Vietnam Briefing: Vietnam Arrests And Indicts Political Dissidents Amid COVID-19 Pandemic; South China Sea Becomes A Hot Issue Between Vietnam And China

The Vietnamese Magazine
The Vietnamese Magazine

The case of journalist Pham Doan Trang: Investigation process completed, leading to her indictment

  • On Aug 26, 2021, Hanoi Police announced that they had completed the investigations into Pham Doan Trang on the allegation of “spreading information against the State.” The government is now allowing lawyers to defend her for the first time since she was arrested last October.
  • Last year, on October 6, Pham Doan Trang was arrested by Vietnamese state security and she was subsequently 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. Since then, Trang has been held incommunicado and denied visits from her family and lawyers.
  • Trinh Huu Long, a personal representative of Pham Doan Trang, claimedthat her arrest was “completely unconstitutional, [and] in violation of the law.” Pham Doan Trang is a prominent journalist and democracy activist, famously known for her political books written for general readers and articles with sharp criticisms against Vietnam’s Communist government. “The authorities would do better to respect Doan Trang’s work rather than punish her,” Long concluded.
  • Pham Doan Trang could face up to 20 years in prison if found guilty.

Vietnamese police disguised as health workers arrest a dissident blogger

RFA reports:

  • On Aug 30, Vietnamese police arrested Bui Van Thuan, a dissident Facebook user, for criticizing the government in his online posts, especially his comments on the Dong Tam land dispute incident.
  • After cutting power to Thuan’s house in Nghi Son Town, Thanh Hoa Province, police officers, disguised as medical workers, asked his wife to let them in to take a health statement. “They said they were in a hurry and urged me to open the door quickly so that they could go to see others, so I invited them to come into the living room,” Thuan’s wife, Trinh Thi Nhung, said.
  • After getting into the house, a male officer “broke into the bedroom and restrained and handcuffed my husband just as he had woken up and was about to come out,” she said. The police then carried out a search of the house, handcuffing both the blogger and his wife, and confisticating a jar of lime-flavored honey, despite opposition from the family, and a copy of “The Handbook for Families of Prisoners” published by Pham Doan Trang as they left, according to Nhung.
  • Thuan was later formally prosecuted for “storing publications and materials against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam under Article 117 of Vietnam’s Criminal Code,” according to police documents reviewed by VOA. His arrest came just after the U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris’ visit to Vietnam, where she raised concerns about human rights issues.
  • Last year, when the dissident blogger was interviewed by the Los Angeles Times, he expressed concerns about Facebook’s compliance with Vietnamese authorities to suppress free speech by suspending dissidents’ accounts and censoring critical voices against the government.

Australia continues to urge Vietnam to release Vietnamese-Australian political prisoner Chau Van Kham

RFA and ABC News report:

  • On Aug 30, Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne sent a letter to MP Chris Hayes, advocating for the release of political prisoner Chau Van Kham.
  • Chau Van Kham was arrested in Jan 2019 in Ho Chi Minh City; he was later sentenced to 12 years in prison for alleged “terrorist activities against the People’s government.” Kham is a member of Viet Tan, a democracy and human rights organization regarded as a “terrorist group” by the Vietnamese government. However, the United Nations considers Viet Tan a “peaceful organization advocating for democratic reform.”
  • Meanwhile, Chau Van Kham’s family has spent more than two years advocating for his vaccination against COVID-19 once it is made available as the coronavirus situation began to deteriorate in Vietnam, especially with recent outbreaks in many prisons. “My husband is 72 years old, it’s easy for him to get COVID and die there. That’s why I want a vaccine for my husband,” said Trang Chau, his wife.
  • He was not among those released under an amnesty annually granted on Vietnamese Independence day on September 2.

