Vietnam Briefing: Pham Doan Trang Marks First Year In Jail; Vietnam Faces Labor Shortage As Migrant Workers Flee Industrial Cities For Home

The Vietnamese Magazine
The Vietnamese Magazine

Journalist Pham Doan Trang marks her first year in jail

  • Around midnight on October 6, 2020, journalist Pham Doan Trang was arrested by the Vietnamese authorities and subsequently prosecuted on charges of “making, storing, spreading information, materials, items for the purpose of opposing the State of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.”
  • According to Doan Trang’s family, and one of her defending lawyers, Le Van Luan, the People’s Procuracy of Hanoi completed an official indictment against her and submitted her case to the People’s Court of Hanoi on August 30, but it did not notify her family and lawyers about the decision until October 6. Meanwhile, investigation results and the official indictment against Doan Trang have still not yet been made available.
  • Pham Doan Trang has been held incommunicado since her arrest and denied personal visitations by her family and lawyers.

Vietnamese woman suing the authorities for alleged human rights violations

RFA reports:

  • On Tuesday last week, Hoang Thi Phuong Lan, a Vietnamese woman who was violently forced by local authorities to take a coronavirus test, said that she would file a lawsuit against the government.
  • “I have the right not to let anyone touch my body, and what they did was absolutely wrong from a legal standpoint, and it also went against the regulations on pandemic prevention and control,” Lan said during a livestream video on her Facebook. “It was wrong that they decided to give me a fine even after they were able to get my specimen. Therefore, I am taking legal action,” she said.
  • According to Lan, she also received the local government’s decision to fine her two million dong (around US$88) for health law violations. Lan added that she was offered no opportunity to negotiate with local authorities on the decision.
  • However, Lan’s case is only one example of many incidents where Vietnamese authorities are caught on video committing coercive measures and violence against citizens during the COVID-19 pandemic.

COVID-19 situation in Vietnam

  • As of October 10, 2021, Vietnam has recorded more than 836,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases, while the total death toll in the country has surpassed 20,000 fatalities. Less than 15 percent of the country’s population has received two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.
  • Vietnamese authorities reportedly killed and cremated a local man’s pets as part of a COVID-19 preventive measure, causing a public outrage, reports VnExpress. Last Friday, Pham Minh Hung, a migrant worker in Long An Province, confirmed that his 13 dogs were killed by the local authorities in Ca Mau Province as he drove his wife and all of their pets on his motorbike while following his wife’s sister-in-law and her family to their hometown in Khanh Hung Commune, Ca Mau Province. At a checkpoint as they entered the locality, they tested positive for COVID-19 and were later transferred to an isolation facility for treatment; their pets were killed shortly afterwards over fear of the virus spreading. Another three dogs and a cat, which Hung previously gave to his accompanying relatives, also met the same fate.
  • Vietnam plans to reopen key tourist attractions for vaccinated tourists from approved countries, reports Reuters. From December this year, vaccinated tourists from countries with low COVID-19 risk will be allowed to visit the country’s popular destinations, including UNESCO world heritage site Halong Bay and Hoi An, the highlands town of Dalat and beach destination Nha Trang. The move is seen as an effort by the Vietnamese government to boost its heavily affected tourism sector, which has been hit hard by COVID-19 restrictions.
  • Ho Chi Minh City’s industrial workforce has shrunk as migrant workers returned to their hometowns, reports VnExpress: “Only 50 percent of employees have returned to work at industrial parks and export processing zones, causing a severe labor shortage. Pham Duc Hai, deputy head of the Ho Chi Minh City Steering Committee for Covid-19 Prevention and Control, said on Monday that of around 288,000 workers, only around 135,000 have turned up.”
  • Return of migrant workers to Mekong Delta provinces sparks fears of potential COVID-19 outbreaks, reports VnExpress. According to local authorities, the insufficient isolation capability of localities, the substantial number of returning workers and limited medical capacity have become major concerns for receiving provinces in the event of an outbreak.
  • COVID-battered supply chains set Vietnam on a shaky road towards recovery, writes Nikkei Asia: “But a potential recovery remains precarious, said Tuan Chu, an economist at RMIT University Vietnam, pointing to two labor risks. Thousands of jobless migrants fled Ho Chi Minh City as soon as lockdown eased on Friday. The city counted 288,000 workers in industrial areas before the exodus, compared with 135,000 now. Besides worker scarcity, Chu said this mass migration could trigger a rise in virus cases in the provinces. Will authorities invoke lockdowns again if the caseload explodes? That is a worry that also may keep job-seekers from returning to economic zones, he said.”
  • The public is calling on the government to set price controls for COVID-19 test kits as shortages, alleged price gouging and government corruption may have caused price surges, reports RFA: “Though rapid test kits cost around 35,000 dong (US$1.54) on the international market, a lack of supply in the Southeast Asian country forced provinces and cities to bid against each other, causing wholesale prices within the country to skyrocket, said Dang Hong Anh, chairman of the Vietnam Young Entrepreneurs Association.”
  • COVID-19 vaccines to arrive in Vietnam: On October 6, Australia delivered over 300,000 AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine doses to Vietnam while promising to assist the country in purchasing another 3.7 million doses. Meanwhile, on October 8, the United States Embassy in Hanoi announced that 397,800 doses of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine had arrived in Vietnam, with more vaccines to arrive in a few days, bringing the total number of vaccine donations from the United States to Vietnam to nearly 8.5 million doses.

