The Vietnam Briefing, which is released every Monday morning Vietnam time, looks at Vietnam’s social and political developments of the past week.
Day to remember: On April 30, 1975, the South Vietnamese government surrendered unconditionally as North Vietnam Army’s tanks crashed through the gates of the Presidential Palace in Saigon and effortlessly occupied the city. The fall of Saigon marked the end of the Vietnam War and the 30-year struggle for control over Vietnam. It was followed by the new Communist authorities’ punishment and discrimination of the southern population, which later led to a mass exodus of nearly one million refugees fleeing Vietnam in the following decades.
Vietnamese social media activist sentenced to 5 years in jail for “anti-State activities”
- A Vietnamese court in Lam Dong Province on April 26 sentenced Dinh Van Hai, a social media and civil rights activist, to five years in prison and three years probation for allegedly “making, storing, and distributing propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam” in accordance with Article 117 of Vietnam’s 2015 Penal Code.
- Hai, who is disabled, was first temporarily detained in 2017 after he participated in a peaceful rally in Ho Chi Minh City, protesting against the environmental disaster caused by the Taiwan-based Formosa Ha Tinh Steel Corp. on Vietnam’s central coast. Since 2019, he has received a few police summons because of his online activism.
- Dinh Van Hai was arrested by plainclothes police at the Phuoc Buu Pagoda on October 7, 2021, where he had taken refuge for the previous several months. The activist was later transferred to Lam Dong Provincial Police for pretrial detention while awaiting investigation.
- According to the indictment, the evidence used to prosecute Hai was mostly collected on his personal Facebook account, including a total of 13 videos and 79 posts that contain “false and fabricated information” which aims to “distort history, the economic, social and political situation, as well as the socialism building agenda [in Vietnam.]”
- It was reported that Hai did not have a defense lawyer for his trial, but only a legal representative sponsored by Vietnam’s Disabled People’s Organization. An unnamed relative of Dinh Van Hai told RFA in an interview that Hai claimed to be responsible for all the materials he published online, but that his intention was to make Vietnam a better and more developed country.
- The United Nations Special Rapporteurs last November sent a mandate to the Vietnamese government to raise concerns over the arrest, detention, and denial of family visits of social media activists and human rights defenders in the country, including Dinh Van Hai. The UN rapporteurs also demanded Vietnam provide a legal basis as well as the explanations for their alleged activities of suppressing the fundamental civil rights of citizens.
Jailed citizen journalist allowed family visitation after an opaque appellate hearing
- Vietnamese citizen journalist Le Trong Hung, who had his sentence of five years in prison and five years probation upheld in a secret trial, was allowed to see his wife for the first time since his arrest more than a year ago, RFA reports.
- Hung was arrested in March 2021 on charges of “distributing anti-State materials” under Article 117 of Vietnam’s Penal Code shortly after his self-nomination for Vietnam’s National Assembly elections. Hung was able to see his family on April 22, three days after an appeals court in Hanoi upheld his sentence in a hearing that neither his lawyers nor his family was informed about in advance, said Hung’s wife, Do Le Na.
- “My husband said that on April 19, the trial day, he was kidnapped and sent to the court. He did not agree to stand the trial as he hadn’t had a chance to see his lawyers,” Na told RFA, adding that her 40-minute meeting was closely monitored.
- “They repeatedly reminded me and my husband not to mention the appeal trial,” she said. “They warned that our talk over the phone would be stopped and we would be kicked out if we talked about the trial.”
- “I myself will keep speaking up and reaching out to human rights organizations and civilized countries which pay attention to the human rights situation in Vietnam. I want to point out how my husband has been treated and expose all of the Vietnamese government’s wrongdoings,” Na said.
Human Rights Watch urges the Japanese Prime Minister to raise human rights issues during the Southeast Asia trip
- Human Rights Watch (HRW) in a press release on April 26 urged Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida during his visit to Southeast Asia from late April to early May to put pressure on Southeast Asian governments, including Vietnam, to improve their human rights records.
- Kishida is expected to travel to Vietnam during an extended visit to Southeast Asia, where he aims to coordinate regional responses to the Ukraine crisis as well as counter China’s rising assertiveness in the region, according to Reuters. The Japanese prime minister will pay an official visit to Vietnam from April 30 to May 1 and will meet the country’s prime minister and president, according to state media.
- The rights advocate noted that Japan is “Vietnam’s most important bilateral donor” and that Kishida should express concerns regarding the Vietnamese Communist Party’s suppression of fundamental civil rights, press Vietnam “to respect freedom of online expression,” and “publicly urge the Vietnamese government to release everyone imprisoned for exercising their rights.”
