Vietnam Briefing: Indictment Against Journalist Pham Doan Trang Made Available; Vietnam Arrests Another Facebook User For Criticizing Its COVID-19 Policy

Vietnam Briefing: Indictment Against Journalist Pham Doan Trang Made Available; Vietnam Arrests Another Facebook User For Criticizing Its COVID-19 Policy
Photo: Luat Khoa Magazine/ Ba Ria - Vung Tau Public Security Department. Graphic: The Vietnamese Magazine.

The formal indictment against journalist Pham Doan Trang made available for public, reports The Vietnamese Magazine

Main points:

  • According to the indictment, the investigation was done between September 22, 2016 and October 7, 2020, which was also the day that the authorities arrested Doan Trang.
  • Doan Trang refused to provide the police with her laptop password and so the police could not access its data. She also refused to acknowledge her possession of the Facebook account named “Pham Doan Trang,” and therefore the investigative unit could not charge her in connection with the information posted via that account on social media.
  • Doan Trang acknowledged that she was one of the authors of the “Report Assessment of the 2016 Law on Belief and Religion in Relation to the Exercise of Freedom of Religion and Belief in Vietnam” in both English and Vietnamese. This report was published on the website of Luat Khoa Magazine.
  • As of the conclusion of the investigation into Doan Trang’s case on August 26, 2021, the authorities had not yet found any evidence to reduce her punishment.
  • The indictment stated that both the 1999 Penal Code and the 2015 Penal Code (which took effect on January 1, 2018) could be used to prosecute Doan Trang since she continued her unlawful conduct from 2017 to 2019. However, the government dropped charges under Article 117 and only prosecuted Doan Trang under Article 88 because it stated that Doan Trang did not provide any statement during her interrogations.
  • The 1999 Penal Code would be more beneficial to the defendant since Article 88 of that penal code starts the sentence at 3 years imprisonment versus 5 years imprisonment under Article 117 of the 2015 Penal Code.

Evidence and final indictment:

  • English documents titled “A brief report on marine life disasters in Vietnam” and “General Assessment of the human rights situation in Vietnam;”
  • English and Vietnamese versions of the “Report Assessment of the 2016 Law on Belief and Religion in Relation to the Exercise of the Right to Freedom of Religion and Belief in Vietnam;”
  • Two interviews with Pham Doan Trang by BBC News Vietnamese and Radio Free Asia – Vietnamese (RFA) in 2018.
  • The Hanoi People’s Procuracy Office prosecuted Doan Trang under Article 88, Section 1, subsections a, b, and c for “propagandizing against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam” of the 1999 Penal Code. The sentencing for this crime will be three to 12 years imprisonment.

Pham Doan Trang’s lawyers and family raise concerns over the deterioration of her health while in custody

  • On October 19, 2021, Le Van Luan, one of Pham Doan Trang’s defending attorneys, announced on social media that he had a formal meeting with his client and subsequently raised concerns about her deteriorating health conditions after a year of detention while pending trial. However, he said that she still maintains an optimistic and percipient mentality.
  • In his Facebook post, Luan shared that Doan Trang had lost 10 kilograms (around 22 pounds) over the past year due to suffering ovarian cysts and menorrhagia, a condition which has caused her periods to last as long as 15 days. The long periods and her low blood pressure have resulted in constant fatigue. According to Trang, the changing cold weather also made her legs feel painful; her legs were broken when she was attacked by security forces a few years ago. Trang said she had not received proper medical checkups or treatment while in custody.
  • On October 20, 2021, Doan Trang’s lawyers co-wrote a petition that they sent to the Hanoi authorities, requesting that they confirm the state of her declining health conditions and assist her with proper medical checkups and treatment. On October 22, Pham Chinh Truc, Doan Trang’s brother, sent an urgent petition regarding her health issues to the detention facility, demanding the officials in charge provide her with urgent medical care as well as improve her conditions in detention. Truc also requested the Hanoi authorities allow her a family visitation this October, followed by regular visitations every two weeks afterwards.

