The Vietnam Briefing, which is released every Monday morning Vietnam time, looks at Vietnam’s social and political developments of the past week.
Former Vietnamese journalist jailed for 4 years under “tax evasion” charges
- On January 11, 2022, the Hanoi People’s Court convicted Mai Phan Loi for“committing tax evasion.” He is the former editor-in-chief at Phap Luat, a law magazine, and founder of a nonprofit organization. Loi was sentenced on the same day to a total of 48 months in jail.
- Loi, 50, is also an executive board member of VNGO-EVFTA Network, a group of seven community service organizations (CSOs) established to satisfy the formation of the Domestic Advisory Group (DAG), a civil society component of the EU-VN Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA). The imprisonment of Loi is widely seen as an effort by Hanoi to prevent the establishment of this group.
- The Vietnamese authorities often use “tax evasion” charges to stifle critical and influential voices when they do not have strong evidence to prosecute using “anti-state” allegations. The case of attorney Le Quoc Quan in 2013 is an example of this suppression strategy.
Vietnamese police arrest couple as husband live-streams criticisms of the government
- Police in Dong Nai Province broke into a home and arrested a couple while the husband was live-streaming criticism of the government, their family told RFA. Nguyen Thai Hung, an online commentator, and his wife, Vu Thi Kim Hoang, were arrested on January 5 at around 6 p.m. in their home while Hung was on YouTube.
- Viewers of the live-streaming were able to witness the arrest as it occurred. About 20 minutes into the broadcast, Hung left his computer to investigate what sounded like glass breaking. Shortly after, a man in an orange uniform of Vietnam’s national electricity firm appeared in the frame, shouting and ordering him to “stay still.”
- The police did not announce why the couple was arrested or present any documents related to the arrest, according to the family. Provincial authorities later charged Hoang with “abusing democratic freedom,” although she is not involved in her husband’s live streaming. The police did not provide any information about Hung, the family said.
Vietnam arrests land rights activist for ‘distributing anti-state materials’
- Police in Vietnam have arrested Le Manh Ha, a land rights activist, on charges of “distributing anti-state materials,” his wife told RFA. Ha’s arrest already marks the sixth time since the start of this year that authorities have detained people for human rights advocacy.
- Ha, who is originally from Na Hang District in Vietnam’s northern Tuyen Quang Province, had been operating a YouTube account called “People’s Voice Television” and a Facebook account called “Voice of the Vietnamese People,” where he shared his criticisms of the government regarding land-related issues.
- Years ago, the government took his community’s land in Na Hang to build a power plant. Ha said that the government did not pay him and his former neighbor’s proper compensation. Since then, he studied Vietnamese law and helped others with legal advice and instruction on petitioning the government.
- According to Ma Thi Tho, Ha’s wife, police in plainclothes arrested him on January 12 in Tuyen Quang’s Chiem Hoa District. They then took Ha to his current home in Tuyen Quang City and searched the house. “Shortly after his arrival, they read out a house search warrant and an order to prosecute my husband,” Tho said.
- Le Dinh Viet, Ha’s defense lawyer, said his client has only been fighting to correct the injustice of not being compensated for his land during the construction of the hydropower plant. “He did not break any laws,” Viet added.
Social media user arrested for “distributing anti-state materials”
- State media on January 15 reported that Ha Tinh Province police had arrested and prosecuted a local social media user for “making, storing, and distributing anti-state materials,” in violation of Article 117 of Vietnam’s Penal Code.
- Nguyen Duc Hung, a local in Ha Tinh Province, was accused of posting writings, photos, and videos that “distort, defame, and slander the people’s government and the Communist Party’s leaders.” His action has “affected the implementation of the Party’s policies and the government’s laws” and “divided the nation’s united strength,” state media quoted the investigation agency’s report.
- On January 1, a group of individuals and civil organizations also petitioned the abolition of controversial laws, including Article 117 in the country’s penal code. According to the petition, these vaguely defined laws are arbitrarily deployed to suppress the freedom of expression in Vietnam.
Human Rights Watch releases annual report on Vietnam
- On January 13, rights advocate Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a 752-page annual overview report of human rights around the globe. Regarding Vietnam’s performance, HRW claims that the country “systematically suppresses basic civil and political rights” and “severely restricts” basic human rights, including freedom of expression, association, peaceful assembly, movement, and religion.
- According to the HRW report, critics of the government or the Communist Party in Vietnam face police intimidation, harassment, arrest, and imprisonment after unfair trials.
- Meanwhile, Party-controlled courts continue to sentence local bloggers, journalists, and activists on “bogus national security charges.” Last year the courts “convicted at least 32 people for posting critical opinions about the government and sentenced them to many years in prison,” the HRW report writes.
- The law enforcement’s abuse of power during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2021 is mentioned in the report. Vietnamese police and security forces violated citizens’ rights by “using excessive force to make people undergo compulsory Covid-19 tests and quarantine, and to enforce compliance with the lockdown.”
- The HRW report also notes that the local authorities’ abusive approach to dealing with the pandemic, as well as their inadequate pandemic relief, negatively affects many people, especially migrant and freelance workers.
- “The Vietnamese government hid behind the Covid-19 pandemic to carry out a severe crackdown on peaceful activism that largely went unnoticed outside of Vietnam,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The government seems to want to wipe out the growing dissident movement with devastating prison sentences before the world starts paying attention again.”
- Robertson also urged international donors “to stop overlooking the [Vietnamese] government’s abysmal human rights record” and therefore “press the country’s leadership to end the Vietnamese people’s further suffering.”
