10 Key Political Events In Vietnam In 2021

What happened to Vietnamese politics in the year of crisis?

10 Key Political Events In Vietnam In 2021
Photos: Tuoi Tre, TTXVN, Lao Dong, RFA, VnExpress, Vietnamnet, Hanoimoi, and unknown sources. Graphics: Luat Khoa Magazine & The Vietnamese Magazine.

This article was written in Vietnamese and was previously published in Luat Khoa Magazine on December 29, 2021. The English translation was done by Lee Nguyen of The Vietnamese Magazine.

Every small and significant event in Vietnam was unable to escape the effects of COVID-19 last year.

Aside from the pandemic, 2021 continued to witness “old-wine-in-a-new-bottle” events that vividly illustrate the outdated management practices of the Vietnamese state. If this mindset does not change, it will continue to hinder Vietnam's progress.

1. The death of more than 30,000 people due to COVID-19

Scenes of overloaded crematoriums in Ho Chi Minh City continue to haunt Vietnamese survivors of the COVID-19 pandemic.[1]

When we published this article, the number of people who died from COVID-19 exceeded 36,000.[2] Most of these deaths occurred during the fourth pandemic wave, which broke out in late May 2021. This means that in the second half of 2021, roughly 5,000 people died every month.

Healthcare workers transferred COVID-19 patients to the Gia Dinh Hospital during the peak of the pandemic in Da Nang on April 8, 2020. Photo: Reuters - Stringer

In Ho Chi Minh City, the average number of deaths per day was more than 240 from July to August, when 10 people died every hour on average.[3] During this time, COVID-19 became one of the leading causes of death in Vietnam, higher than traffic accidents.

For comparison, the annual number of traffic-related deaths in Vietnam stands at approximately 7,000 a year. Even if traffic deaths were considered a national disaster in 2006, the death toll was only 14,000 for that entire year, which is only half the number of people who died in the latter half of 2021 due to COVID-19.[4] Additionally, this statistic is likely to be lower than the actual number.

Undoubtedly, COVID-19 is a global pandemic. The new variant of the coronavirus is a challenge to the health systems of every country around the world. In Vietnam, the death toll and the case fatality rate are among the highest globally. This is not only an indicator of the capability of health services but also a measure of the lack of ability of national governance during a crisis.[5] Many mistakes in anti-epidemic policies, especially in vaccine allocation, directly or indirectly led to preventable deaths.[6]

The even more problematic issue is the government of Vietnam did not learn anything from these 30,000 deaths. On November 19, 2021, a virtual national memorial service - with many video conferences - was held to remember the deceased. The message from the government representatives who appeared that day was that the Party and the State did all they could and put people's lives first, but because the pandemic was so devastating, the tragedy happened. [7]

The death toll gradually increased while the authorities were busy singing songs. Such an attitude will prevent us from seeing things clearly and will lead to more tragedies in the future.

2. The failure of Vietnam's vaccine strategy

Vaccines are the main solution to combat the COVID-19 epidemic. HoweverVietnam's situation in 2021 shows us that the government failed in all stages of procurement and distribution of vaccines: financial planning, vaccine access, and vaccine allocation.

Despite having a minimal number of cases in 2020, the budget estimate for 2021 still did not have a separate item for the purchase of Covid-19 vaccines. Then in May, when the government realized that there was not enough money in the budget to purchase vaccines, it launched a Covid-19 Vaccine Fund and called on people to contribute money; in other words, the government asked people for money.[8] And even when the State had gathered enough money, its disbursement was also slow. Vietnam delayed negotiations with manufacturers, which led to the severe lack of vaccines at the time of the worst outbreak.

A worker receives the US-donated Moderna vaccine through the COVAX Initiative at the Noi Bai Airport on July 10, 2021. Photo: UNICEF Vietnam

Vietnam resorted to begging for vaccines, referring to this practice using a more positive name, “vaccine diplomacy.” As of October 2021, Vietnam had received more than 50 million vaccine doses of all kinds, accounting for about one-third of the total amount in the country.[9][10] There's nothing inherently wicked about this, but if the Vietnamese government had set aside a portion of the 2021 budget for vaccine purchases at the start of the crisis, perhaps the country would not have experienced a shortage in supply and perhaps fewer people would have died.

