The Vietnam Briefing, which is released every Monday morning Vietnam time, looks at Vietnam’s social and political developments of the past week.
Vietnamese environmental activist jailed on “tax evasion” charge
- A Vietnamese court in Hanoi on June 17 sentenced Nguy Thi Khanh, an environmental leader prominently known for her role in campaigning for the reduction of coal-fired energy in Vietnam, to two years in prison on the charge of “committing tax evasion,” according to her NGO, GreenID, and a court official. State-owned media in Vietnam have not reported on the trial and conviction of Khanh.
- Nguy Thi Khanh, 46, was Vietnam’s first recipient of the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2018 after she convinced the Vietnamese government to reduce domestic coal energy production by 20,000 megawatts. She was arrested earlier in February for an investigation into alleged tax evasion regarding a financial reward she received earlier.
- Many local activists believe that tax evasion is a trumped-up prosecution to eliminate dissents. Vietnamese authorities have increasingly used “tax evasion” penalties to arrest and prosecute members of civil society, including the leaders of registered NGOs. Earlier this year, Vietnamese courts used the same charge to imprison three other NGO leaders, Mai Phan Loi, Dang Dinh Bach, and Bach Hung Duong, who were all outspoken critics of the government’s environmental policies.
- In her previous interview with AFP, Nguy Thi Khanh acknowledged the risks that her activism brought since coal-fired power remains one of Vietnam’s primary energy sources and a vast network of interest groups are believed to benefit from this industry.
- Other environmental specialists and NGO directors say that the arrest of Khanh could undermine the Vietnamese government’s climate goal. At the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow (COP26) last November, Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh vowed to phase out coal consumption by 2040. He further said that Vietnam would stop issuing building permits for new coal plants and eventually move towards renewable energy.
Family of dead soldier questions military’s claims
- The family of Ly Van Phuong, a 22-year-old ethnic Hmong conscript who died while stationed at his camp in Ba Vi, has raised questions over the military’s claims that the young soldier died because of drowning.
- Phuong’s family told RFA that the soldier’s unit reported he was missing on the afternoon of June 9. They later went to Ba Vi the following day to look for him but returned to their camp after failing to find him. On June 11, the soldier’s family received a phone call from his unit telling them that Phuong’s body had been found in a pond near the barracks.
- According to the soldier’s younger sister, Ly Thi Thu Hang, Phuong’s unit initially tried to persuade the family not to come to collect his body and instead wait for the Army to bring it back. The family refused and insisted on going to the site of his death. Thu Hang said there were signs of fighting at the scene and they saw maggots on the ground, even though her brother’s body was said to have been found in the pond.
- In June 2021, the suspicious death of a young military soldier, Tran Duc Do, during his military service caused widespread shock and anger across Vietnam. His military commander alleged that Do committed suicide, but the soldier’s family suspected he had been bullied inside the military camp after finding several bruises on his body.
- Another Vietnamese soldier, Nguyen Van Thien, died at his unit in Gia Lai Provincial military camp in December 2021. Senior officials initially said that Thien died after falling in the bathroom, but subsequent investigations showed that he was beaten to death by his fellow soldiers.
Two Vietnam villagers complete jail terms for “resisting officials on duty” in one of Vietnam’s deadliest land dispute
- Bui Van Tuan and Trinh Van Hai, two villagers who were jailed for “resisting officials on duty” during a January 2020 police raid over a tense land dispute in Vietnam’s capital city, Hanoi, completed their nearly 30-month sentences and were released on June 9, according to one of the villagers.
- Tuan and Hai were part of an initial group of eight residents of Hoanh Hamlet in Dong Tam Commune, about 25 miles south of the capital, who were arrested following a deadly clash between residents and police on January 9, 2020, that left three police officers and the village leader dead.
- Four other villagers are serving jail terms of 12 years to life on homicide charges, while eight others are serving prison terms of 30 months to five years for “resisting officers on official duty.” Another 15 people were also charged with resisting the police but were given probation.
