Vietnam Briefing: Vietnam Ranked Among Top Five Countries With The Most Jailed Journalists; Vietnamese Civic Space Remains “Closed”

Vietnam Briefing: Vietnam Ranked Among Top Five Countries With The Most Jailed Journalists; Vietnamese Civic Space Remains “Closed”
Pictures: CPJ & CIVICUS (left to right). Graphic: The Vietnamese Magazine.

The Vietnam Briefing, which is released every Monday morning Vietnam time, looks at Vietnam’s social and political developments of the past week.

Vietnam remains in top five countries with the most jailed journalists: CPJ

  • Vietnam remains in the top five countries with the most jailed journalists, according to a special report published December 9 by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a nonprofit press freedom advocate. With 23 reporters currently behind bars, Vietnam was ranked the fourth worst jailer of journalists, only behind China, Myanmar, and Egypt.
  • The Vietnamese journalists who are mentioned in the CPJ report include Pham Doan Trang, five members of the Bao Sach (Clean Newspapers) group, and the recently arrested freelance writer Huynh Thuc Vy. According to CPJ, Vietnam has so far imprisoned at least six journalists this year.
  • In the report, CPJ expressed concern that the number of journalists imprisoned for their work “hit a new global record” of 293 in 2021, increasing from a total of 280 in 2020.

CIVICUS rated Vietnam’s civic space as “closed”

The Vietnamese Magazine reports:

  • In a report titled “CIVICUS Monitor’s 2021” released on December 8, Vietnam continues to be ranked as “closed” by CIVICUS, a South Africa-based alliance dedicated to “strengthening citizen action and civil society throughout the world.” The report, which is the result of the collaborative effort of over 20 civil society organizations and activists, “aims to provide a comprehensive assessment of the conditions for civil society within countries and over time.”
  • In the Asia-Pacific region, Vietnam is one of the four countries, along with China, Laos, and North Korea, that fall under the “Closed” classification. According to the report, the main violation of countries in this region is the use of “restrictive laws  to criminalize and prosecute [Human Rights Defenders].”
  • The CIVICUS report also noted the Vietnamese government uses “vaguely defined laws,” such as Articles 117 and 331 of the Vietnamese Penal Code, in order to arrest activists and bloggers for allegedly making “anti-state propaganda” and “abusing democratic freedoms.”
  • Also mentioned in the report, “over 200 political prisoners are locked up in a secretive network of prisons and detention centres” scattered all across the country. Many of those who are incarcerated are being held incommunicado for prolonged periods of detention and solitary confinement, have suffered “severe physical pain and suffering” and have been denied medical treatment.

Vietnam to try ex-political candidate and independent journalist Le Trong Hung

RFA reports:

  • According to an announcement from the Hanoi People’s Court, independent journalist Le Trong Hung, who self-nominated himself as a candidate for Vietnam’s National Assembly elections this year, will be tried on December 31, 2021. Hung was convicted of “making, storing, and distributing anti-state materials” under Article 117 of Vietnam’s Penal Code.
  • Attorney Ha Huy Son, Hung’s lawyer, told RFA that his client’s trial was rescheduled from December 16 to December 31, as the trial date coincides with that of activist Do Nam Trung, another client of Son. The evidence used to prosecute Le Trong Hung includes four videos he posted on his personal Facebook account, which discussed political matters such as Vietnam’s legal reforms advocacy, the Dong Tam incident, and his candidacy for the National Assembly elections.
  • Do Le Na, Hung’s wife, wrote on social media that she did not understand why the Vietnamese authorities arrested him. According to Na, Hung had only helped the government amend and complement the shortcomings in its system, in addition to providing the Vietnamese people with general knowledge about the law and their constitutional rights.
  • According to Na, she only learned that her husband’s health had declined while in detention after he was allowed a lawyer visitation on November 22.

Former Vietnamese journalist indicted on tax evasion charges

  • On December 6, Vietnamese state media reported that Hanoi authorities had completed its indictment of Mai Phan Loi, a former journalist for state-run media, on allegations of tax evasion.
  • Mai Phan Loi, who was arrested in July this year, was accused of corporate tax evasion and other fiscal mismanagement while working at the Center for Media in Educating Community (MEC), a nonprofit agency in Hanoi where he is the founder and director. Previously, Loi was deprived of his journalist permit by the Ministry of Communication and was forced to resign from journalism, possibly in retaliation following his meeting with the then-U.S. President Barack Obama in 2016.
  • Vietnamese authorities often use “tax evasion” charges against critical voices when they do not have strong evidence to prosecute using “anti-state” allegations.