The poor allocation of vaccines exposed a host of other problems. When vaccines are scarce, they become more valuable and it was during this time of scarcity that the Vietnamese regime showed how ugly it really was. People with connections to the Vietnamese government received their vaccines sooner than did high-risk individuals or even frontline healthcare workers who desperately needed protection. [11]

Meanwhile, large business enterprises, such as  Vingroup, vaccinated their young, healthy employees before the rest. This situation highlighted how the Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP) prioritizes the rich and powerful over the average citizen,  who has suffered much more severely from the pandemic.[12]

Vaccine allocation for government officials, the rich; and the remainder of the populace. Caricature: La Thanh Hien

3. The prosecution of ordinary people during the pandemic

During the Covid-19 outbreak, the Vietnamese judicial system prosecuted a series of cases related to the spread of the disease. Many of these cases were investigated and tried at a "super speed," with one case taking only five days to go to court. The trials also took place according to a summary procedure in which cases were expedited for the swift declaration of judgment.[13]

Ho Chi Minh City Police announce at a news conference a decision to prosecute a criminal case that spread the Covid-19 epidemic. Photo: Kiemsat Online

Among those who had been charged, some of them were small retailers who got prosecuted just because they traveled to the markets for work. Others were investigated just because they organized funerals for their relatives. Several doctors were also arrested for not carefully screening patients during medical examinations.

In fact, someone was arrested and detained just for running from Saigon to Vung Tau to avoid the epidemic, even though that person voluntarily tested or indicated an intention to comply with the testing requirement.

There were cases where citizens were sentenced to prison for allegedly violating quarantine regulations. Readers can learn more about these incidents in the Covid-19 Profile published by LIV.[14]

The criminalization of Covid-19 viral transmission is a protested trend around the world.[15] In Vietnam, this kind of prosecution has led to injustices and a bias towards the least capable in society while the ambiguous and constantly changing policies and lack of information have resulted in widespread confusion.

The government's eagerness to turn ordinary people into scapegoats shows its unwillingness to take even partial blame for its inadequate anti-epidemic performance.

4. The great evacuation of more than 1 million workers

In June 2020, then-Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc said, "If the electric poles in the US could go somewhere else, they would come to Vietnam." [16] (This statement refers to a sarcastic remark the people often say in Vietnam after 1975. When many boat people left Vietnam under persecution in the 1970s and 1980s, the people said that the electric poles in the country would also leave if they had a chance. President Phuc’s statement was widely seen as a way to ridicule the urgency of the COVID-19 situation in America at that time.)

When the pandemic broke out a year later and the government struggled to impose extreme anti-epidemic policies while pushing all responsibility onto the people, more than 1 million factory workers sought to flee from the major cities in the south to return to their homes.

Police stand at a checkpoint in Ho Chi Minh City as people from other provinces started to leave the city just before the lockdown was lifted on the night of September 30, 2021. Photo: Reuters

According to statistics of the Ministry of Labour - Invalids and Social Affairs, in November 2021, about 1.3 million workers had been evacuated from Ho Chi Minh City and key provinces in the south. [17]

This colossal number is the direct result of the Vietnamese government preventing citizens from returning to home.[18] Poor laborers, who packed up their possessions on their motorbikes to return home, were met with barriers and dense army and police forces.[19] They were advised to stay and adhere to State policy, despite the fact that the government had abandoned ordinary people, which caused many of them to desperately call for help.[20]

The government only decided to make concessions when dissatisfaction reached an extreme and when violent clashes occurred between the people and state security forces.[21] At the beginning of October 2021, Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh issued a public statement affirming that "it is a legitimate need for people to move back to their hometown.” He also asked the provinces to organize transportation for people returning home.[22]

This was a complete 180-degree turn from the expedited announcement, released on September 30, 2021, in which the prime minister asked Ho Chi Minh City, Dong Nai, Binh Duong, and Long An provinces to strictly expedited public mail who comes in and out and to take responsibility if people moved spontaneously out of their locality.[23]

It can be said that the exodus of millions of workers from the southern provinces and cities was an example of people  "voting with their feet," both showing their lack of faith in the government and in the ineffectiveness of extreme anti-epidemic policies.