- Kinh’s sons, Le Dinh Chuc and Le Dinh Cong, were sentenced to death on September 14, 2020. They were convicted of causing the deaths of the three police officers, who were killed in the clash.
Justice for Myanmar: Viettel-funded Mytel assists the Myanmar military’s surveillance program
- In an investigative report released on June 14, Justice for Myanmar (JFM) detailed how the military-owned telecommunications company Mytel had given away “hundreds of thousands” of SIM cards and forced active members of the Myanmar military to sign up for their subscriptions program. JFM is an NGO campaign initiated by a group of cover activists that focuses on exposing the business network funding oppression in Myanmar.
- According to JFM, Mytel’s sales campaign has “created a high surveillance risk” for military members. Mytel staff would prepare a list of military bases signed up for the campaign and then collect personal data of the military personnel using the service, including their name, rank and military ID. It was estimated that around 90 percent of active military personnel in Myanmar use Mytel.
- JFM also raised concerns that the Myanmar and Vietnamese militaries could deploy the program to track and surveil the private communications and location of members of the military in an attempt to halt the growing number of defections from the regime. The sales campaign was reportedly monitored by Mytel’s CEO, Colonel Nguyen Thanh Nam, with support from Viettel Global Investment, owned by Vietnam’s Ministry of Defense.
- JFM spokesperson Yadanar Maung told RFA in an email that Viettel and Vietnam’s Ministry of Defense could take advantage of and misuse this data, if desired, even in their own national interest.
- In December 2020, JFM also released documents showing that Viettel was allegedly supporting the modernization of Myanmar’s military through technology transfers and training in an effort to improve the technical capacity of the country’s military, RFA reported.
- Meanwhile, in a meeting of the UN General Assembly on June 13, Deputy Head of the Vietnamese Delegation to the United Nations Le Thi Minh Thoa said that Vietnam “supports a comprehensive and sustainable solution with the strong commitment of relevant parties” regarding the situation in Myanmar following a military coup in February 2021.
- The Vietnamese representative also affirmed that Vietnam’s current priority is “ensuring safety and security for all people in Myanmar.” She urged all parties to “end violence and ensure humanitarian access and healthcare along with vaccines against Covid-19.”
European Parliament releases briefing on EU’s support for human rights defenders around the world
- The European Parliament released a briefing on June 13 detailing the EU’s efforts to “enhance the recognition” of international human rights defenders and “create a more protective environment” for these defenders, especially in the face of repressive states and hostile non-state actors.
- The briefing states that the EU’s engagement has had a “mixed impact” in countries where activists and human rights defenders are heavily suppressed, such as Vietnam. The Vietnamese government previously detained local activists who had met with EU officials as part of the EU-Vietnam human rights dialogue in 2017.
- On the positive side, Vietnam has released several imprisoned political activists under pressure from the EU. They include activist Nguyen Tien Trung, human rights lawyer Nguyen Van Dai, and independent blogger Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh. The EU also pressured Vietnam in a public statement issued in December 2021 by calling for the release of journalist Pham Doan Trang, who was sentenced to nine years in prison on December 14, 2021.
- However, the European Parliament also acknowledged that this positive development was related to “the pre-ratification context of the free trade agreement with the EU,” rather than the result of Vietnam’s genuine respect for fundamental human rights.
Former independent journalist declines prison food to protest maltreatment of political prisoners
- Pham Chi Dung, a former Vietnamese journalist, and director of the Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam (IJAVN), reportedly declined prison food to protest the lack of healthcare services for other political prisoners. Dung was sent to Xuan Loc Prison, Dong Nai Province, after being sentenced to 15 years in prison on the charge of “distributing anti-State propaganda” in 2021.
- According to Dung’s wife, Bui Thi Hong Loan, her husband refused to accept prison-provided food because he was dissatisfied that many political prisoners in the facility had dental problems, but were denied medical checkups and treatment. Loan said that Dung had received the food she sent him at the prison and that the last time she visited him was on May 28.
