Vietnam Briefing: Vietnam Faces More Global Calls To Release Imprisoned Environmental Activists

Vietnam Briefing: Vietnam Faces More Global Calls To Release Imprisoned Environmental Activists
A Vietnamese delegation on religious freedom held a peaceful march in front of the Vietnamese Embassy in Washington D.C. on June 28 (left;) Vietnam’s National Assembly Chairman Vuong Dinh Hue met with COP26 President Alok Sharma on July 1 (right.) Photo: Facebook Ban tron Đa Ton giao Vietnam / Vietnam News Agency.

The Vietnam Briefing, which is released every Monday morning Vietnam time, looks at Vietnam’s social and political developments of the past week.

Wife of Vietnamese prisoner of conscience banned from attending the 2022 International Religious Freedom Summit

  • According to RFA, Bui Thi Kim Phuong, wife of Vietnamese political prisoner Nguyen Bac Truyen, was banned by the government from leaving the country  to prevent her from attending the 2022 International Religious Freedom Summit (IRF Summit). The 2022 IRF Summit took place from June 28 to 30 in Washington D.C.
  • Phuong was expected to speak at the summit about her husband’s conditions in prison and the situation of religious freedom in Vietnam.
  • Nguyen Bac Truyen, 54, is a Hoa Hao Buddhist, and a lawyer, who led the Vietnamese Political and Religious Prisoners Friendship Association, an organization which assists prisoners of conscience in Vietnam with legal advice and advocates for their release. He is also a campaigner against the government’s illegal land grabs.
  • In April 2018, Truyen was sentenced to 11 years in prison and three years of probation for “carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the People’s Administration” under Article 79 of Vietnam’s 1999 Penal Code.
  • Phuong told RFA that she has been banned from leaving Vietnam since 2019. She was invited to attend different international conferences on religious freedom in 2019 and 2020 but was blocked from leaving the country by the government. “[The authorities] said the reason I was stopped was for security, social order and safety reasons,” Phuong said.
  • Nguyen Dinh Thang, director-general of BPSOS, an organization that advocates for religious freedom in Vietnam, told RFA in an interview that a Vietnamese delegation will speak about the Vietnamese government’s suppression of religious freedom at the 2022 IRF Summit, and advocate for the release of three political prisoners in Vietnam, including Nguyen Bac Truyen, the Catholic journalist Nguyen Van Hoa, and the Montagnard Protestant Y Pum Bya.
  • On June 28, the Vietnamese delegation at the IRF held a peaceful march in front of the Vietnamese Embassy in Washington D.C. to call for the release of Vietnamese prisoners of conscience imprisoned because of their religious beliefs.
  • The delegation also submitted a letter to the Vietnamese Ambassador to the United States, Nguyen Quoc Dung, demanding the Vietnamese government lift all travel bans on religious leaders, and abide by Vietnam’s international commitment to respect the freedom of religion.

Vietnam sentences 5 defendants to 41 years in prison for beating a fellow soldier to death

  • A military court in Vietnam’s central region on June 27 sentenced five soldiers to a total of 41 years in prison for causing the death of another soldier last year, RFA reported. Vietnam’s state-owned media have not reported on the trial.
  • The five soldiers, including Tran Van Mao, Nguyen Dinh Tam, Tran Duc Loi, Rmah Tuy, and Ksor Dim, were convicted of “intentionally causing physical damage and the death” of Nguyen Van Thien, a 24-year-old conscript from Gia Lai Province. Thien was found dead in his barracks bathroom last November; the military command’s preliminary investigation claimed that Thien “tumbled” and “killed himself” in the bathroom.
  • However, the military command in Gia Lai Province, where Thien was based, changed its narrative regarding the young soldier’s death in January, claiming that he died after being beaten by his fellow soldiers.
  • According to Nguyen Van Thien’s family, Mao and Tam were sentenced to nine and a half years in prison, Loi was sentenced to eight years in prison, while Rmah Tuy and Ksor Dim both received seven years. The defendants were said to have killed Thien with a five-liter plastic bucket.
  • Nguyen Van Lam, Thien’s father, said that he felt the sentencing “was not right” since he believed that the plastic bucket “is too light to kill anyone.”
  • “The defendants described their [roles] when the killing happened, but it did not sound right,” Lam told RFA. “According to the lawyers, it was impossible to use a light plastic pail to cause someone’s death. So we are not sure of the cause of death or who the killer is.” He said the family would appeal the court’s decision because the cause of Thien’s death was still vague and baffling.

Trial of Tinh That Bong Lai Temple postponed at attorneys’ request

  • On June 30, the Duc Hoa District People’s Court in Long An Province announced the postponement of the trial of six people from Tinh That Bong Lai, a local orphanage and independent Buddhist temple, on the charge of “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe on State and individuals’ legitimate rights and interests,” under Article 331 of Vietnam’s Penal Code, according to the temple’s lawyers.
  • Trinh Vinh Phuc, one of the five lawyers defending Tinh That Bong Lai, wrote on Facebook that the judicial panel agreed to the attorneys’ request to postpone the trial until July 20 due to the absence of important witnesses and the lack of preparation time for the trial. Tinh That Bong Lai’s attorneys also sent an 11-page urgent report to Vietnam’s central government to raise concerns over serious legal violations of the investigation process into the case on June 21.
  • Tinh That Bong Lai is popularly known for its self-made comedy shows published on social media, while their monks and nuns had previously participated in and won a few comedy and musical contests.
  • As the Buddhist temple is an independent facility and not registered with the government-controlled Buddhist Sangha, many independent observers believe that the Vietnamese authorities are using the prosecution of Tinh That Bong Lai monks and nuns to limit the temple’s influence on social media.
  • The Long An Provincial Investigation Agency alleged that Tinh That Bong Lai “had published five videos and one online posting” that were “defamatory” of the reputation, dignity, and legitimate rights of Duc Hoa District Police, the Long An Provincial Buddhist Sangha, and another monk, Thich Nhat Tu.

Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong visits Vietnam, raising the case of political prisoner Chau Van Kham

  • On June 27, Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong met with the Vietnamese Minister of Foreign Affairs Bui Thanh Son in Hanoi as she sought to strengthen Australia’s strategic partnership with Vietnam and foster bilateral relations, state media reported.
  • According to the media release from Australia’s foreign minister’s office, Penny Wong will meet with President Nguyen Xuan Phuc, Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh, and Foreign Minister Bui Thanh Son during her trip to Vietnam. The discussions will focus on “climate change cooperation, our shared trade and investment ambitions and Australia's continued support for Vietnam's COVID-19 recovery.”
  • Foreign Minister Wong also raised the detention of Australian citizen Chau Van Kham, who was jailed in Vietnam on “terrorism” charges, with Vietnamese top officials, according to Australian broadcaster ABC News.
  • The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention published its opinion regarding the case of Kham last June, claiming that he was “arbitrarily detained” and “forcibly disappeared.”
  • “I'm very glad to know that Foreign Minister Penny Wong raised my husband's case with the Vietnamese government during her recent trip to Vietnam,” Trang Chau, Kham’s wife, told ABC News. “I do hope that, with the Australian government's strong and active interventions, my husband will be released right now and reunited with me and my family in Sydney.”

Vietnam faces more global calls for the release of environmental activists amid the National Assembly chairman’s meeting with COP26 President

  • The U.S.-based NGO Oil Change International (OCI) on June 28 joined other international environmental groups in putting pressure on the Vietnamese government to call for the release of anti-coal activist Nguy Thi Khanh, director of the NGO Green Innovation and Development Center (GreenID), RFA reported. Khanh was sentenced to two years of imprisonment on June 17 for “tax evasion.”
  • “Our message to the government of Vietnam is that you cannot jail leading activists and claim to be a climate leader. You will never silence influential voices who speak out against the dirty fossil fuel business. The more you imprison people, the more you empower others,” the group said in a news release.
  • The OCI also urged the Vietnamese government to release three other environmental activists, Mai Phan Loi, Dang Dinh Bach, and Bach Hung Duong.
  • The increasing pressure calling for the release of Vietnam’s prominent civil society leaders came amid the visit of Vietnamese National Assembly Chairman Vuong Dinh Hue to the United Kingdom, where he met with Alok Sharma, the UK Cabinet Office minister and president of COP26.
  • “Vietnam wants to learn from the UK’s experience in promoting the role of the public and private sectors, private governance and national governance in an effort to achieve commitments, including those made at the [COP26] in Glasgow last year,” Hue said during a meeting on June 30 with representatives from British business groups and investment funds.
  • On July 1, during his meeting with Alok Sharma, Vuong Dinh Hue reaffirmed Vietnam’s strong commitment to respond to climate change, reduce emissions, and switch to a green and circular economy, state media reported.
  • “Vietnam will continue to act promptly, strongly and comprehensively, especially in the field of energy transition and infrastructure development, to adapt to climate changes, thus turning the commitments into reality,” said Vuong Dinh Hue.

Vietnam Insight: Learn more about Vietnam

Vietnam warily weighs a China base in Cambodia

Asia Times/ David Hutt/ June 30

“Vietnam currently faces Chinese troops across its northern border and to the east from China’s proliferating military installations in the South China Sea. Chinese naval vessels stationed at Cambodia’s Ream Naval Base would mean Vietnam is now threatened to the south and west.

Together with the Chinese-controlled islands in the Spratly Islands, “they create a military pincer to squeeze Vietnam,” said Alexander Vuving, professor at the Daniel K Inouye Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies in Honolulu, Hawaii.”

Vietnam to Step Up Anti-Corruption Campaign After Thousands Disciplined

Bloomberg/ Mai Ngoc Chau/ June 30

“Communist Party chief Nguyen Phu Trong is today leading a nationwide teleconference with 81,000 participants reviewing the 10-year anti-corruption campaign, the report said. Trong has referred to his efforts as a “blazing furnace.”

The conference kicks off a new phase in the party’s anti-graft push and directs provincial governments’ anti-corruption steering committees to “memorize” important slogans: “can’t be corrupt,” “don’t dare to be corrupt,” “don’t need to be corrupt,” and “don’t want to be corrupt,” according to the report.”

As Silicon Valley welcomed Vietnam leader, Hanoi tightened tech laws

Nikkei Asia/ Lien Hoang/ June 28

“Last month Vietnam's leader held a series of meetings in California, from a tete-a-tete with Apple CEO Tim Cook to a gift exchange at Google's campus, to tell Silicon Valley his country is open for business. Simultaneously, at home on the other side of the Pacific, its one-party government was drafting internet rules that sent jitters through the technology sector.

Vietnam's activities on opposite sides of the ocean lay bare two competing ambitions -- one to digitize the fast-growing economy of 99 million people, the other to keep the web under its thumb.”

Great! You’ve successfully signed up.

Welcome back! You've successfully signed in.

You've successfully subscribed to The Vietnamese Magazine.

Success! Check your email for magic link to sign-in.

Success! Your billing info has been updated.

Your billing was not updated.