Millions of Vietnamese laborers have pulled themselves out of the government’s mess and have avoided becoming martyrs for Vietnam’s failed anti-epidemic measures.

5. The culling of a family’s pet dogs in Ca Mau

In a country where animal rights are not highly valued, the killing of a family’s pet dogs by the authorities in Ca Mau Province for "anti-epidemic" reasons caused a rare wave of outrage.

It all started with an image that spread on social media on October 7, 2021. In the image, Pham Minh Hung and his wife are carrying their 15 dogs on a motorbike from Long An Province to Ca Mau Province to avoid the epidemic.[24] Despite being a simple bricklayer, Hung still spent half of his daily earnings to buy food for the dogs that he "loved like his children." Accompanying him was his younger brother's family three dogs and a cat. Upon their arrival, all the animals were killed by local authorities. This news shocked everyone.[25]

Pham Minh Hung and his dogs returned to their hometown in Ca Mau Province on October 8, 2021. Photo: BBC Vietnamese

The chairman of the District People's Committee, Tran Van Thoi, told the press that Hung’s dogs and cats were determined to have tested positive for the "something virus."[26] The local government confirmed that they had killed the dogs and a cat because of "pressure from epidemic prevention [officials] and the local people".

The public was outraged because this was an unscientific decision, had no legal basis, and was an inhumane act. The incident was also reported by the foreign media.[27]

In the face of a strong public reaction, the local government admitted that the enforcers were "a little hasty" and promised to make adjustments.[28]

The public outcry was not only about the culling of cats and dogs. It was the last straw with how the government had responded to the epidemic through rigid policies, excessive regulations, and arbitrary decisions that disrespect the people.

The unjust death of a pack of dogs and a cat clearly illustrates the inhumanity of the actions of many government officials, thinly veiled under the guise of fighting the epidemic.

6. The prosecution and persecution of journalists

Rarely does a year have as many journalists on trial as 2021.

At the beginning of January, three core members of the Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam – Pham Chi Dung, Nguyen Tuong Thuy, and Le Huu Minh Tuan – received lengthy sentences ranging from 11-15 years in prison.[29]

Not long after the sentencing, four members of the "Báo Sạch" group followed in the footsteps of their co-founder, Truong Chau Huu Danh, in the list of prosecutions; all five were eventually sentenced to prison.[30]

In the last month of the year, Pham Doan Trang, a journalist of the Luat Khoa magazine and The Vietnamese Magazine, was also sentenced to nine years in prison.[31]

They were not the only ones imprisoned last year. Famous journalist Mai Phan Loi of the state-controlled press -- who used to be the head of the Hanoi office of the Ho Chi Minh City Phap Luat Newspaper -- was also jailed on charges of tax evasion in a politically motivated case.[32]

Dissident journalist Pham Doan Trang stood trial on December 14, 2021. Photo: Vietnam News Agency

People from all sides of the political spectrum were sent to jail in 2021. The image of Vietnam's press, which was already quite negative, turned even more dubious during the year. If the countries that fiercely suppress the media, such as North Korea or China, did not exist, Vietnam would rank even lower than 175/180 on the World Press Freedom Index of Reporters Without Borders.[33]

The nature of journalism should inherently be a free and creative space where writers seek to meet the information demands of readers. However, as soon as one journalist is "beheaded" while performing his or her  duties, the rest of the press community immediately "turns off the lights." People refer to this as the “chilling effect.” Additionally, with so many journalists jailed this year, the Communist Party of Vietnam has sent out a very obvious message: we are no different from colonialism and feudalism, do not mess with us.

7. The suppression of independent political candidates

If you search the internet for the keyword "trust in the leadership of the Party" (tin tưởng vào sự lãnh đạo của đảng) with quotation marks, you will see 103,000 results. In 2021, the party newspaper system ran at total capacity to create the impression of the people's almost unconditional support for the absolute leadership of the Communist Party of Vietnam.

Looking at the way the Communist Party treated independent political candidates last year, it is easy to see that the Party does not believe in its own propaganda. If the Party was so confident that it enjoyed the support of the people, it would not so strongly suppress independent candidates.