Former policeman receives 2-year imprisonment for “resisting law enforcement officers on duty”
- On January 14, a Vietnamese court in Thu Duc City held a trial of former police officer Le Chi Thanh over allegations of “resisting law enforcement officers on duty,” in accordance with Article 330 of Vietnam’s Penal Code.
- Thanh was subsequently sentenced to two years in prison, according to his defense lawyer Dang Dinh Manh. About one month ago, he also received another charge of “abusing democratic freedom,” Manh wrote on his Facebook status.
- Le Chi Thanh, 38, used to be a policeman and correctional officer at several state detention centers. Thanh was well-known for live streaming videos exposing rampant corruption and misconduct within the Vietnamese police department, especially the traffic police force, and correction centers.
- Thanh was arrested and charged in April 2021, one month after he resisted and recorded the police’s forceful confiscation of his car for violating the traffic laws, a move that many condemn as being politically motivated. He was also allegedly beaten and tortured while in detention, which led to the deterioration of his health, according to attorney Manh.
United Nations’ Special Rapporteurs demand responses from the Vietnamese government over allegedly arbitrary detention and arrests
- United Nations’ Special Rapporteurs November 11 sent a letter to the Vietnamese government, calling for its attention to the “alleged arbitrary detention and legal prosecution of social media activists and human rights defenders.” The mentioned Vietnamese activists and human rights defenders include Chung Hoang Chuong, Nguyen Van Nghiem, Le Van Dung, Dinh Thi Thu Thuy, Do Nam Trung, and Dinh Van Hai.
- In their letter, UN rapporteurs write that they are “equally concerned about the arrest and detention of a number of independent candidates and activists who announced their intention or candidacy to run for a seat in the elections for the National Assembly in 2021.” They are Le Trong Hung, Le Chi Thanh, and Tran Quoc Khanh.
- The rapporteurs add their concerns regarding the “vaguely worded provisions of the Penal Code,” which seem to be “inconsistent with [Vietnam’s] obligations under international human rights law.”
- They are also deeply concerned about Vietnam’s allegedly “deliberate and systematic attempt to intimidate and silence human rights defenders, civil society organizations, journalists, and political activists” with “seemingly unfounded legal prosecution, alleged arbitrary detentions and, in some cases, enforced disappearances.”
Vietnam’s 15th National Assembly wraps up its extraordinary session
- Vietnam’s National Assembly ended its first extraordinary session on January 11, which lasted for four and a half days, state media reported. During the meetings, the country’s legislative members discussed issues ranging from monetary policies for COVID-19 pandemic relief to the development of transportation infrastructure and climate change adaptation.
- The assembly also adopted amendments to the country’s existing legal framework, including the Public Investment Law, the Housing Law, and the Enforcement of Civil Judgment Law, among others.
- It also seeks to improve the transparency of state-run agencies, especially regarding the health and medical supplies sector. The decision came after Viet A Technologies, a local medical supplies company, colluded with provincial authorities to benefit from overcharged COVID-19 testing kits.
- The session’s work also included the granting of “several special policies and mechanisms for the development of Can Tho City,” located in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta, to be part of the plan as its strategic city.
Detailed US government study declares China’s maritime claims unlawful
The U.S. State Department has issued its most comprehensive study yet on China’s sweeping maritime claims in the South China Sea and concludes that they amount to an unlawful claim to most of the disputed waterway and “gravely undermine the rule of law.”
The 47-page ‘Limits in the Seas’ report, released on Wednesday, also states that China’s claim to “historic rights” over the South China Sea is unlawful – a finding that concurs with the decision of the 2016 international arbitration tribunal in a case brought by the Philippines.
China, which has ignored the tribunal, has been engaged in territorial disputes with five other claimants in the South China Sea. The Chinese claims are by far the largest, covering up to 90 percent of the sea.”
Vietnam Insight: Learn more about Vietnam
The Vietnam-Germany Strategic Partnership Takes Another Step Forward
The Diplomat/ Hai Hong Nguyen/ January 13
“The Bayern’s visit to Ho Chi Minh City in the very first days of 2022 was a concrete step that signaled the closer defense cooperation between Vietnam and Germany, especially in the naval domain. Further enhancing defense cooperation would be the next step in moving towards upgrading the current strategic partnership to a comprehensive strategic partnership in three years’ time, when the two countries will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of their diplomatic ties, given the fact that Germany and Vietnam are each the largest trading partners of one other in the EU and ASEAN.”
Time for Vietnam to get cracking on CPTPP reforms
East Asia Forum/ Nguyen Anh Duong/ January 13
“Within Vietnam, there has been debate as to how swiftly reforms related to the CPTPP should have proceeded. Some experts on economic integration have called for an earlier and more radical phase in meeting Vietnam’s CPTPP commitments as part of a unilateral reform approach. But the pay-offs from such an approach were diminished by the US TPP withdrawal under former US President Donald Trump and the Biden administration’s apparent lack of enthusiasm for resurrecting the trade pact.”
Nikkei Asia/ Tomoya Onishi/ January 11
“Under the resolution, Vietnam will implement special mechanisms and policies to feature Can Tho as a gateway of the lower Mekong region, connecting Vietnam with Cambodia and Laos. Hanoi plans to promote Can Tho as a core green city engaged in agriculture and environmental businesses, taking advantage of its location in the Mekong Delta, the biggest farming region in the country.
Can Tho's promotion is driven by its geopolitical importance, experts say. The city sits near Cambodian coastal city of Sihanoukville, where China is backing an expansion of facilities to boost its presence in the South China Sea.”