Vietnam Briefing: Vietnamese Activists Receive Speech Freedom Awards; Vietnam Steps Up Crackdown On NGOs

Vietnam Briefing: Vietnamese Activists Receive Speech Freedom Awards; Vietnam Steps Up Crackdown On NGOs

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

Pham Doan Trang was awarded the 2022 Canada-United Kingdom Media Freedom Award

  • On February 10, Vietnamese human rights defender and journalist Pham Doan Trang was awarded the 2022 Canada-United Kingdom Media Freedom Award. The result was announced during the third Global Media Freedom Conference in Tallinn, Estonia.
  • Pham Doan Trang spent 434 days in detention before being sentenced to nine years imprisonment for allegedly conducting “anti-state propaganda.” Doan Trang’s family and her lawyers have reportedly not been able to visit her since she was convicted last year.
  • The Media Freedom Award, launched in 2020 at the second Global Conference for Media Freedom, honors and recognizes “the work of those who have defended journalists, or championed media freedom at a local level.” Doan Trang is the second recipient of this award; the Belarusian Association of Journalists received this prestigious prize in 2020.

Mai Khoi Do Nguyen, a Vietnamese singer and activist, received the Freedom of Speech Award 2022

  • On February 9, Mai Khoi Do Nguyen, a Vietnamese singer and democracy activist, was named one of the laureates in the Four Freedoms Awards 2022, an annual award presented by the Roosevelt Institute. Mai Khoi received the Freedom of Speech award this year for bringing to the forefront “the importance of freedom of expression, social justice and improving the human rights situation in Vietnam,” according to the Four Freedoms’ website.
  • The prizes are awarded each year to the people whose achievements have demonstrated a commitment to the principles presented by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in his historic speech to Congress on January 6, 1941, which were regarded as essential to democracy: freedom of speech and expression, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear.
  • Upon awarding her the Freedom of Speech Award, the committee added that Mai Khoi “emphasizes the right of everyone to make their own choices,” while she draws public attention to “equal opportunities for women and the LGBTI+ community, gender-based violence, freedom of expression, and the environment.” Furthermore, she also called attention to the Formosa Plastics disaster in 2016 that resulted in environmental damage and which had an economic impact on local fishermen.

Vietnamese Dominican priest killed while administering the sacrament of confession forgave his murderer

  • Father Joseph Tran Ngoc Thanh, the 41-year-old Vietnamese Dominican priest killed while listening to confessions and celebrating the Sacrament of Reconciliation in the diocese of Kon Tum on January 29, forgave his murderer just before he died, according to the missionary news agency Fides.
  • The news was reported to Fides by Msgr. Aloisio Nguyen Hung Vi, the bishop of the diocese of Kon Tum. On February 7, together with other priests, the bishop visited the community of Sa Loong, part of the Dak Mot parish, where Father Joseph Tran Ngoc Thanh carried out his pastoral service and was later murdered, Fides reports.
  • Local police subsequently arrested the murderer, Nguyen Van Kien, and declared he was mentally ill. But several rights groups and individuals blamed the incident on the Vietnamese government for nurturing hostility against religions. This serious incident has nevertheless received scant media coverage in Vietnam.

Vietnamese environmentalist and NGO founder arrested and prosecuted on “tax evasion” charges