Facebooker Tran Quoc Khanh was arrested after he announced his candidacy for the 15th National Assembly. Photo: Facebook Tran Quoc Khanh

At least four independent candidates were arrested before the May 2021 National Assembly elections: Tran Quoc Khanh, Le Trong Hung, Le Van Dung, and Le Chi Thanh.[34] In November 2021, Tran Quoc Khanh was sentenced to more than six years in prison for allegedly conducting propaganda against the state.[35]

Only nine self-nominated candidates passed three political consultative rounds to be on the official list of candidates and only four of them were elected.[36] Fourteen out of the 499 elected members of the National Assembly were non-party members; 10 of them were introduced by the State and not self-nominated.[37]

In particular, self-nominated candidate Luong The Huy -- a social activist -- was the target of an online organized smear attack; most of the articles written about him were removed from Vietnamese cyberspace right before election day with no explanation.[38]

Political studies worldwide have classified Vietnam as authoritarian or politically-closed. Looking at how the Communist Party completely manipulated this year's election, this seems to be an accurate assessment.

8. The mass issuance of identification cards to monitor citizens

In February 2020, the Ministry of Public Security started a campaign to issue smart ID cards embedded with chips to identify citizens in the government's attempt to modernize its governing system.

This first move was not as smooth as the official propaganda suggested. Over the last year, the Ministry of Public Security’s campaign brought more trouble than promised convenience.[39] Many people complained that they had been waiting for a long time to receive their new identification cards.

In addition, the household registration booklet (Vietnamese hộ khẩu) was withdrawn to make way for a new untested identification system where a significant number of people are still unregistered.

People waiting in line to complete the procedures to obtain the new ID cards Kham Thien Street, Dong Da District in (Hanoi). Photo: Laodong Online

But most of all, the chip ID cards and the supposedly modern identification system of the Ministry of Public Security are just a rebranding of the Vietnamese government’s outdated and obsessive desire for citizen control.

This plan is not even convenient. According to current policies, even if you are registered and possess an identification card, you still have to fulfill most administrative procedures at the registered address of your permanent residence. Nowadays, the places where the people live are very overly diverse.

If the government really cared about the people's convenience, then abolishing the household registration system is the first thing that needs to be done rather than issuing a chip ID card and an identification system that costs more than 9 thousand billion VND.[40]

Compared to the rest of the world, the current centralized identification system of the Ministry of Public Security is outdated in terms of technology and privacy protection standards. Despite privacy being a major concern,  the Ministry of Public Security has focused on collecting information, identifying citizens, and centralizing its database rather than issuing a decree on personal data protection.

Contrary to the recent statement of Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh, in which he claims that people are at the forefront and are the main motivation of this digital transformation, consultation with the people themselves and the dissemination of information about this process is severely lacking.[41]

The result of which is rampant confusion among the people in regards to the entire system and its processes. The troubles in 2021 have shown that if the government continues to arbitrarily decide about this digital transformation, more inconvenience and risk await Vietnamese citizens.

9. Viet A Technology Corporation's Covid-19 test kit scandal

In the last days of 2021, the name Viet A Corp suddenly came under the public spotlight of public attention.[42]

On December 18, 2021, Mr. Phan Quoc Viet, the general director of this company, was arrested for allegedly violating the bidding regulations for test kits used to combat the Covid-19 epidemic.

The ironic thing is that not long ago prior to this, in March 2021, Viet A Corp was awarded the Third-class Labor Medal for its achievements in researching, manufacturing, and applying the first "made in Vietnam" Covid-19 test kit, which was announced in March 2020.

Viet A Corp’s headquarters had only a company signboard and no staff. Photo: Tuoitre Online

After Mr. Viet was arrested, the information continuously exposed by the press surprised many people. The "laboratory" of Viet A Corp is too small and was not capable fit to producing millions of test kits. Viet A's "headquarters" was just a sign placed in a rented location at a house in Ho Chi Minh City. Its trillion-dollar capital, as announced by the company, was inaccurate because the founders only held a small part.

These issues have raised questions about the true origin and quality of the test kits, as well as questions about the people behind the scenes who supported this nameless company.

According to the investigation agency's information, the sales of Viet A's test kits amounted to nearly 4,000 billion VND. In addition, from January 2020 to now, this company has also won more than 200 bidding packages to provide medical products to numerous hospitals and large organizations.

