The Vietnam Briefing, which is released every Monday morning Vietnam time, looks at Vietnam’s social and political developments of the past week.
Official trial dates for journalist Pham Doan Trang and three other Vietnamese activists
On December 4, attorney Dang Dinh Manh announced the official trial dates of journalist Pham Doan Trang and three other Vietnamese activists, Trinh Ba Phuong, Nguyen Thi Tam, and Do Nam Trung. The four will be tried on charges of “propagandizing against the State” in accordance with Article 117 of Vietnam’s Penal Code.
According to Manh’s announcement, the official trial dates are as follows:
- On December 14, 2021, the Hanoi People’s Court will try journalist Pham Doan Trang.
- On December 15, 2021, the Hanoi People’s Court will try land activists Trinh Ba Phuong and Nguyen Thi Tam.
- On December 16, 2021, the Nam Dinh provincial People’s Court will try activist Do Nam Trung.
Vietnamese political prisoners launch strike in cells to protest imprisonment conditions
- A group of political prisoners in Vietnam has launched a strike, refusing prison food to press their demand that they be allowed outside to exercise in the sunlight and fresh air, family members say. These prisoners have been allegedly confined inside their cells all day and night without being allowed to go outside.
- The prisoners, who are being held at the Xuan Loc Prison Camp in southeastern Vietnam’s Dong Nai Province, have been refusing regular meals for almost 60 days, Nguyen Thi Chau, wife of political prisoner Nguyen Ngoc Anh, told RFA on November 29. “[My husband called home and said] that he was among eight prisoners protesting against the detention center’s policy of not allowing them out in the sun,” Chau said.
- Anh also said in his call home that political prisoners at Xuan Loc have been held inside their cells since June although all prisoners at the detention center have been vaccinated and no COVID-19 cases have been found there in recent months. Chau said further that the detention area for political prisoners is located separately and closed off by several gates, so they cannot see whether criminal prisoners are being allowed out or not.
Vietnamese activist arrested after local court overturned her stay of execution
- On October 30, the Court of Buon Ho Commune, Dak Lak Province, issued a document reversing its previous decision of granting a stay of execution to the local activist Huynh Thuc Vy, who has been widely seen as one of the last free political activists in Vietnam.
- Huynh Thuc Vy, 36, is a Vietnamese activist and dissident blogger advocating for human rights, political pluralism and democracy in the country. Vy was sentenced to two years and nine months in prison in 2018 on allegations of “insulting Vietnam’s national flag” after she was found spraying paint on the Communist country’s flag on its Independence Day. “I sprayed paint on this flag to protest [the Communist Party’s] propaganda, because today is not a celebrating occasion for every [Vietnamese person,]” Vy told BBC Vietnamese in an interview on November 1.
- According to the activist’s family, she was arrested by the police around 4 p.m. in Dak Lak on the same day she had an interview with the BBC; the local authorities did not give any official reasons for her arrest. Vy was granted a stay of execution in 2018 as she was pregnant and her first child was under 36 months at the time; she should not serve her prison term until her children are 36-months-old, according to Vietnam’s laws. The local court reversed its previous decision despite one of her children still being below the age limit, citing reasons of “social order and endangering security” for their decision.
- Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, wrote in a tweet that the action of the Dak Lak authorities is “outrageous and unacceptable.” Robertson added that spraying paint on a flag “should not be considered a crime” and he urged the Vietnamese government to “quash the bogus conviction” as well as “immediately and unconditionally release Huynh Thuc Vy.”
Another young Vietnamese military officer dies in a camp, sparking suspicion of bullying in the military
- On November 29, parents of the 23-year-old military officer Nguyen Van Thien received a notice from his superiors informing them that their son had died earlier on the same day; Thien was serving his compulsory military service in the Gia Lai Province-based military camp at the time. State media quoted a press statement from the Gia Lai Military Command that the young officer’s death was due to a stroke, after he carelessly tumbled in the camp’s bathroom.
- But Thien’s family had raised suspicions regarding the military command’s answer since they found several bruises on his body, as also shown in a video recorded by the family. The military said that the bruises found on his body were due to medical autopsy and from the injuries that were caused when he fell, and not because of any bullying or fighting in the camp. Moreover, the command seemingly urged the family to bury his body, despite opposition from Thien’s family, who wanted to wait for a more detailed investigation regarding his death.
- Earlier in June, another young military officer, Tran Duc Do, was found dead while serving his military service, causing an outrage on Vietnamese social media. Both the military and the state-controlled media pushed the narrative that the young officer committed suicide. Meanwhile, his family said they found bruises on the officer’s body and that their son told them previously that he was bullied in the military.
Facebook’s parent company says it has removed accounts which targeted Vietnamese activists
- Facebook has removed a network of accounts from its platform which it said targeted Vietnamese activists who were critical of the country's government, an official of Facebook's parent company Meta said on Wednesday. In July, the company also removed a pro-government Vietnamese Facebook group called “E47,” which mobilized its members to mass report posts they did not like to Facebook, in an effort to have them taken down.