Human Rights Watch calls on the Australian government to press Vietnam to respect human rights

  • On December 6, human rights advocate Human Rights Watch (HRW) sent a submission to the Australian government, calling on it to pressure Vietnam to improve its human rights record at the 17th Australia - Vietnam human rights dialogue held virtually on December 8, 2021.
  • According to the submission, HRW has urged Canberra to “use the dialogue to press Vietnam to end its systematic suppression of fundamental civil and political rights, including freedom of expression, association, peaceful assembly, and religion and belief.” The human rights organization has also urged the Vietnamese government to immediately release all political prisoners and to revise its problematic penal and criminal codes to bring them in line with international human rights standards.
  • “Australia should use its influence to press Vietnam to take concrete action to reverse its abysmal human rights record,” said Elaine Pearson, Australia director at HRW. “Many people in Vietnam have been persecuted simply because they tried to exercise basic civil and political rights that Australians often take for granted.”
  • Regarding the bilateral dialogue between Australia and Vietnam, human rights groups have also campaigned for the release of Australian citizen Chau Van Kham, a member of the opposition political party Viet Tan, who was arrested and jailed in Vietnam on terrorism charges. “I think if there can be one concrete outcome from this dialogue that is happening with Australia, it should be pressing for the release and return of Chau Van Kham to Australia,” Pearson said.
  • As of December 2021, HRW had documented at least 146 people currently held behind bars for simply practicing their basic human rights in Vietnam. Many of them are human rights activists, land rights activists, independent bloggers, and journalists.
  • Meanwhile, in an interview with BBC Vietnamese on the trials of Pham Doan Trang and other Vietnamese activists this week, HRW’s deputy Asia director Phil Robertson said that the activists “have done nothing wrong” and therefore should be “released immediately and unconditionally.”

Vietnam tourist city pledges to phase out cat and dog meat

The Straits Times:

“A popular Vietnamese tourist city has pledged to phase out selling cat and dog meat, officials said on Friday (Dec 10), a first in a nation where some consider the animals a delicacy.

An estimated five million canines are consumed every year in Vietnam - the second-highest in the world behind China - with some believing eating the meat can help dispel bad luck.

The authorities in Hoi An, a historic trading port and World Heritage site, signed a deal with animal rights group Four Paws International promising to phase out sales and consumption of cat and dog meat.”

Vietnam Insight: Learn more about Vietnam

Businesses, government abet migration, but Vietnam’s ‘container people’ bear the risk

RFA/ Giang Nguyen, Hoa Ai Tran/ December 11

“Underwriting the expensive journey is a government that, like the families themselves, wants the extra money flowing back to the Vietnamese economy.

But in truth, the trek, which has been made by tens of thousands of Vietnamese in recent years, remains one of great risk, as seen most vividly in 2019 when 39 migrants were found freezing and gasping for air in the back of a refrigerated lorry in Essex, U.K. None of the victims survived.”

The Future of LNG in Vietnam After COP26

The Diplomat/ Quynh Tran/ December 8

“In recent years, liquefied natural gas (LNG) has sparked considerable interest in Vietnam as a potential new source of energy, given the rapid growth of the country’s demand for electricity. According to the World Bank, the scale of Vietnam’s electricity consumption ranks second in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) after Indonesia and 23rd in the world. Given its fast growing economy, Vietnam’s electricity generating capacity has been under pressure to keep up with demand. Electricity demand is projected to grow 8 percent annually through 2030. This would require generation capacity to increase from 60 GW in 2020 to 130 GW by 2030.”

Vietnam's metro system is a tale of two late trains

Southeast Asia Globe/ Govi Snell/ December 8

“Poor planning, postponements, financial strain, land acquisition, and rumors of corruption have mired metro construction in Vietnam’s two biggest cities. But those aren’t the only issues. Longtime urban planner Ngo Viet Nam Son said not enough focus has been placed on parking structures, bus routes connected to stations, and development along metro lines.”

Report Documents Continued Narrowing of Political Space in the Asia-Pacific

The Diplomat/ Sebastian Strangio/ December 8

“The Asia-Pacific section of the report is characteristic of its findings. Of the 26 Asian countries and territories tracked by the CIVICUS Monitor, only Taiwan was rated “open.” Eleven were rated as “repressed,” seven as “obstructed,” four as “narrowed,” and four – China, Vietnam, Laos, and North Korea – as “closed.””

ExxonMobil stares down China for Vietnam gas

Asia Times/ Helen Clark/ December 7

“Vietnam’s long-delayed Blue Whale offshore gas development project may be closer to pumping after operator and majority owner ExxonMobil said last week it was working on a final development plan for the field, which sits 80 kilometers off the central coast.

The Ca Voi Xanh field, located 80 kilometers off the central coast and known in Vietnamese as Blue Whale, was quietly but never officially shelved in 2019. It was initially planned to have supplied about 10% of the country’s surging electricity demand by transmitting gas to four separate power stations in two of Vietnam’s poorer central provinces.”

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