  • State media on February 9 reported that the Hanoi Police investigation department had officially prosecuted Nguy Thi Khanh, a Vietnamese environmentalist and NGO founder, on “tax evasion” charges in accordance with Article 200 of Vietnam’s Penal code.
  • Khanh, the founder of Green Innovation and Development Center (GreenID) and a recipient of the Goldman environmental prize in 2018, was reportedly detained last month, but her detention was only confirmed by state media on February 9. Khanh’s organization had campaigned for Vietnam to adopt greener and more sustainable energy production alternatives while pressuring the government to cut down on fossil fuel-generated energy.
  • She was the latest activist to be prosecuted by the Vietnamese authorities for tax-related crimes. Last month, Dang Dinh Bach, director of the Law and Policy of Sustainable Development Research Center, was sentenced to five years in prison for “tax evasion.” Previously, Mai Phan Loi, a former journalist and the director of the Center for Media in Educating Community, also received four years imprisonment for the same charge.
  • In a 2020 interview with AFP, Khanh acknowledged the risks that her activism brought. “When we got global recognition, these vested interest groups recognized us as their enemy and they are very powerful,” she said.
  • Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, told The Guardian regarding Khanh’s arrest: “Now that Hanoi has finished imprisoning all the political dissidents while the world was distracted by COVID-19, the state’s repressive apparatus is turning on the environmental and social NGOs.”

Vietnam a ‘country of particular concern,’ US religious freedom agency says

RFA reports:

  • Despite some improvements, Vietnam remains a “country of particular concern” the 15th consecutive year in terms of allowing its citizens to freely practice their religion, according to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF).
  • The commission said a new law adopted in Vietnam in 2018 was a “notable improvement” to a previous ordinance but remains overly restrictive and has been applied unevenly across the country. Meanwhile, Hanoi continued cracking down on unregistered independent religious groups and publicly labeled many as “bizarre or wrong.”
  • “Authorities continued to actively persecute independent religious minority communities, including Protestant Hmong and Montagnard Christians, Hoa Hao Buddhists, the Unified Buddhists, Cao Dai followers, Catholics and Falun Gong practitioners,” the report said.
  • “Ethnic minority communities faced especially egregious persecution for the peaceful practice of their faith, including physical assault, banishment, detention, imprisonment, and forced renunciation of faith,” it added.

Former journalist prosecuted for “defaming provincial police leaders”

  • Doan Tu Tan, a 40-year-old former journalist, was prosecuted on February 5 for “abusing democratic freedom to infringe on state and individuals’ legal rights,” state media reported.
  • According to the police, Tan allegedly used several untraceable phone numbers to send hoax messages to leaders in Bac Giang Province, spreading rumors and accusing the police heads of the local Luc Ngan District of wrongdoings. The police concluded that Tan’s messages were “defamatory and slanderous” of the local police leaders.
  • The former journalist was previously convicted and sentenced to three-year imprisonment for “receiving bribes” and is currently awaiting the execution of his sentence. There is no clear evidence that Tan’s accusations about police officials had any correlation to his previous conviction.

Le Chi Thanh, the former policeman, appealed his conviction of “resisting law enforcement officers”

  • Le Chi Thanh, a former policeman who was sentenced to two-years in prison for “resisting law enforcement officers on duty,” has filed an appeal against the Thu Duc court’s verdict, his lawyer Dang Dinh Manh told RFA Vietnamese on February 10.
  • Attorney Manh added that Thanh had also been prosecuted for another charge of “abusing democratic freedom” by the investigative unit of Binh Thuan Police Department. Thanh used to be a correctional officer in the Binh Thuan Province Police Department, where he accused its leaders of corruption and other wrongdoings.
  • Thanh is expected to be transferred to Binh Thuan after his appeal trial, according to attorney Manh. His appeal hearing date has not been announced yet.

Vietnam warns of hospitals strain as COVID-19 cases spike after the holiday

Reuters reports:

“Vietnam warned on Thursday that its healthcare system could become overloaded, after seeing a surge in new daily coronavirus infections following its week-long Lunar New Year holiday.

The Southeast Asian country reported nearly 24,000 new cases on Wednesday, compared to about 15,000 per day in the week before the annual holiday, when millions of people traveled to their rural homes and to tourist hotspots.

"Increased traveling will lead to the risk of more infections among the community, including the risk of spreading the Omicron variant," the health ministry said in a statement.”

