/09/new-research-vietnam-remains-not-free-on-internet-freedom-freedom-house-says/
  7. Huu Long, T. (2021, September 21). Vietnam: Freedom on the net 2021 country report. Freedom House. Retrieved October 1, 2021, from https://freedomhouse.org/country/vietnam/freedom-net/2021
  8. C. I. V. I. C. U. S. (2021, September 27). CRACKDOWN ON ONLINE CRITICS PERSISTS IN VIETNAM AS NEW DECREE CONTROLLING LIVESTREAMING PROPOSED. Civicus. Retrieved September 29, 2021, from https://monitor.civicus.org/updates/2021/09/27/crackdown-online-critics-persists-vietnam-new-decree-controlling-livestreaming-proposed/
  9. Civicus. (2020, April 7). ONLINE DEBATE ON DONG TAM INCIDENT FOLLOWED BY PANDEMIC SILENCED BY VIETNAM AUTHORITIES. Civicus. Retrieved October 1, 2021, from https://monitor.civicus.org/updates/2020/04/07/online-debate-dong-tam-incident-followed-pandemic-silenced-vietnam-authorities/
  10. The 88 Project (2021, September 6). Vietnam free expression newsletter no. 34/2021 – week of August 30-September 5. The 88 Project. Retrieved September 29, 2021, from https://the88project.org/newsletter-no-34-2021/
  11. Finney, R. (2021, September 3). Vietnamese facebook user fined for ‘fake news’ as criticism grows of government’s handling of pandemic. Radio Free Asia. Retrieved September 30, 2021, from https://www.rfa.org/english/news/vietnam/fine-09032021182640.html
  12. Whong, E. (2021, September 10). Vietnam indicts five journalists from Facebook-based outlet. Radio Free Asia. Retrieved September 30, 2021, from https://www.rfa.org/english/news/vietnam/baosach-09092021174755.html
  13. Finney, R. (2021, September 14). Vietnam court sentences member of ‘Provisional Government’ to three-year prison term. Radio Free Asia. Retrieved October 29, 2021, from https://www.rfa.org/english/news/vietnam/court-08182021185109.html
  14. Gerin, R. (2021, September 14). Third Vietnamese charged for Facebook connections with US-based Exile Group. Radio Free Asia. Retrieved September 30, 2021, from https://www.rfa.org/english/news/vietnam/le-thi-kim-phi-09102021183034.html

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Human Rights

Vietnam Says It Is Promoting And Defending Human Rights, But The Reality Proves Otherwise

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Photo credit (left to right): Luat Khoa Magazine/ Reuters. Graphic: The Vietnamese Magazine.

In Vietnam, the beginning of this October marks two significant events that challenge and reflect upon the country’s actual circumstance over its commitment to uphold human rights values: the one year anniversary of the arrest of journalist Pham Doan Trang and the mass exodus of migrant workers who have had to use all sorts of means to return to their hometowns due to the lack of help from the government.

Earlier, in March, Vietnam also announced its candidacy for the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) for the agency’s 2023-2025 term. This announcement has astonished many local pro-democracy activists and critics, who have expressed their opposition to such a move.

According to the UNHRC’s membership requirements [1], member states running for the seats need to fulfill their “contribution to the promotion and protection of human rights,” and once they gain the council’s membership, the members must bear the responsibility to “uphold high human rights standards.” 

However, given the one-party Communist state’s poor human rights record and its consistently oppressive policies and actions in curtailing the people’s fundamental civil and political rights, Vietnam’s legitimacy to become a member of the UNHRC should remain out of the question [2].

On the one hand, Vietnam’s state-controlled media has been seen praising [3] the country’s efforts in securing a seat at the United Nations body, betting on its early successful containment of COVID-19 and the donations of masks and medical equipment to other countries. From the government’s reasoning, keeping people safe and protecting their daily livelihoods are crucial to the promotion of human rights. “The country has tackled the pandemic head-on, putting the people at the center of all its efforts,” state media quoted Vietnamese Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh as saying at the UNHRC’s 46th Regular Session.

On the other hand, the apprehension of journalist Pham Doan Trang and the dire situation of Vietnamese migrant workers during the fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in the country provide us with a contrasting narrative. Those unparalleled stories vividly portray an authoritarian government that shows virtually no tolerance for dissenting opinions, in addition to highlighting its disregard for the most basic human rights, which are recognized in the U.N.’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the country’s own Constitution.

Pham Doan Trang and her freedom of speech

Pham Doan Trang was arrested by the Vietnamese authorities at around midnight on October 6, 2020, and she has been held incommunicado since her detainment. Her arrest came only hours after officials from Vietnam and the United States held a video conference for the two countries’ 24th annual Human Rights Dialogue. However, Doan Trang, her friends and colleagues, and also the readers of her books, had long been anticipating her arrest.