Trinh Ba Phuong’s wife could not have visitation with him

As we have previously published, the trial of two Duong Noi farmers, Trinh Ba Phuong and Nguyen Thi Tam, will be on November 3, 2021. They are both charged under Article 117 of the 2015 Penal Code for “propagandizing against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.” The 88 Project reported on October 25, 2021, that Trinh Ba Phuong’s wife, Thu Do, could not have visitation with him even the Hanoi’s People Court had allowed her.

Accordingly, Thu Do received a letter from the Hanoi’s People Court informing her that she could visit her husband on October 21. “But when she got to the prison, she was turned away by prison officials who told her she could not see him due to COVID-19. When she asked to see the official paperwork with that decision, they produced an old order from April. They also refused to give her an explanation on paper. She has sent a complaint to the Court and the Ministry of Public Security about this and vowed to return next week,” The 88 Project stated.

Detained blogger Bui Van Thuan’s family expresses concerns over his possible torture in detention

RFA reports:

  • On October 15, Trinh Thi Nhung, Bui Van Thuan’s wife, received a notice from Thanh Hoa Province detention center, where Thuan is being held, regarding her husband’s health. The authorities informed Nhung that her husband had been admitted to a hospital for treatment of possible development of gout, liver infection and plantar fasciitis.
  • However, Nhung expressed concerns that Thuan might have been tortured while in custody since her husband has always had good health. The detention center officials declined to provide further information.
  • Bui Van Thuan was arrested on August 30, 2021 by Thanh Hoa Province police, just after U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris’ visit to Vietnam, where she raised concerns about human rights issues in the country. He was charged with “storing publications and materials against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam” under Article 117 of Vietnam’s Penal Code.

Vietnamese Facebook user arrested for posting “distorted information on COVID-19 policy”

VOA Vietnamese reports:

  • Vietnamese police in the city of Vung Tau arrested a Facebook user on October 21 for posting and sharing “false information on COVID-19 prevention policy” on his social media account.
  • Nguyen Thien Nghia, 50, was allegedly accused by the local public security department of posting “fabricated, false and distorted information on the government’s COVID-19 prevention policy.” His posts were seen criticizing the Ho Chi Minh City authorities’ coronavirus policies and the activities of Vietnamese Fatherland Front, a state-controlled political mass organization, for its fiscal misconduct and lack of support for the citizens financially affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • He was detained and prosecuted under Article 179 of the Penal Code for “illegally transferring or utilizing information of computer and telecommunications networks.” Nghia is among dozens of people who were fined or prosecuted for criticizing the Vietnamese government regarding its controversial coronavirus policies.

Bao Sach (Clean Newspaper) group’s trial is expected to begin on October 26

  • Last week, several state-run news outlets, including the military-owned People’s Army Newspaper, reported that the trial against the Bao Sach group, an independent journalism project, was expected to begin on October 26. Previously, the trial was due on October 12, but was subsequently postponed due to Vietnam’s COVID-19 pandemic situation.
  • Bao Sach members, including the former state journalist Truong Chau Huu Danh, were indicted last September by the People’s Procuracy of Can Tho City on charges of “abusing the rights to freedom and democracy to infringe on state interests” under Article 331 of Vietnam’s 2015 Penal Code.