Vietnam arrests a Facebook user for criticizing the government’s controversial COVID-19 policies

RFA reports:

  • On October 4, Vietnamese authorities arrested a Facebook user and subsequently charged him with “abusing freedom and democracy” for writing a series of online posts they said had defamed the country’s leaders.
  • Vo Hoang Tho, 36, a resident of Vietnam’s southern city of Can Tho, had allegedly published 47 posts on his Minh Long Facebook page criticizing government efforts to prevent and control the spread of COVID-19 in the one-party Communist state, according to state media.
  • The Vietnamese government’s controversial COVID-19 policies to contain the pandemic, which include community lockdowns and other harsh restrictions, are widely unpopular in Vietnam. Tho’s arrest was just the latest in a continuing crackdown on Facebook users who use the popular social media platform to voice dissenting views.

Vietnam calls on China to be accurate and objective with history regarding the Chinese television series “Ace Troops”

VnExpress reports:

  • On October 7, state media reported that Foreign Affairs Ministry spokeswoman Le Thi Thu Hang had called on China to look at history ‘accurately and objectively’ while responding to questions about “Ace Troops,” a Chinese television series, with allegedly inaccurate and wrongful historical depictions.
  • The allegedly historical inaccuracies were detected after comments made on social media platform Baidu regarding a trailer for “Ace Troops” described the story as being set in the 1980s when “the Vietnamese army was getting stronger […] and launching invasions into China.” Chinese website Manyanu said the series was about “Chinese soldiers in a self-defence counterattack against Vietnam,” which is regarded as contrary to facts by the Vietnamese netizens.
  • Hang said Vietnam requests that China properly abide by the mutual understanding of the important partnership between Vietnam and China, regarding “friendly and objective propaganda that fosters societal foundations beneficial for the development of both countries’ relations.” She also added that Vietnam’s consistent stand on historical issues is to “look towards the future” and to look at history “accurately and objectively.”

Vietnam Insight: Learn more about Vietnam

Vietnam’s Hidden Debt to China Expose its Political Risks

The Diplomat/ Zachary Abuza, Phuong Vu/ October 8

“Vietnam has famously eschewed China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), but it has been the recipient of over $16.3 billion in Chinese project financing from 2000-2017. A new report on Chinese economic assistance programs sheds some light on Vietnam and suggests that the country is increasing its debt burden to China far beyond what is commonly thought; creating political risk and impacting Vietnam’s potential policies toward its neighbor to the north, which is already prone to bullying and intimidation.”

Counting the cost of Vietnam’s Covid collapse

Asia Times/ David Hutt/ October 7

“By late September, many of the lockdown measures were lifted in Hanoi, the capital. On October 1, Ho Chi Minh City’s industrial parks, construction projects, malls, hospitality facilities, and restaurants for takeaways were allowed to resume operations.

While there is currently anger over how the communist authorities have handled the pandemic this year, seen in complaints and grievances posted on social media, not everyone believes that the ruling party’s reputation will suffer much in the long run.”

Nominees and ‘Backyard Companies’: How Vietnamese Officials Conceal Their Illicit Wealth

Fulcrum/ Le Hong Hiep/ October 7

“As such, the absence of Vietnamese politicians and government officials in the Pandora Papers does not mean that Vietnamese officials are less corrupt than their foreign counterparts. A more plausible explanation is that they have other ways, though less sophisticated but still effective in the Vietnamese context, to hide their illicit wealth. One common measure is to use nominees to hold assets in Vietnam on their behalf.”

From Delay to Desperation: The Story of Sinophobia and COVID-19 Vaccines in Vietnam

The Diplomat/ Travis Vincent/ October 6

“Yet the public does not see eye to eye with the communist government’s approval and purchase of Chinese vaccines. On top of that, many expressed distrust of and discontent with the government’s lack of transparency about the availability and allocation of vaccines, as well as the gravity of the pandemic situation in the economic hub of Ho Chi Minh City, which is now leading the country for both COVID-19 cases and fatalities, after an almost virus-free year.”

Vietnamese rights activist marks first year in jail

Asia Times/ Stewart Rees/ October 5

“There is currently little to be positive about for proponents of free speech in Vietnam. Despite this, in February Vietnam announced its intention to run as a candidate for membership of the United Nations Human Rights Council for the 2023-2025 term.

If Vietnam is serious about its desire to contribute to the development of global human rights it should look to put its own house in order first. Unconditionally releasing Pham Doan Trang would be a good place to start.”

Vietnam BriefingCOVID-19Pham Doan Trang

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