- According to HRW, “at least 51 people in Vietnam were put on trial, convicted, and sentenced to many years in prison” between the period December 2020 and April 2022 for simply exercising their basic human rights, including the freedom of expression, association, and religion.
- “Japan proudly claims its commitment to protecting human rights on the global stage, but in practice, it does little to press rights-abusing governments in Asia to improve their records,” said Kanae Doi, Japan’s director of HRW. “Prime Minister Kishida’s Southeast Asia trip is an important opportunity to break with Tokyo’s longstanding public silence on abuses abroad and instead assert global leadership on rights issues.”
- Meanwhile, the UN Office of the High Commission for Human Rights and the UN Environment Programme on April 22 expressed “grave concern” over Hanoi’s arrest and conviction of environmental human rights defenders on “tax evasion” charges.
- “The use of income tax evasion charges to stifle critical voices is not a new practice in Vietnam. However, this time the charge of income tax evasion is being used against registered non-profit organizations whose work focuses on environmental protection,” said Cynthia Veliko, Southeast Asia Representative for the UN Human Rights Office in Bangkok.
- On April 20, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and the International Federation for Human Rights also issued a joint urgent appeal for international intervention over the Vietnamese authorities’ alleged torture and ill-treatment of rights activist Trinh Ba Phuong. According to the appeal, Phuong was subjected to acts of torture throughout the investigation of his case. He was also reportedly hit by four security guards in sensitive areas of his body.
Vietnam seeks EU’s assistance in building national cybersecurity protection
- On April 28, Vietnam’s Minister of Public Security General To Lam met with Gunnar Wiegand, managing director for Asia and the Pacific at the European External Action Service (EEAS), in Hanoi as he was asking for further support from the EU in cyber security protection, state media reports.
- According to the minister, Vietnam has received significant assistance and shared experience from the EU in the building of the country’s Cybersecurity Law and related decrees.
- To Lam also suggested the EU continue to support and share its experience regarding cyber security with Hanoi, as well as introduce and transfer technologies and equipment for cyber security protection and high-tech criminal prevention.
- Vietnam’s Cybersecurity Law, which became effective in January 2019, has worried the country’s dissidents, human rights activists, and the blogger community as they were afraid these laws have been utilized by the government to stifle critics.
Vietnam’s National Assembly to hold its third session for the 2021-2026 term
- According to General Secretary of Vietnam’s National Assembly Bui Cuong, the country’s legislative body will hold its third session for the 2021-2026 term from May 23 to June 17. According to state media, five bills and four resolutions will be discussed for approval in this session, while six other draft bills will be open for further discussions.
- More specifically, the National Assembly will pass legislation and amendments related to the mobile police forces, insurance business, telecommunications and information industry, and intellectual property.
- Vietnamese lawmakers are also expected to give their opinions and approve an additional four resolutions regarding vocational training programs for prison inmates, the legislative agenda for the next year, regulations of or National Assembly sessions, and specific development mechanisms for Khanh Hoa Province.
- They will also examine reports on Vietnam’s socio-economic development and budget spending plans drafted in 2021, as well as monitor the implementation of those plans in the beginning months of 2022.
Vietnam Insight: Learn more about Vietnam
The Diplomat/ Thoi Nguyen/ April 28
“Vietnam’s agriculture is one of the sectors that has suffered most from the Ukraine conflict and has been forced to find new ways to survive. Truong Dinh Hoe, general secretary of the Vietnam Association of Seafood Exporters and Producers, stated that Vietnamese business owners trading with Russia are worried about collecting payments after Russia’s exclusion from the SWIFT system. For example, the Phuc Sinh Group, a Vietnamese export business that engages in around $10 million in trade with Russia each year, has said that it is losing considerable revenue due to the Western sanctions.”
The Diplomat/ Carl Thayer/ April 27
“Vietnam has yet to confirm or deny officially that the planning meeting took place. On April 21, for example, at a press conference, Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Le Thi Thu Hang responded to a direct question from Channel News Asia about the reported Russia-Vietnam military exercises, in these words, “Viet Nam’s consistent policy is that all of its defense cooperation with other countries – including delegation exchange, joint training, and military exercises, games and contests – are meant to bolster friendship, solidarity, mutual trust, and understanding, for the sake of peace, cooperation, and development in the region and in the world.”
Asia Times/ David Hutt/ April 27
“Between 1986, after the death of the political boss Le Duan, and 2021, no Vietnamese senior leader had ever held office for more than two terms, and not one ever seriously attempted to do so.
But last year all that was overridden by Nguyen Phu Trong, the general secretary of the Vietnamese Communist Party, who secured himself an unprecedented third term as party boss. He also parlayed an exception for his age, 11 years over the limit, which should have seen him step down at last year’s National Congress.”