COVID-19 situation in Vietnam

  • Vietnamese prime minister promises economic revival after the COVID-19 pandemic, reports Reuters. On October 20, Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh told the National Assembly that Vietnam’s economy would rebound after the pandemic ended, with exports expected to rise 10.7 percent in 2021 and with annual inflation expected to fall below 4 percent. His statement came as a fast-spreading outbreak of the Delta variant led to mass lockdowns in the country’s key industrial provinces, causing disruptions in supply chains and labor shortages.
  • Vietnam resorts to China’s vaccine diplomacy supplies to ease COVID-19 infections in Ho Chi Minh City, despite reluctance from residents, writes Nikkei Asia: “China has announced donations of 5.7 million doses of its Sinopharm vaccine. The shot is not the preferred one for many Vietnamese, but it is helping to fill local supply gaps and is playing an increasing role in Vietnam’s inoculation campaign, which started later than those in some other countries.”
  • Vietnam’s labor paradox: Manufacturing industry caught in labor shortage problem after COVID-19 restrictions force workers to rush back to their hometowns, writes Nikkei Asia: “The summer brought pandemic-driven lockdowns to much of the country, which had forced workers to sleep at factories and prevented travel between provinces. As soon as officials pulled the barricades and barbed wire off the roads, tens of thousands of migrants rushed back to their hometowns.”
  • The 2021 Southeast Asian Games (SEA Games), which were planned to be held in Vietnam in November, have been postponed until 2022 due to the spread of COVID-19, reports the South China Morning Post. The biennial multi-sport event will be held in Hanoi during an unspecified two-week period in May, 2020.

Satellite imagery shows Vietnam’s construction and land-filling in disputed Spratly islands

RFA reports:

  • Commercial satellite imagery shows that Vietnam appears to be doing new construction and land-filling on the remote Pearson Reef, which it has occupied since 1978, and which it had previously reclaimed about six acres of land there.
  • The imagery, which was taken by Planet Labs on Friday, shows new work has been underway at the southern tip of the northern part of the reef when compared with a picture from March. The difference is even clearer when compared with an image from June 2020.
  • Pearson Reef is classified by the Washington D.C.-based Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) as a rock, 300 nautical miles east of Cam Ranh in central Vietnam. In Vietnamese, it bears the name of Phan Vinh, after Nguyen Phan Vinh, a hero soldier who died in 1968 during the Vietnam War.
  • On October 21, state media quoted a Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman as saying that Vietnam adheres to international law and principles of peace, stability and cooperation regarding the South China Sea disputes. The statement came after Chinese state media CGTN publicly released footage on October 19 showing its military exercises in the disputed waters between two countries.

Vietnam Insight: Learn more about Vietnam

What’s Next for Indonesia-Vietnam Defense Relations?

The Diplomat/ Prashanth Parameswaran/ October 20

“Both countries [Indonesia and Vietnam] also addressed the future issues that they should prioritize in advancing their defense ties. According to the official account of the deliberations, these included areas such as technical cooperation between their coast guards, the development of military medicine amid the continued challenge of COVID-19, and other training exercises and high-level delegation exchanges. Indonesia’s defense ministry also highlighted the participation of defense industry companies in the virtual meeting, spotlighting an aspect that Jakarta has emphasized previously in defense ties.”

Vietnam’s Economic Reopening: Finding the Right Balance

Fulcrum/ Tuan Ho/ October 18

“This presents Vietnam with the challenging task of ‘finding the right balance’ in its economic reopening process. On the one hand, Vietnam needs to ease social distancing measures as much as possible to revitalise the economy, which has been hard hit by the fourth wave of Covid-19 since late April.  Vietnam’s GDP contracted 6.2 percent in the third quarter, the largest quarterly decline recorded since 2000. The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has lowered Vietnam’s GDP growth forecast to 3.8 percent in 2021, a drop of 2 percentage points from a previous estimate made in July. Nguyen Kim Anh, the deputy governor of the State Bank of Vietnam, has warned that banks’ non-performing loans could reach between 7.1 and 7.7 percent of total outstanding loans, almost twice the estimate of 3.8 percent at the end of 2020. Further delays to full reopening will impede economic recovery and put further stress on the banking system.”

Pacific Nations Have an Interest in Challenging China’s Expansive Maritime Claims

The Diplomat/ Phuong Vu/ October 18

“This is where small and non-claimant states, which benefit the most from a law-based international order in general and UNCLOS in particular, matter.  If they fail to form a consensus that views the South China Sea disputes and China’s interpretation of the law as a national threat, the repercussions will not stop at the water’s edge of current claimants such as Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia or Brunei. Small coastal and archipelagic states will incur expensive long-term costs for inaction. Through inaction, small states can effectively pave the way for a future where China will interpret the law for them.”

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