The Vietnam Briefing, which is released every Monday morning Vietnam time, looks at Vietnam’s social and political developments of the past week.
Appeal hearings scheduled for Vietnamese activists
- On March 16, Nguyen Thi Anh Tuyet, the partner of activist Do Nam Trung, announced on social media that the Vietnamese Supreme People’s Court in Hanoi has scheduled an appeal hearing for him on March 24. Trung’s appeal trial will be heard at the Nam Dinh Provincial People’s Court.
- Tuyet told RFA Vietnamese in an interview that his health and mentality remain in good condition. Tuyet also added that she believed Trung was not guilty and his conviction was “too unfair.” The Nam Dinh-based activist was sentenced to 10 years of imprisonment last December on accusations of “distributing anti-state materials.”
- Meanwhile, the ex-policeman Le Chi Thanh, who was sentenced to two-year incarceration for allegedly “resisting law enforcement officers on duty,” will have his appeal trial on March 31, according to state media. Previously, Thanh filed an appeal against the court’s verdict on February 10, seeking to reduce his sentencing.
- Trinh Thi Nhung, the wife of Vietnamese activist Bui Van Thuan, received a police summons on March 16 and was requested to present herself at the investigation unit of Thanh Hoa Police Department on the following day regarding her husband’s activism. According to Nhung, Thuan is fully vaccinated, but recently has developed frequent joint pains and needed to take antibiotics.
- The Vietnamese authorities have transferred two Duong Noi land rights activists, Can Thi Theu and Trinh Ba Tu, to different detention facilities in Thanh Hoa and Nghe An provinces respectively. Previously, the two were being held in a facility in Hoa Binh Province, where its provincial court sentenced Theu and Tu each to eight years in prison and three years probation for “anti-state” activities.
Vietnamese authorities blocked activists from attending a Ukraine charity event, Human Rights Watch says
- According to rights advocate Human Rights Watch (HRW), Vietnam reportedly prevented several democracy activists from attending a fundraising charity bazaar hosted by the Ukrainian Embassy in Hanoi on March 5.
- In their report, HRW shared two local activists’ experiences, Hoang Ha (known as Song Que) and Dang Bich Phuong, who claimed that plainclothes security agents had prevented them from leaving their house or secretly followed and coerced them not to go to the Ukrainian embassy, where the event was hosted.
- According to Phuong, she spotted six guys sitting in front of her house lobby, which she assumed were there to prevent her and her friends from going to the event.
- According to HRW, at least eight democracy campaigners were blocked from going to the embassy’s event, including Nguyen Xuan Dien, Hoang Ha, Nguyen Nguyen Binh, Nguyen Khanh Tram, Nguyen Van Vien, Pham Thi Lan (wife of political prisoner Nguyen Tuong Thuy), Dang Bich Phuong, and Nguyen Hoang Anh.
- “Vietnamese security agents frequently restrict activists’ movements, blocking them from leaving their homes or neighborhood to prevent them from attending an event the government considers problematic,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of HRW. “Now the Vietnamese government has extended its policy of repressing activism by preventing people from showing support for the embattled people of Ukraine.”
- Sebastian Strangio, a writer at The Diplomat, explained that Hanoi’s prevention of activists from joining the event might come from its desire to bar local dissidents from “interfacing with foreign governments and prospective foreign supporters.”
- Strangio said further that the Vietnamese people’s support for Ukraine shows “the narrative of democratic resistance against authoritarian control” adding that this was “anathema to Hanoi.”
- According to The Vietnamese Magazine’s sources, several high schools in Vietnam have warned their students against discussing or commenting on the topic of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict on several social media groups, claiming that such groups have been “distorting, distributing false information, and inciting violence and protests.”
- The high schools added that students sharing information regarding this conflict from the above-mentioned groups could be a violation of Vietnam’s Cyber Security Laws.
Vietnam objects to the granting of International Women of Courage Award to journalist Pham Doan Trang
- On March 17, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Le Thi Thu Hang objected to the United States granting a prize for courage to dissident journalist Pham Doan Trang, describing her award as “unobjective and unsuitable.”
- Hang claimed that Trang had violated Vietnamese law and thus the U.S. prize was “not conducive for the development of bilateral relations.” The spokeswoman added that Vietnam’s policy was to “always safeguard and promote the basic rights of our citizens, including women's rights.”
- U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced Pham Doan Trang as winner last Monday at the ceremony of the International Women of Courage Award, which was also attended by First Lady Jill Biden. Blinken condemned the imprisonment of Trang as an unjust imprisonment.
- “Despite facing threats – constant threats – she continued educating others about their rights,” Blinken said of Trang. “We condemn her unjust imprisonment. We call for her immediate release,” he said.
Native of An Giang Province sentenced to six years in prison on subversion charge
- On March 16, the Vietnamese court of An Giang Province sentenced Le Thi Kim Phi to six years in prison on accusations of “organizing activities to topple the government.”
