The Vietnam Briefing, which is released every Monday morning Vietnam time, looks at Vietnam’s social and political developments of the past week.
Jailed rights activist marks one year in pretrial detention
- Nguyen Thuy Hanh, a Vietnamese human rights activist well known for founding the 50K Fund, a private finance initiative to help raise money for families of jailed prisoners of conscience, marked her first year in pretrial detention on April 7.
- Hanh was arrested on April 7, 2021, by police in Hanoi for investigation for allegedly “distributing propaganda against the State.”
- In 2020, Vietnamese authorities blocked her bank account after she raised about 500 million dong (US$21,600) to support the family of Le Dinh Kinh, the elderly leader of Dong Tam Village, who was shot dead by security forces during a police raid in January 2020.
- Hanh had self-nominated herself to run for a seat in Vietnam’s National Assembly elections in 2016 but was disqualified by the authorities.
- Hanh’s husband, Huynh Ngoc Chenh, said his wife was very depressed before her arrest and that the family is concerned that her psychological condition could worsen.
- “My wife Hanh was suffering from serious depression and was being treated by a doctor in Saigon [Ho Chi Minh City] when she was arrested,” Chenh told RFA. “After a while, the detention center allowed us to send her some medicine.”
- But authorities have not informed Hanh’s family about her current mental state while in detention. The family later coincidentally learned from other patients there that she was submitted to a month-long stay in a mental hospital.“We don’t know anything about her health conditions now,” Chenh said.
Families of Dong Tam death-row inmates allowed family visits in prison
- The families of Le Dinh Cong and Le Dinh Chuc on April 2 were allowed personal visitations at the Temporary Detention Center Number 2 in Thuong Tin District, Hanoi, after months of restricted visitations due to the COVID-19 outbreak, according to an update from Le Dinh Cong’s daughter Nguyen Thi Duyen.
- In her Facebook’s status, Duyen wrote that her father and uncle’s mental state remained in “very good” condition; however, she added that Le Dinh Cong had been infected with a severe skin fungus while in prison and asked her to send him some medications. Cong also told his daughter that he had never “personally viewed himself as a death row inmate.”
- Le Dinh Cong and Le Dinh Chuc are the two sons of Dong Tam Village leader Le Dinh Kinh. They were sentenced to death by the Hanoi People Court during a trial on September 14, 2020, following the police raid of Dong Tam Village that resulted in the deaths of Kinh and three police officers. The Hanoi High Court upheld the sentencing in an appeal hearing on March 8, 2021.
Australian government urges Vietnam to release political prisoner Chau Van Kham
- The Australian government is urging Vietnam to free Chau Van Kham, a 72-year-old Vietnamese-born Australian serving a 12-year prison sentence for his involvement in a pro-democracy group, due to concerns about his old age and deteriorating health, Associated Press reports.
- Kham was convicted of terrorism charges in 2019 by a court in Ho Chi Minh City for his support of the pro-democracy, political party Viet Tan. Hanoi accused Viet Tan of being a “terrorist group” but the organization called the charges “baseless” and said Kham’s legal proceedings were a sham.
- Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said she had argued for Kham’s release in a conversation with Vietnam’s Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh in Hanoi last year and in a phone call with Vietnam’s Foreign Minister Bui Thanh Son last week.
- “In relation to Mr. Chau Van Kham, respecting the Vietnamese legal system and we do, our concern though is his age. He is in his 70s, he is unwell,” Payne told reporters. “We have sought an appropriate consideration of his circumstances given those facts and to have him allowed to return to Australia,” Payne said.
Human Rights Watch urges European Union to pressure Vietnam over its human rights record
- Human Rights Watch (HRW) in a press statement on April 4 has called on the European Union to pressure Hanoi to “comply with its human rights obligations, end its crackdown on activists, and release all political prisoners.”
- The statement was made before a bilateral human rights dialogue between the EU and Vietnam is to be held in Brussels on April 6, 2022, according to HRW.
- The rights advocate has underscored numerous arrests and the imprisonment of social and environmental activists in Vietnam over alleged tax evasion charges.
- The Vietnamese authorities arrested and imprisoned Mai Phan Loi, a journalist, and Dang Dinh Bach, a lawyer, as they were trying to join the Domestic Advisory Group, an independent body set up under the agreement between the EU and Vietnam to monitor the implementation of the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA).
- “The EU-Vietnam human rights dialogue shouldn’t be just another box-ticking exercise,” said Claudio Francavilla, EU advocate at Human Rights Watch. “The Vietnamese government has undertaken binding obligations to respect human rights, and the EU should be adamant that Vietnam’s increased repression will carry consequences for Vietnam’s leadership.”
Journalists in Vietnam are still prosecuted for practicing their profession
- A court in Ho Chi Minh City on April 5 sentenced Nguyen Hoai Nam, a former state journalist, to three years and six months in jail for criticizing local authorities for their handling of a corruption case he uncovered as a reporter, RFA reports.
- Nam used to work for the Ho Chi Minh City Law Newspaper. In 2018, the journalist investigated and submitted evidence of wrongdoing among employees of the Vietnam Internal Waterways Agency to the Investigation Department of the Ministry of Public Security.
- Among the employees at the state-owned agency who were identified in Nam’s reporting, 14 were unpunished despite having been allegedly proven guilty in a bribery case. Nam later wrote on Facebook that the court’s handling of the case was insufficient and that investigators were trying to “cover it up and allow the defendants to slip away.”
- On April 2, 2021, the journalist was arrested and found guilty on charges of “abusing freedom and democracy to infringe on the legal interests of the state, organizations, and individuals,” a violation under Article 331 of Vietnam’s Penal Code. The court concluded that Nam’s posts also violated anti-defamation laws.