- The latest action was taken against a separate group, according to David Agranovich, Facebook's head of global threat disruption. “What we saw was a network of accounts in Vietnam that was engaged in this kind of coordinated targeting of activists, and other people who publicly criticized the Vietnamese government,” Agranovich told Reuters.
- According to Meta’s Adversarial Threat Report, the people involved in this activity “relied primarily on authentic and duplicate accounts to submit hundreds [or even] thousands of complaints against their targets” through their abuse reporting tools.
- On December 2, the military-owned People’s Army Newspaper published a distorted version of the Reuters article regarding Meta’s action to remove pro-government networks targeting Vietnamese activists. The military-published article wrongly claimed that “Facebook effectively removes accounts that defy the Vietnamese government,” instead of the company’s official announcement that they only removed accounts which targeted Vietnamese activists. The article was later removed from the military newspaper, but the archive can still be accessed here.
Vietnamese President meets Russian counterpart, discusses cooperation in energy sector and regional issues
- On November 30, Vietnamese President Nguyen Xuan Phuc met Russian President Vladimir Putin during an official visit to Moscow, agreeing on the expansion of the operations of Russia’s oil and gas companies in Vietnam’s continental shelf in accordance with international law, reports VnExpress. The two leaders also discussed mutual cooperation in “maintaining peace, stability, security, safety, and freedom of navigation and overflight in the Asia-Pacific, including the South China Sea.”
- Naval ships from Russia and countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations are also holding their first-ever joint exercise, which signals Moscow’s intent to engage in the region, reports RFA. Their first joint exercise opened on December 1 in Indonesian waters off North Sumatra and will last three days with participating navies from seven ASEAN countries including Myanmar.
- Meanwhile, Reuters reported that Russia and Vietnam have agreed to expand production of Russia's Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine in Vietnam, according to a statement from Russian sovereign wealth fund RDIF, which markets the vaccine internationally. The deal was signed during Vietnamese President Nguyen Xuan Phuc's visit to Russia this week and it paves the way for expansion of Sputnik V production in Vietnam.
Vietnam COVID-19 cases hit record as Omicron variant fuels fear
“According to Our World in Data, the country recorded a seven-day rolling average of 13,830 new cases on Wednesday, higher than the peak of the last wave of infections in September.
“Vietnam has not recorded any cases of COVID-19 from the new [omicron] variant,” said Health Minister Nguyen Thanh Long on Tuesday.
The surge comes as the newly detected omicron coronavirus variant emerges as a fresh worry for Vietnam, where 28% of the population remains unvaccinated.”
Heavy rains trigger floods and landslides in Vietnam, with 18 missing
“Images on news websites and social media in recent days showed fast-flowing, mud-brown water, people in boats on flooded roads or wading through waist-high water, some pushing stalled motorcycles.
Beach towns Phu Yen, Binh Dinh and Vietnam's main coffee growing province, Dak Lak were hardest hit.
The floods have inundated 780 hectares (7.8 square kilometres) of rice fields, although no damage has been reported so far to coffee farms.”
Vietnam Insight: Learn more about Vietnam
Southeast Asia Globe/ Tabrez Vardah/ November 2
“The Vietnamese unicameral body is largely powerless. Only 40% of deputies to the National Assembly work in their positions on a full-time basis. Like the Communist Party, the National Assembly employs a principle of consensus. Legal statutes and other official business are normally approved without discussion by members clapping their hands.
Using this audience guesstimate method, the National Assembly also selects its chairperson, the Communist Party general secretary, the prime minister and the president, known as the four pillars of power in Vietnam.”
RFA/ Giang Nguyen, Hoa Ai Tran/ December 4
“Today and forever, Tran Thi Ngoc will never be able to realize her dream,” her father Nguyen Van Ky told RFA. He spoke from the family’s home in Vinh, Nghe An Province, the region of central Vietnam where founding communist leader Ho Chi Minh was born.
Ngoc was the oldest of four. Growing up in a poor household, she always felt the responsibility to care for her younger siblings. She had begged her parents to let her go to England, to advance her education and get a job to help support the family and the three younger children.
Ky still nurses the heartbreak of losing his daughter, but he turns pensive when it’s suggested to him that he’d not allow another family member to attempt such a treacherous journey. Ky concludes that he would still agree to let his three remaining children go abroad to study and work “if they could legally do so.””
Modern Diplomacy/ Pankaj Jah/ December 5
“President Phuc used his diplomatic acumen to issue a joint statement in which there was clear reference with regard to developments in South China Sea. Russia supported Vietnam’s endeavor for full and effective implementation of the Declaration of the Code of Conduct of the South China Sea parties (DOC) under the 2002 agreement. Another important aspect was looking into sectors for promoting ASEAN Russia relationship and realize the potential of the comprehensive action plan between the two sides. The visit to Switzerland and Russia was effective and it met the objectives which were laid out in terms of achievements and new ideas which would be put into practice for the future.”