Viet A Corp's reputation is closely linked with the Ministry of Science and Technology – the promoter of the test kit – and the Ministry of Health, which put this product at the top of the list to introduce to localities.

In addition, it should also be it is impossible not to mention that the Vietnam Military Medical University, which was supposed to cooperate with Viet A Corp in the process of researching and developing the test kits.

The "laboratory" of Viet A Corp is too small and rudimentary to produce millions of test kits. Photo: VTV

After the press pointed out that the World Health Organization classified this test kit as ineffective, the Ministry of Science and Technology's website quietly removed the news and admitted the mistake.

The Ministry of Health argued that it had accomplished the proper legal procedure.[43] Meanwhile, Mr. Ho Anh Son, a scientist from the Military Medical Academy, who played the role of the director of the research project to create the test kit, affirmed that Viet A's legal violations were not related to his research.[44]

On December 22, 2021, Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh voiced a request to expand the case investigation.[45] However, the general public already knew that Viet A Corp was just the tip of the iceberg, or was just a scapegoat for a bigger conspiracy, even without extensive investigation.

Few people doubt that Viet A Corp colluded with central and local officials to make a profit. Sadly, the people were appeased after Viet A Corp was punished and the massive legal loopholes which led to this situation continue to remain.

As long as the Vietnamese government, the main lynchpin of this scandal continues to– the Vietnamese government–  hold on to power, situations like this will continue to happen and a lot of other businesses will be unfairly punished and sacrificed on behalf of those who are most responsible.

10. The silence of elected National Congress members

In a year highlighted by legislative elections and a pandemic, it is very ironic that the presence of elected representatives cannot be felt. Everyone knows they exist, but everyone also knows that they cannot be relied on for anything whatsoever. It is hard to remember a few names and a few blurred faces while the rest of the National Assembly remains are just nameless, invisible shadows.

No one can find these elected officials during times of crisis, or to be more precise, not many people need to seek them; the Vietnamese people have learned to survive without and in spite of them.

Let’s end this issue with one that thought; let “resilience” be the final note of a year that was both "enlightening" and "apocalyptic" for Vietnam.


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27.  A. (2021, October 10). Coronavirus: Sydney set for reopening; anger in Vietnam over killing of 13 dogs as owners get Covid-19. South China Morning Post. Retrieved 2021, from https://www.scmp.com/news/asia/australasia/article/3151838/coronavirus-sydney-set-reopening-anger-vietnam-over-killing

28.  VnExpress. (2021, October 10). Tiêu hủy 15 con chó do “áp lực chống dịch.” vnexpress.net. Retrieved 2021, from https://web.archive.org/web/20211010145019/https://vnexpress.net/tieu-huy-15-con-cho-do-ap-luc-chong-dich-4369888.html

29. Việt, V. T. (2021a, January 5). Nhà báo Phạm Chí Dũng bị kết án 15 năm tù, 3 năm quản chế. VOA. https://www.voatiengviet.com/a/nha-bao-pham-chi-dung-bi-ket-an-15-nam-tu-3-nam-quan-che/5725001.html

30. Năm nhà báo nhóm Báo Sạch bị tuyên 14 năm 6 tháng tù giam. (2021, October 28). Radio Free Asia. https://www.rfa.org/vietnamese/news/vietnamnews/five-journalist-of-clean-newspaper-were-sentenced-to12-years-n-6-months-in-jail-10282021080836.html

31. Luật Khoa tạp chí (2021b, December 14). Tường thuật trực tiếp: Đoan Trang lĩnh 9 năm tù giam. Luật Khoa Tạp Chí. https://www.luatkhoa.org/2021/12/live-phien-toa-so-tham-vu-an-pham-doan-trang

32. BBC News Tiếng Việt. (2021a, July 2). Nhà báo Mai Phan Lợi bị khởi tố, bắt tạm giam về “tội trốn thuế.” https://www.bbc.com/vietnamese/vietnam-57699975

33. Việt, V. T. (2021b, October 29). Phóng viên Không biên giới lên tiếng về bản án đối với nhóm Báo Sạch. VOA. https://www.voatiengviet.com/a/phong-vien-khong-bien-gioi-len-tieng-ve-ban-an-doi-voi-nhom-bao-sach/6290652.html

