The Vietnam Briefing, released every Monday morning at Vietnam time, looks at Vietnam’s social and political developments of the past week.
Tinh That Bong Lai practitioners were sentenced to a combined more than 23 years in prison
- On July 21, a Vietnamese court in Duc Hoa District, Long An Province, sentenced five monks from Tinh That Bong Lai Monastery, an independent Buddhist temple, and their landowner to a combined total of 23 and a half years in prison under Article 331 of Vietnam’s Penal Code.
- Article 331, which criminalizes those who “abuse democratic freedoms to infringe on State and individuals’ legitimate rights and interests,” is considered a vague and redundant legal code. And due to its vagueness and arbitrariness, the law has been often used by the Vietnamese government to suppress dissenting voices and the freedom of speech in Vietnam.
- According to the convictions, Le Tung Van, the temple’s head monk, received five years in prison, and Cao Thi Cuc, the temple’s landowner, received three years in prison. Other monks, including Le Thanh Nhat Nguyen, Le Thanh Hoan Nguyen, and Le Thanh Trung Duong, each received a four-year sentence, while Le Thanh Nhi Nguyen, another monk, received three and a half years in prison.
- There were also alleged violations of due process regarding the trial. Attorney Dang Dinh Manh, one of the defense lawyers of Tinh That Bong Lai, claimed that one piece of evidence used to prosecute the temple’s monks was collected from an unauthenticated Youtube channel. Meanwhile, Trung Duong, Nhat Nguyen and Nhi Nguyen said they had been tortured and threatened while in police custody. State media reported that several related witnesses were also absent during the hearing.
- Human Rights Watch Asia Deputy Director Phil Robertson said in a statement that Vietnam’s government is now widening its rights crackdown by silencing ordinary people who complain about local officials.
- “All this shows how intolerance for any sort of public criticism is getting worse in Vietnam. Vietnam should reverse these outrageous and unacceptable sentences against all of these persons,” Robertson said.
The family of the convicted Vietnamese blogger - Nguyen Duc Hung - says they were not informed about his trial
- The family of Nguyen Duc Hung, a Vietnamese blogger and activist recently sentenced to five and a half years for “distributing anti-State propaganda and materials” under Article 117 of the Penal Code, said that they were not informed of Hung’s trial and only learned about his sentence from state media the day it was handed down, reported RFA.
- Although the court claimed that Hung’s trial was a public one, his family said that they had heard nothing from the police or the court. “When they carried out the trial, my family did not know,” Hung’s father, Nguyen Van Sen, told RFA.
- “I phoned the detention center and was told that the trial had been carried out the day before. When I asked why they didn’t notify my family, the police said the family was not involved,” Sen said.
- Meanwhile, attorney Ha Huy Son, who has defended similar cases regarding “anti-State” prosecution, told RFA that the court is not required by law to notify the family of the defendants or invite them to the trial. Attorney Son said the court only needs to “tell the defense lawyer, the victim and any other parties involved at least 10 days before the trial,” according to the 2015 Penal Procedure Code.
- Hung, 31, has been held incommunicado since his arrest on January 6 this year. RFA reported that Hung’s family was not allowed to see him prior to the trial, despite repeated trips to the detention center.
Arrested Vietnamese road protesters claim police torture in custody
- Several protesters who clashed with local police while protesting against the dismantling of a road in Vietnam’s Nghe An Province claimed that they were tortured into signing a confession with the police, RFA reported.
- On July 13, a demonstration held by residents of Nghi Thuan Commune, Nghe An Province, following the local authorities’ decision to demolish an old local road in the village, turned into a violent clash between villagers with riot police and resulted in the arrest of 10 people.
- A local villager, who wanted to remain anonymous for safety reasons, told RFA that police at Nghi Loc district police headquarters handcuffed a 55-year-old detainee to a chair and slapped him. He said the detainee was forced to confess to the crimes of “stirring up public order” and “resisting a public officer in the performance of his/her official duties.” The detainee was finally released after he signed a police document.
- Another 50-year-old man, who has also been released, said he was forced to confess to “stirring up public order” and “resisting public officials.” He was released the same night. Seven people are still in custody as of July 19.
U.S. State Department adds Vietnam to human trafficking blacklist
- In the 2022 Trafficking in Persons report released July 19, the United States downgraded Vietnam to “Tire 3” in its measurement scale regarding efforts to stop and prevent human trafficking. The State Department’s report this year assessed 188 countries around the world on their effort to combat trafficking.
- The countries categorized in Tire 3, subject to U.S. sanctions, are those “whose governments do not fully meet the minimum [anti-trafficking] standards and are not making significant efforts to do so,” according to the report’s classification method.
- According to the State Department’s report, Vietnam was added to the blacklist as Hanoi decreased its convictions of human trafficking criminals in 2021 for the fifth year in a row. The report also found that the Vietnamese government took no action to protect the victims of trafficking and hold accountable a Vietnamese diplomat and an embassy staff in Saudi Arabia after they were accused of complicity in trafficking several of its citizens.
- Vietnamese foreign ministry spokeswoman Le Thi Thu Hang, on July 21, objected to the U.S. adding Vietnam to the human trafficking blacklist. Hang said that the State Department had based its findings on “inaccurate information” and "did not fully and accurately reflect the situation and efforts to prevent and combat human trafficking in Vietnam.”
- “We hope the U.S. will cooperate more closely in the coming time to have a full assessment of Vietnam's efforts to prevent and combat human trafficking,” Hang said in a statement on the foreign ministry website.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom concerned about Vietnam’s persecution of Duong Van Minh religion practitioners
- In a tweet published on July 19, Fred Davie, commissioner of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF,) said that the USCIRF is concerned that “Vietnamese authorities continue to persecute ethnic Hmong practitioners of the Duong Van Minh religion,” which “[violates] Vietnam’s own law & [fails] to uphold its international obligations.”
