On Jan 21, 2022, CIVICUS, a global alliance of organizations and activists that work to strengthen citizen action and civil society, released an update regarding the current state of Freedom of Association and Freedom of Expression in Vietnam.
Regrettably, nothing has changed since the release of their 2021 year-end report, People Power Under Attack and Vietnam continues to remain classified as closed. Their most recent release on the country tackles several developments which were not included or not thoroughly discussed in their year-end report. These include several arrests and convictions conducted by Vietnamese authorities during the latter part of 2021 and the country’s continued crackdown on social media.
Latest Developments In Freedom Of Expression
The CIVICUS update highlights the arrests of human rights defenders and internationally acclaimed independent journalist, Pham Doan Trang, several members of the now-closed Bao Sach (Clean Newspaper), and a few other private citizens who aired out their grievances against the Vietnamese government on social media.
After spending 434 days in detention, Pham Doan Trang was found guilty under Article 117 of Vietnam’s Penal Code for allegedly conducting “anti-state propaganda” and sentenced to 9 years in prison on December 14, 2021.
CIVICUS notes that she is “among the leading voices and best-known independent writers in Vietnamese civil society and recognized internationally for her human rights advocacy.” Doan Trang is also the recipient of several awards, including the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders which has been awarded after her conviction.
The conviction of several members of the Bao Sach (Clean Newspaper) is also mentioned by CIVICUS. They state that five independent journalists, who were working for Bao Sach, were sentenced to “long prison terms after a two-day trial, for writing articles authorities said had slandered government leaders.” These journalists were charged under Article 331 of Vietnam’s Penal Code for “abusing the rights to freedom and democracy to violate the State’s interests and the legitimate rights and interests of [organizations] and individuals.”
The convictions of Vo Hoang Tho, Tran Quoc Khanh, and Do Nam Trung are also mentioned in CIVICUS’ update. Tho was a Facebook user who wrote a total of 47 posts that lambasted Vietnam’s leaders and criticized government efforts to control the spread of COVID-19 in the country. He was charged with “abusing freedom and democracy.”
Tran Quoc Khanh and Do Nam Trung were both imprisoned under Article 117 of Vietnam’s Penal Code for “creating, storing, disseminating and spreading information, materials, and items against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.”
Prior to his arrest and conviction, Tran Quoc Khanh had planned to run for a seat in Vietnam’s National Assembly while Do Nam Trung was an experienced activist who had taken part in various social movements in the past and used his Facebook page to criticize the Vietnamese government.
CIVICUS also mentions the VCP’s continued harassment of social media giant, Facebook, and Mark Zuckerberg’s compliance with giving the Vietnamese government the power to remove anti-state posts from his platform.
The update mentions that the Facebook CEO was threatened that “the company could be knocked offline in Vietnam,” which could lose him over 1 billion USD annually. CIVICUS adds that the number of people who use Facebook in Vietnam amounts to over 53 million people or more than half the total population; this factor could have also influenced Zuckerberg’s decision to assent to the Vietnamese government.
Latest Developments In Freedom Of Association
Regarding Vietnam’s continued assault on Freedom of Association, CIVICUS calls attention to the arrests of Nguyen Doan Quang Vien, Trinh Ba Phuong, Nguyen Thi Tam, Le Manh Ha, Le Trong Hung, and Mai Phan Loi.
CIVICUS states that Nguyen Doan Quang Vien was taken into custody for allegedly “carrying out activities to overthrow the government” and for “joining a US-based exile Vietnamese organization branded by Vietnam as an overseas terrorist group” in 2018.
Vietnamese police claim that he was a member of the Provisional Government of Vietnam– an organization composed of former Vietnamese soldiers and refugees who continue to remain loyal to the now-defunct US-backed government of South Vietnam.
Land rights activist, Trinh Ba Phuong, was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 5 years of probation while Nguyen Thi Tam was given 6 years in prison and 3 years of probation. Their trial took place on the morning of December 15 2021 and their sentences were handed-out at 1:15 pm of the same day.
CIVICUS notes that the two of them were found guilty of violating Article 117 of the Penal Code for “[preparing, publishing and disseminating] video clips and [writing] distorted contents that sow confusion among the people in order to oppose the State.”
Prior to their activism and incarceration, Vietnamese authorities had confiscated their land and they were not given just and proper compensation. Phuong and Tam also played a part in “amplifying the voices of farmers at Dong Tam Village” after the police had raided this village on January 9, 2020.
Another land rights activist, Le Manh Ha, was arrested on January 13, 2021, and was also accused of “spreading anti-state materials on social media” as mentioned by CIVICUS. Plainclothes police officers took him into custody in Tuyen Quang’s Chiem Hoa district and his family has reported that the authorities have yet to provide any proper documentation related to his abduction.
RFA provides additional information about his arrest. It stated that the Vietnamese government had taken his community’s land a few years prior in order to build a power plant; Ha and his former neighbors have not yet received any form of compensation.
This injustice led him to start studying Vietnamese law in order to help others in similar predicaments. He also operated a YouTube account called “People’s Voice Television” and a Facebook account named “Voice of the Vietnamese People,” where he shared his opinions and views about the Vietnamese government.
The plight of two journalists, Le Trong Hung and Mai Phan Loi, are also tackled in the CIVICUS update.
After declaring his intent to join the National Assembly elections on May 21, 2021, citizen journalist, Le Trong Hung, was arrested and charged with violating Article 117 of Vietnam’s Penal Code for “creating, storing, disseminating information, materials, items, and publications against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam,” as reported by CIVICUS. He was sentenced to 5 years imprisonment on December 31, 2021.
On January 11, 2022, Mai Phan Loi was brought to court over alleged “tax evasion” under Article 200 of Vietnam’s Penal Code and sentenced to 48 months jail time. Aside from being an executive board member of the VNGO-EVFTA Network, he was also the founder and director of the Center for Media in Educating Community (MEC), a nonprofit organization that produces educational shows on various communication skills and techniques for the public. He was also the former editor-in-chief of Phap Luat, a state-run magazine focused on legal issues.
CIVICUS also notes that “tax evasion” is a common charge levied by the Vietnamese government against critics and dissenters when they are unable to collate enough evidence to prosecute them under anti-state allegations.
The two fundamental human rights of Freedom of Expression and Freedom of Association are the backbone of any functioning democracy and both have historically been under constant attack under the rule of the Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP).
The strict control of the elections and their outcome, online and print censorship, mind conditioning through propaganda, and the crackdown on social movements and protests are just many of the tools they use in this regard, for the sake of perceived stability and the longevity of their regime. And against those who would speak out against their rule, the VCP resorts to the strong arm of the law.
What they fail to realize is that it hardly matters who they arrest or how many. There will always be someone else who will rise up and speak truth to power; there will always be someone else willing to take a stand, for as long as corruption and impunity continue to fester in the heart of Vietnam.
And even as their prisons continue to fill with the battered broken bodies of dissidents, the ideals these courageous men and women have fought for remain inviolable and unbroken. Their desire for a better future for their countrymen remains intact and it is this same wish that urges others to stand in solidarity.
No empire lasts forever and all will eventually succumb to the passage of time, but the hopes and dreams of the people will remain.
CIVICUS’ January 2022 update can be found here.
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