34.  Vietnam: Stop silencing independent voices ahead of election. (2021, May 20). ARTICLE 19. https://www.article19.org/resources/vietnam-stop-silencing-independent-voices-election

35.  Việt, V. T. (2021a, November 1). Việt Nam kết án cựu ứng cử viên độc lập ĐBQH hơn 6 năm tù. VOA. https://www.voatiengviet.com/a/viet-nam-ket-an-tran-quoc-khanh-hon-6-nam-tu/6295282.html

36.  Phạm Đông. (2021, June 10). 4 người tự ứng cử trúng cử đại biểu Quốc hội khoá XV là ai? Tin tức mới nhất 24h – Đọc Báo Lao Động online – Laodong.vn. https://laodong.vn/thoi-su/4-nguoi-tu-ung-cu-trung-cu-dai-bieu-quoc-hoi-khoa-xv-la-ai-919052.ldo

37.  Quốc hội khóa XV có 14 đại biểu là người ngoài Đảng. (n.d.). VOV.VN. https://vov.vn/chinh-tri/quoc-hoi/quoc-hoi-khoa-xv-co-14-dai-bieu-la-nguoi-ngoai-dang-865766.vov

38.  Freedom House. (n.d.-b). Vietnam. https://freedomhouse.org/country/vietnam/freedom-net/2021

39.  Thanh Ngọc. (2021, November 30). Hết thẻ căn cước đến số định danh: Ba vấn đề mà Bộ Công an cần giải quyết. Luật Khoa Tạp Chí. Retrieved 2021, from https://www.luatkhoa.org/2021/11/het-the-can-cuoc-den-so-dinh-danh-ba-van-de-ma-bo-cong-an-can-giai-quyet

40.  Thanh Ngọc. (2021, March 6). Bộ Công an nhận hơn 9 nghìn tỷ đồng để làm Cơ sở dữ liệu quốc gia về dân cư: Mãi vẫn chưa xong. Luật Khoa Tạp Chí. Retrieved 2021, from https://www.luatkhoa.org/2021/03/bo-cong-an-nhan-hon-9-nghin-ty-dong-de-lam-co-so-du-lieu-quoc-gia-ve-dan-cu-mai-van-chua-xong

41.  Tiến Dũng. (2021, November 30). Thủ tướng: “Chuyển đổi số phải lấy người dân làm trung tâm và động lực.” Nhịp sống kinh tế Việt Nam & Thế giới. Retrieved 2021, from https://vneconomy.vn/thu-tuong-chuyen-doi-so-phai-lay-nguoi-dan-lam-trung-tam-va-dong-luc.htm

42.  Yên Khắc Chính. (2021, December 22). Từ người rơm bơm thổi thành Thánh Gióng: Bốn câu hỏi cần được giải đáp về vụ Việt Á. Luật Khoa Tạp Chí. Retrieved 2021, from https://www.luatkhoa.org/2021/12/tu-nguoi-rom-bom-thoi-thanh-thanh-giong-bon-cau-hoi-can-duoc-giai-dap-ve-vu-viet-a/

43.  N. Dung. (2021, December 21). Bộ Y tế lên tiếng vụ cấp phép kit xét nghiệm Việt Á. https://nld.com.vn. Retrieved 2021, from https://nld.com.vn/suc-khoe/bo-y-te-len-tieng-vu-cap-phep-kit-xet-nghiem-viet-a-20211221151414045.htm

44.  VnExpress. (2021, December 25). PGS Hồ Anh Sơn: “Sai phạm của Việt Á không liên quan nghiên cứu kit xét nghiệm.” vnexpress.net. Retrieved 2021, from https://vnexpress.net/pgs-ho-anh-son-sai-pham-cua-viet-a-khong-lien-quan-nghien-cuu-kit-xet-nghiem-4407788.html

45.  Phạm Đông. (2021, December 22). Thủ tướng yêu cầu điều tra, mở rộng vụ án xảy ra tại Công ty Việt Á. Laodong.vn. Retrieved 2021, from https://laodong.vn/thoi-su/thu-tuong-yeu-cau-dieu-tra-mo-rong-vu-an-xay-ra-tai-cong-ty-viet-a-987420.ldo

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