- The USCIRF’s statement was issued after the People’s Police Newspaper (Bao Cong an Nhan dan), a mouthpiece of Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security, published an article about “Project 78.” The purpose of this project is to “fight, prevent, and proceed to eliminate the illegal Duong Van Minh organization” in the northern province of Bac Kan.
- The Duong Van Minh religion was founded in 1989 and named after its founder, a local Hmong living in Vietnam’s northern Tuyen Quang Province. The purpose of the establishment of this religious sect was to eliminate outdated Hmong funeral traditions and replace them with more modern and hygienic methods.
- Duong Van Minh passed away last year due to lymphoma. Last December, Vietnamese police arrested around 35 people who attended his funeral, claiming that they had violated local COVID-19 preventive measures. On May 18, a court in Tuyen Quang Province convicted 12 Hmong practitioners on the charge of “resisting against officials on duty,” sentencing them to between two and four years in jail.
- Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security alleged that the Duong Van Minh religion was an “illegal sect” which aimed at “propagandizing, gathering mass forces, enticing the Hmong ethnic people, plotting to establish an ‘independent Hmong state,’ seeking the support of hostile forces, and forming political opposition.” The Duong Van Minh practitioners, on the other hand, denied police accusations that they sought to achieve independence.
Vietnam Insight: Learn more about Vietnam
The Diplomat/ Khang Vu/ July 22
“However, Laos’ current economic emergency may complicate Hanoi’s efforts to limit the influence of Beijing. Vietnam could only keep Laos under its wing so long as Laos maintained socio-political stability and China does not enjoy the final say in the survival of Laos’ economy, both of which are under threat due to the economic crisis. Hanoi has attempted to help alleviate some of Laos’ economic burden by increasing its investments by 33 percent between 2020 and 2021. In the first three months of 2022, bilateral trade grew 19 percent compared to the same period in 2021. Hanoi also noted that Vietnamese businesses in Laos have paid taxes worth more than $1 billion to Vientiane over the past five years. Still, it is worth remembering that no matter how much Vietnam invests in Laos, it cannot outbid China. Vietnam’s money is also not the silver bullet to Laos’ economic woes if the country cannot deal with its endemic corruption and mismanagement.”
Fulcrum/ Phan Xuan Dung, To Minh Son/ July 22
“The bamboo analogy appropriately encapsulates how Vietnam has manoeuvred its position amidst intensifying great power competitions, which loom large in the country’s security outlook. Beijing’s increasing assertiveness in the South China Sea has prompted Hanoi to enhance its ties with the West in a flexible manner. Yet, Vietnam remains resolute in upholding the ‘four Nos’ in its 2019 Defence White Paper (that is, no military alliances, no taking sides, no permission for Vietnam to be used as a military base by foreign powers, and no use of force in international relations). Hanoi also wishes to preserve cooperation with its northern neighbor. ‘Bamboo diplomacy’ may serve to project a ‘Vietnamese way’ that is neither pro-U.S. nor pro-China.”
Nikkei Asia/ Lien Hoang/ July 20
“The U.S. says it is competing for the 21st century against China, a single-party communist state that censors media, jails critics, enjoys a big trade surplus and embraces state-supported capitalism.
For help in this contest, the U.S. is turning to Vietnam, a single-party communist state that censors media, jails critics, enjoys a big trade surplus and embraces state-supported capitalism.
In an ideological struggle against authoritarianism in Eurasia -- a confrontation Washington sees as akin to a new Cold War -- the U.S. has assembled a tableau of like-minded liberal democracies. But, somewhat incongruously, another crucial partner in the U.S. crusade is Vietnam, a country that resembles China more than any other.”
The Diplomat/ Huynh Tam Sang, Pham Do An/ July 20
“Vietnam’s wide-ranging exports to Australia include electrical equipment, footwear, machinery, furniture, mineral fuels, and edible fruits. Hanoi’s major purchases from Canberra are mostly commodity goods such as coal, iron ore, live cattle, and wheat. Given the rapid growth of Vietnam’s economy, Hanoi has become an ideal site for Australian exporters, with high demands for energy, consumer goods, machinery, and professional services. With enhanced trade and investment, Hanoi and Canberra have sought to gradually reduce their mutual economic dependence on their largest trading partner, China, and strengthen their economic resilience in the face of global crises, such as COVID-19 and the Russia-Ukraine war.”
Fulcrum/ Le Hong Hiep/ July 15
“The likelihood that Vuong has fallen from grace and will be sanctioned by the Vietnamese government is slim. Vuong will likely continue to be left alone to run his businesses and make further contributions to the national economy.
However, in a country where corruption remains widespread and most businesses still rely on political connections to prosper, business owners are aware that the same politicians that built them up may one day bring them down. Vuong would have to play his political game carefully and wisely to protect his fortune while further growing his business empire.”
The Diplomat/ David Hutt/ July 14
“The Communist Party is committed to tackling climate change but only on its own terms. It needs expert opinion (sometimes public pressure from activists) but won’t countenance all criticism, especially when it’s coming from the growing civil-society sector. It’s very much a top-down affair. It doesn’t want the Vietnamese people to be setting the parameters for action. After all, the people could demand tougher and quicker climate action than the Party wishes to pursue, affecting wider economic policy or the Party’s patronage system. After all, the Party knows that climate action isn’t about to disappear anytime soon. Give the people too much of a voice and they might begin to demand other changes.”