As a dedicated journalist and a prominent writer, Pham Doan Trang has devoted her career to documenting and writing about controversial social issues and human rights violations committed by the Vietnamese government. She also publishes books popularizing general knowledge about politics, laws, and human rights for the Vietnamese people.

Pham Doan Trang and her book “Politics for The Masses.” Photo: Luat Khoa Magazine.

In theory, the Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP) has consistently trumpeted [4] its respect for the people’s right to freedom of speech, right to access to information, and press freedom, which were promised to its citizens under the Constitution. But in reality, the VCP has systematically harassed and detained independent journalists and activists [5], restricted access [6] to critical online newspapers and blogs, including The Vietnamese Magazine and Luat Khoa Magazine, and tracked down and intimidated [7] anyone who disagrees with its political doctrine.

To the international community and admirers of her work, Doan Trang has only done what a journalist should be doing: report truthfully and inform the global audience about alleged human rights abuses by the VCP. What the Vietnamese government has been doing to silence opposition critics and dissidents like her only exposes the country’s serious violations of basic human rights and its lack of commitment to steadfastly protect those fundamental rights of its citizens.

The homebound journeys of Vietnamese migrant workers 

Also at the beginning of October, heartrending photos and video footage of thousands of migrant workers rushing to return to their hometowns were widely shared on Vietnamese social media. These migrant workers decided to flee big cities en masse due to financial difficulties that affected them as a result of COVID control measures and the lack of help from the government. “We are tired,” one migrant worker said [8].

On their way home, many of the laborers were seen breaking through the barricades at checkpoints set up by local authorities, with many beaten by security forces and some even seen begging the officers to let them through. According to the government, these methods were to prevent the wave of mass migrations that resulted from concerns about the transmission of the coronavirus. Despite facing many hurdles and uncertainty during their homebound journeys, those migrant workers hardly had any other choice.

Police and security forces guard a checkpoint in Ho Chi Minh City as people, who are mostly migrant workers, attempt to return to their hometowns. The photo was taken on September 30, 2021, by Reuters/ Stringer.

This abrupt and large-scale migration wave was a result of Vietnam’s months-long abusive lockdown mandates [9], which largely excluded human rights matters from its protocols, and the negligence of the government regarding the well-being, and more importantly, the dignity of workers.

As written in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Vietnamese people in general, and migrant laborers in particular, have the right to freedom of movement and residence within their own country; they also have the right to be treated with dignity and to seek their own security of life. Those allegedly unlawful actions by the Vietnamese government are clearly blatant violations of universal human rights, which are ironically the key conditions that the VCP must meet to gain its seat at the UNHRC.

Steward Rees, an advocacy associate with The 88 Project, a non-profit organization that promotes free speech in Vietnam, suggests [10] that if Vietnam is genuinely serious about contributing to the development of global human rights, unconditionally releasing Pham Doan Trang would be a good place to start.

References:

  1. Membership of the Human Rights Council. (2020). United Nations Human Rights Council. https://www.ohchr.org/en/hrbodies/hrc/pages/membership.aspx
  2. Jamal, U. (2021, March 17). Should Vietnam become a member of the UN Human Rights Council? ASEAN Today. https://www.aseantoday.com/2021/03/should-vietnam-become-a-member-of-the-un-human-rights-council/
  3. VNA. (2021, March 15). Vietnam stands for election to UNHRC in 2023–2025 tenure. VietnamPlus. https://en.vietnamplus.vn/vietnam-stands-for-election-to-unhrc-in-20232025-tenure/197570.vnp
  4. VNA. (2021b, July 8). Press freedom in Vietnam – Undeniable objective reality. VietnamPlus. https://en.vietnamplus.vn/press-freedom-in-vietnam-undeniable-objective-reality/204350.vnp
  5. Database of persecuted activists in Vietnam. (n.d.). The 88 Project. Retrieved October 6, 2021, from https://the88project.org/database/
  6. Freedom House. (2021, September). Freedom on The Net 2021 (Vietnam). https://freedomhouse.org/country/vietnam/freedom-net/2021
  7. Human Rights Watch. (2021). World Report 2021: Vietnam. https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2021/country-chapters/vietnam
  8. Reuters. (2021, October 4). “We are tired”: Workers flee Vietnam’s largest city as long lockdown eases. Reuters. https://www.reuters.com/world/the-great-reboot/we-are-tired-workers-flee-vietnams-largest-city-long-lockdown-eases-2021-10-04/
  9. Nguyen, J. (2021, July 21). How The Latest Outbreak Reveals The Darker Side Of Vietnam’s Anti-Coronavirus Strategy. The Vietnamese Magazine. https://www.thevietnamese.org/2021/07/how-the-latest-outbreak-reveals-the-darker-side-of-vietnams-anti-coronavirus-strategy/
  10. Rees, S. (2021, October 5). Vietnamese rights activist marks first year in jail. Asia Times. https://asiatimes.com/2021/10/vietnamese-rights-activist-marks-first-year-in-jail/

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