- According to the court verdict, Phi used her Facebook account to contact members of the U.S.-based opposition group Provisional Government of Vietnam and shared on her Facebook account “anti-state information.”
- Most of the evidence used to prosecute the case was collected on Phi’s social media account. The An Giang resident was arrested in July 2021.
- The Provisional Government of Vietnam was classified as a terrorist group in 2018 by Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security. However, according to its founder, Dao Minh Quan, there was no evidence to back Hanoi’s accusations.
Two Khanh Hoa residents convicted of “subverting the government”
- On March 15, the court of Khanh Hoa Province sentenced Ton Nu The Trang and Nguyen Xuan Tinh to 12 years and nine years in jail respectively on allegations of “organizing activities to topple the government.” Both will also serve an additional three years of probation.
- According to state media, Trang participated in an online group called “Tien Rong” (Fairy and Dragon), which was regarded as “reactionary” by the Vietnamese government.
- Meanwhile, Tinh was accused of using his Facebook account to join a secret online group called “Viet Tan tuong tro” (Viet Tan’s mutual aid), which was framed by the local authorities as a subordinate group under the control of the Viet Tan organization. Hanoi alleged that Viet Tan was a terrorist group, but the organization rejected this allegation.
- State media quoted the court’s comment that the activities committed by Trang and Tinh were “particularly serious.” As a result, there should be a “stern punishment” to help “educate the accused” and serve as a “general prevention [and] deterrence [of such activities] in the society.”
Vietnamese coffee growers protest over loss of land rights in Central Highlands
- On March 17, about 100 coffee growers in Vietnam’s Central Highlands staged a protest following a local company’s confiscation of farm lands. The farmers claimed that they had lost the usage of land after they stopped sending some of their crops to a forestry company called Buon Ja Wam Forestry Company Ltd.
- Local protesters say they invested their own funds to grow crops on the land provided by the company, but then had to turn over what they produced to the company, which collected their products without providing fertilizer, water, or technical assistance beforehand.
- The villagers also said that Buon Ja Wam had sent staff to intimidate and threaten farmers who failed to make their in-kind payments on time, beating some to the point of sustaining serious injuries. Local residents also said that they suspected an interest group was backing the company.
- “Their wrongdoings have been obvious, but as rank-and-file farmers, we had no choice but to work like slaves,” one resident told RFA.
Vietnam - China’s South China Sea disputes
- Reuters on March 12 quoted a state media report that Vietnam has banned Sony’s action movie “Uncharted” from its cinema screens because of a scene featuring a map that shows China’s U-shaped “nine-dash line” to stake its claim to large parts of the South China Sea.
- Previously, Vietnam asked China not to violate its exclusive economic zone and continental shelf after Beijing held military drills from March 4 to March 15 in an area between its Hainan Province and Vietnam’s central coast, reported Bloomberg.
- In response, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said on March 8 at a regular press briefing in Beijing that “China’s military exercise on its own doorstep is reasonable and lawful.”
- Meanwhile, in an unusually bold move, the Vietnamese government on March 12 commemorated the 34th anniversary of the battle of Johnson South Reef (or Gac Ma in Vietnamese.) It took place in 1988 when Vietnamese soldiers were confronted by Chinese troops when they carried construction materials onto the reef and put up a Vietnamese flag there. The event led to the deaths of 64 Vietnamese soldiers. Johnson South Reef has remained under China’s control since.
Vietnam Insight: Learn more about Vietnam
Fulcrum/ Dien Nguyen An Luong, Amirul Adli Rosli/ March 16
“In sum, it is the bigger chunk of Vietnamese netizens who are unhappy with their government’s abstention that reflects a stubborn challenge facing the authorities. In its constant efforts to walk on an ever-narrowing tightrope in dealing with the major powers, Vietnam has to continue keeping a wary eye on a public that has become increasingly pro-US. The growing Sino-Russian nexus seems poised to exacerbate this sentiment in Vietnam, where being cast as meek and kowtowing to Beijing can be politically damaging.”
ISEAS Perspective/ Bill Hayton/ March 15
“This then suggests the basis for a compromise solution to the South China Sea disputes: each claimant keeps what it currently occupies and drops its claims to the other features. There is a legal name for this principle: uti possidetis, ita possideatis – what you have is what you keep.”
Fulcrum/ Hoang Thi Ha/ March 14
“A more important parallel between Ukraine and Vietnam is that both countries lie in the immediate periphery of great powers. Their respective neighbourhoods are vulnerable to power politics and security dilemmas. Both have and will continue to be primary objects in great powers’ tussle for spheres of influence. At the heart of their national existence is the precarious line between preserving their strategic autonomy and being sensitive towards their larger neighbours’ security concerns vis-à-vis other peer adversaries.”