- Pham Chi Dung said he would not appeal the court sentence in a statement last January. The former journalist believed there is no independent justice system in Vietnam, and the verdicts are mostly “pre-determined.”
Membership of a political party ‘cannot be grounds for arrest,’ UN group says
- The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) has criticized the prosecution of a Vietnamese Australian facing a 12-year sentence as lacking grounds for arrest.
- In a report released in June, UNWGAD expressed concern about the case of Chau Van Kham, an Australian resident and member of the banned U.S.-based Viet Tan opposition party. WGAD also released a report on Nguyen Bao Tien, a deliveryman who volunteered with the Liberal Publishing House, founded by the currently jailed journalist Pham Doan Trang.
- According to documents No. 13/2022 and No. 35/2022, approved by WGAD during its 93rd session from March 30 to April 8, 2022, the agency considers the arrests of Tien and Kham to be arbitrary.
- WGAD also called on Vietnam’s government to take the necessary steps to remedy the situation immediately and under relevant international conventions, including those outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
Oxford college investigated over £155m gift linked to the Communist regime
“An Oxford college is under investigation over a £155 million gift from a Vietnamese billionaire who founded a “bikini” airline, amid concern over her links to the country’s Communist government.
Linacre College announced last year that in exchange for the “landmark gift” from Sovico Group, it would change its name to Thao College, after the company’s chairwoman, Nguyen Thi Phuong Thao.
But the donation is now subject to an “active investigation” by the British government, according to Michelle Donelan, the universities minister.”
Vietnam Insight: Learn more about Vietnam
Fulcrum/ Olga Dror/ June 17
“Ho Chi Minh, both during his life and after, has played an important role in the mobilization of Vietnamese citizens to support the CPV and its policies. His personality cult has been indispensable in this process. Generations of Vietnamese have been raised with the avuncular image of Ho Chi Minh and been taught to love and be devoted to Uncle Ho. Although the grip of the Ho Chi Minh cult on Vietnamese minds has been weakening in recent years, the CPV still uses it to keep the Vietnamese in line. Divine Eye’s attempt to ‘weaponize’ Ho Chi Minh in mobilizing pro-Russia and anti-Ukraine sentiments, and by extension public support for Vietnam’s stance on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, is yet another example of Ho Chi Minh’s emotional appeal remaining a useful tool for Vietnam’s propagandists, more than 50 years after his passing.”
U.S. Institute of Peace/ Andrew Wells-Dang/ June 16
“Once a symbol of Vietnam’s north-south division and the site of one of the 20th century’s bloodiest battles, Quang Tri province has quietly become an example of successful postwar reconstruction. Through a concerted effort led by provincial authorities, Quang Tri has reduced unexploded ordnance (UXO) casualties from thousands after the end of the Second Indochina War in 1975 and around 100 per year in the early 2000s, to nearly zero today.”
The Strategist/ Nguyen Quang Dy/ June 15
“But in one sense, both Vietnam and Taiwan face the same China threat. What’s going on in Ukraine has implications for the future of both, just as the French defeat at Dien Bien Phu in 1954 influenced the future of Algeria. The outlook for the Indo-Pacific will depend on how the region responds to the China threat through the effectiveness of its deterrence.
For Vietnam—one of the ‘swing states’ in the region—that will mean a diplomatically delicate pivot away from its longstanding friend and weapons supplier in the interests of building a more modern military, backed by secure supply chains.”
The Diplomat/ Huynh Tam Sang/ June 13
“The participation of Vietnam in the U.S.-led economic pact came as no surprise. Guided by the precept of multilateralism, Vietnam has long sought to embed itself in vital economic institutions, such as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). In joining these frameworks, Vietnam has sought to pursue omnidirectional cooperation at various levels of economic integration. Vietnam, as an IPEF member, can have a critical stake in the framework’s political and economic agendas, given that this economic initiative will be guided by key dialogues between the partners involved.”