- In a press statement on April 8, the Committee to Protect Journalists urged the Vietnamese authorities to “release journalist Nguyen Hoai Nam immediately and unconditionally, and stop imprisoning members of the press.”
- “Vietnamese authorities must free journalist Nguyen Hoai Nam, who was wrongfully sentenced to prison for doing his job as an independent journalist,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative. “Vietnam must stop treating journalists who report in the public interest as criminals, and should ensure that members of the press do not face prison for their work.”
- Meanwhile, the provincial court of Quang Tri on April 7 announced its conviction of Phan Bui Bao Thy, another state journalist who was previously accused of slandering the province’s leaders.
- According to the court’s decision, Thy was subjected to 12 months of correctional supervision; Le Anh Dung and Nguyen Huy, two of Thy’s accomplices, were each subjected to 18 months of correctional training.
Vingroup seeks financing from the U.S. government for its expansion
Vietnamese automaker Vinfast announced that it will seek financing from the United States government to help with its expansion of a planned manufacturing facility in North Carolina, Reuters reported with information from Vingroup Chairman Pham Nhat Vuong, who spoke to a group including reporters on April 9.
- “It is also one of our financing options, but we need to prove to them that we are qualified,” Vingroup Chairman Pham Nhat Vuong said.
- The automaker said on April 7 that its Singapore-based holding company had filed for an initial public offering (IPO) with the U.S. securities regulators, Reuters reported.
- Vingroup, which is popularly known for its role as a contractor of key development projects in Vietnam, has recently placed its bet on the electric vehicle manufacturing venture amid the Vietnamese government’s wide crackdown on real estate developers over the alleged market and economic manipulation.
- The latest example of this crackdown is the arrest of Do Anh Dung, chairman of the real estate developer Tan Hoang Minh, who is being investigated over allegations of “committing fraud.” Tan Hoang Minh was also involved in the manipulation of land prices in the auctions of the Thu Thiem New Urban Area project in Ho Chi Minh City.
- In 2021, the company offered a hefty 2.4 billion dong (US$106,242) for a square meter of Thu Thiem land but then withdrew from the auction. The price suggested by Tan Hoang Minh was 130 times higher than the compensation rate for the seized lands of Thu Thiem citizens (about $797.)
Vietnam votes against the resolution to suspend Russia’s membership in theUnited Nations Human Rights Council
- On April 7, the UN General Assembly voted to approve the U.S. -led effort to suspend Russia from the 47-member Human Rights Council over its invasion and alleged killing of civilians in Ukraine. Vietnam joined 23 UN members, including China, Cuba, North Korea, and Laos, in voting against the resolution.
- Hanoi’s objection to the UN resolution was in stark contrast to the speech made by Vietnamese Representative to the UN Dang Hoang Giang at the 11th Emergency Special Session of the General Assembly, where he called on involved parties to “reduce tension, apply ceasefire and resume dialogue in order to seek long-term solutions to differences.”
- “Vietnam opposes all actions of attacking civilians and violations of humanitarian and human rights laws,” Giang added as he emphasized the need to “verify recent information in a transparent, open and objective manner with the cooperation of all relevant sides.”
- In an interview with RFA Vietnamese, Carl Thayer, emeritus professor of politics at the University of New South Wales, said that Vietnam “has shot itself in the foot” for its decision and that there would be “a drop off of support” from the United States and other Western countries since they were disappointed with Hanoi’s support for Moscow.
- According to The Vietnamese Magazine’s observations, state-run media in the country has reported on the suspension of Russia’s membership in the Human Rights Council but avoided mentioning Vietnam’s opposition to the move.
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Council on Foreign Relations/ Joshua Kurlantzick/ April 7
“Yet Russia remains the cornerstone of Vietnam’s military platforms, and, interestingly, there seem to be some divisions within the Vietnamese public about the Ukraine war as well. As To Minh So notes, “a Gallup International Poll in 2017 on perceptions of Global Leaders found that Vietnamese [were] more favorable of Putin than Russians, with 89 percent approving his leadership.” However, To Minh So also notes that, during the Ukraine war, public opinion in Vietnam appears less supportive of Putin, as much as can be judged via the state media (which has not called the war “an invasion”) and other outlets in an authoritarian country. Still, given the extensive level of public support for Putin just five years ago (and after Putin’s 2014 invasion of Crimea), it is easy to imagine that the Vietnamese public is heavily divided on how to view the Ukraine conflict.”
The Diplomat/ Khang Vu/ April 5
“Vietnam seems to well understand its strong bargaining leverage and thus its refusal to raise the relationship to the level of a strategic partnership is based on the confidence of its importance in the U.S. Indo-Pacific strategy. In other words, Vietnam’s reluctance does not hurt the positive outlook of U.S.-Vietnam relations. As U.S. State Department Counselor Derek Chollet put it in his recent visit to Vietnam, bilateral exchanges show “the ever-growing strength of the United States-Vietnam relationship.” This explains why some Vietnamese officials claimed the partnership is already strategic in practice thanks to the current level of cooperation.”
Fulcrum/ Le Hong Hiep/ April 4
“Nevertheless, relying on a single source of arms will subject Vietnam to serious risks. Apart from the above-mentioned issues, Moscow’s increasingly close ties with Beijing is another source of risk that Hanoi should be mindful of, given the intensifying South China Sea dispute. Putting in place plans to wean itself off Russian arms will only become increasingly important to Vietnam. The compatibility issue means that this needs to be done in phases, matching the retirement of old Russian platforms with the procurement of new platforms from other suppliers. During this process, in addition to improving domestic arms production capabilities, further strengthening its strategic ties with potential alternative suppliers will also help Hanoi better manage its diversification efforts.”