Vietnam Releases Guidance on Implementation of COP26 Commitments

Mayer Brown:

“At the United Nations Climate Change Conference in November 2021 (COP26), Vietnam’s prime minister announced that the country would target achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050, and phase out coal power generation by 2040.

As a follow-up to this announcement, on 30 January 2022 the Vietnam government issued Notice no. 30/TB-VPCP identifying the following eight areas of focus for implementing Vietnam’s COP26 commitments:

  1. conversion from fossil fuel to green/clean energy sources;
  2. reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in various sectors/industries;
  3. reduction of methane emissions, especially in agriculture and waste management sectors;
  4. R&D and use of electric vehicles;
  5. sustainable management, use of existing forests, and increase of afforestation for carbon absorption;
  6. R&D and use of construction materials and urban development for sustainable and green development;
  7. public relations campaigns directed at the public and business communities to enhance awareness and support for the government’s implementation of COP26 commitments; and
  8. acceleration of digital (economy) conversion for climate change.”

Vietnam Insight: Learn more about Vietnam

Prospects and challenges for Vietnam’s economy in 2022

East Asia Forum/ David Dapice/ February 11

“The big question now is if these developments will tarnish Vietnam’s hard-won reputation as a reliable supplier and alternative to China for manufactured exports? Despite factory closures, exports rose 19 percent in 2021 to an astonishing US$336 billion — while GDP was only US$271 billion in 2020 and grew only slightly in 2021. The high level of foreign direct investment (FDI) did not grow nor shrink much. The rapid increase in vaccinations — about 60 percent fully vaccinated by early 2022 — suggests that factory closures will be modest in 2022.

But labour shortages may be more of a problem, as workers fear another round of factory closures and travel restrictions. There were troubles hiring even in 2019 as labour force growth slowed. Global pressures to reduce risk and increase resilience in supply chains are another headwind. While the momentum of past FDI commitments will keep export growth high in 2022, there are questions about later years.”

The Biden Administration and Southeast Asia: One Year in Review

ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute/ Hoang Thi Ha, Ian Storey/ February 11

“The Biden administration’s record in Southeast Asia was also mixed, though generally positive. Due to the above-mentioned priorities, Washington’s engagement with the region was slow to start, causing much frustration in Southeast Asian capitals. In the second half of the year, however, momentum picked up as a flurry of senior officials visited the region, and culminated in a virtual US-ASEAN Summit and an American president’s full attendance at the East Asia Summit for the first time since President Barack Obama in 2016.”

Why Won’t Vietnam Teach the History of the Sino-Vietnamese War?

The Diplomat/ Travis Vincent/ February 9

“According to Professor Tuong Vu from the University of Oregon, the Sino-Vietnamese war still divides Hanoi’s leadership today. One faction puts the blame on Le Duan, a former party leader known for being anti-China, while the other faction believes the party was wrong all along for having trusted China too much.

“Allowing any discussion of the war threatens to deepen that rift and the survival of the party and would expose the mistakes of party leadership,” Vu said via email. “Teaching children about this war might over time create public pressure that forces the party to move away from China and closer to the U.S., which it does not want to.”

Inequity and corruption taint Vietnam's return to international travel

Southeast Asia Globe/ Govi Snell/ February 3

“Despite the easing of restrictions, some are still frustrated by the inequity: the high cost of entry, often fueled by corruption, turned travel to the country into a luxury. Further, while travel restrictions aligned with the government’s ‘Zero-Covid’ policy, once cases of the virus ballooned in the summer of 2021 the continued barriers felt increasingly unreasonable.”

Rhino horns pierce a wall between crime and affluence in Vietnam

Southeast Asia Globe/ Govi Snell/ January 19

“Among the target rhino users in the country – rich, middle-aged individuals – Nam sees very little stigma and low perception of risk for using the illegal product. The government focuses on making big seizures of illegal wildlife products rather than seeking out and punishing consumers, he stated. The combined factors make lowering demand for rhino horn difficult.”

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