COVID-19 situation in Vietnam

  • Quick take: Vietnam has recorded over 520,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases with more than 13,000 deaths. Fully vaccinated people only account for under 3 percent of the country’s population.
  • Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh warns of a lengthy battle against COVID-19, reports Reuters. “We cannot resort to quarantine and lockdown measures forever, as it will cause difficulty for the people and the economy,” he said during a meeting with an antivirus committee last Wednesday. The highly transmissive Delta variant has shattered Vietnam’s early success in containing COVID-19 infections.
  • Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam’s coronavirus epicenter, is considering a plan to reopen its economic activities from September 15, shifting from the “zero COVID-19” strategy to “living with the virus” policy, reports Reuters. The city has been gripped by a recent sharp rise of coronavirus infections and has remained under stringent lockdown since. So far, half of Vietnam’s confirmed cases, and 80 percent of its fatalities, have been recorded in Ho Chi Minh City.
  • Vietnam ranked bottom in Nikkei Asia’s Covid Recovery Index, mostly due to the country’s surge in COVID-19 cases, slow vaccination rates and rigid social distancing measures, which caused disruptions in the supply chain. The Nikkei chart ranks more than 120 countries and regions around the world on the assessment of infection management, vaccine rollouts and social mobility. This is the second time Vietnam is listed at the bottom.
  • Hanoi will send over 1,200 city residents from its largest COVID-19 cluster to a centralized quarantine facility on the city’s outskirts, reports VnExpress. The affected neighborhood, which is located in Thanh Xuan District, has reported more than 300 coronavirus cases since August 23. At the same time, Hanoi authorities are also set to extend lockdown measures until September 21, while maintaining strict COVID-19 restrictions in high risk areas.
  • Vietnam to receive an additional two million AstraZeneca vaccine doses, reports VnExpress: “Three batches of 2,016,460 AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine doses have arrived in Ho Chi Minh City this week. The batches, part of a 30 million dose contract between AstraZeneca and the Vietnam Vaccine JSC (VNVC), arrived on Tuesday and Wednesday.”
  • Ho Chi Minh City faces a food delivery crisis, reports Nikkei Asia: “The government-led delivery operation became overwhelmed during the first week, prompting the city to issue a written request to local supermarkets and online platforms to participate in delivery services. The move followed an announcement from the city on August 28, allowing as many as 25,000 shippers to join the delivery rollout. However, involving local businesses has done little to improve the situation.”

Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman makes statement on China’s revised Maritime Traffic Safety Law

  • On September 1, Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Le Thi Thu Hang made a statement on China’s official enforcement of its revised Maritime Traffic Safety Law, reports state-run VietnamPlus: “Vietnam resolutely and persistently safeguards its sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction over its waters determined in line with the provisions of the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS 1982),” said Hang.
  • On August 27, China’s Maritime Safety Administration announced that foreign vessels entering its “territorial waters,” which refers to its unlawful nine-dash line, must “report ship and cargo information to China’s maritime administrations,” according to the South China Morning Post (SCMP).
  • The revised Maritime Traffic Safety Law, which took effect on September 1, “comes amid escalating tension between China and rival claimants, as well as Western nations led by the US and its expanded military presence in the region,” writes the SCMP.
  • One day later, on August 28, Science Advances magazine took down a Facebook post of an attached scientific research showing China’s nine-dash line map after Vietnam’s social media users flooded its comment section with opposition and criticisms. Despite its effectiveness this time, the aggressive strategy utilized by Vietnamese social media users, or its “public opinion shapers,” has also been deployed to attack pro-democracy activists and foreign ambassadors’ social network accounts in Vietnam, particularly when they raise concerns about the country’s poor human rights record.

Vietnam Insight: Learn more about Vietnam

Vietnam Lost Public Buy-in. Its COVID-19 Struggles Followed

The Diplomat/ Le Vinh Trien and Kris Hartley/ September 1

“Anti-epidemic measures developed without collaboration fail to reflect the voices of diverse communities. When the political power among these communities is imbalanced, policy inconsistencies arise and a chain reaction emerges. Case counts rise as people resist restrictive behavior protocols, straining health care capacity and imperiling vulnerable groups. Ultimately, mixed messaging at the policy level widens the trust gap between government and citizens.”

Taliban Comparisons Are Unfair to Vietnam’s Leaders

Foreign Policy/ Chris Humphrey/ September 1

“There is no moral equivalence between North Vietnamese forces and the Taliban. During World War II, the Viet Minh actually supported the United States and its allies by serving as the only Vietnamese force resisting Japan’s invasion of Indochina. This preamble for conflict hardly compares to the Taliban militia, which massacred minority Hazara communities and forced Hindus to carry yellow badges to set them apart from Afghan Muslims—like Jews in Nazi Germany.”

Opinion: A lesson for America from the fall of Saigon in 1975

CNN/ Hao-Nhien Vu/ August 31

“The Afghans solved their problem by valiantly fighting the Soviet Union forces that invaded their country, and the Vietnamese benefited from the eventual dissolution of the USSR. Little to none of the economic reform that made Vietnam’s economy a vibrant one would likely have happened had the Soviet Union still been around.”

Vietnam BriefingPham Doan TrangCOVID-19Bui Van ThuanChina

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