Vietnam Briefing: Prominent Vietnamese Activist Arrested On “Anti-State” Charge

Vietnam Briefing: Prominent Vietnamese Activist Arrested On “Anti-State” Charge
Vietnamese activist and blogger Nguyen Lan Thang arrested on July 5 (left;) Vietnamese Foreign Minister Bui Thanh Son and his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov shake hands in Hanoi on July 6 (right.) Photo: Vietnam News Agency/ VNA via AP.

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

Vietnam arrests prominent activist on a charge of “distributing anti-State propaganda”

  • Vietnamese police on July 5 arrested Nguyen Lan Thang, a prominent human rights activist and an independent blogger, on the charge of “making, storing, and distributing anti-State propaganda and materials” under Article 117 of Vietnam’s 2015 Penal Code. Le Bich Vuong, Thang’s wife, confirmed his arrest in a Facebook update on the same day.
  • Nguyen Lan Thang, 46, is popularly known for his activism in civil society development and civil rights in Vietnam. Thang is also a blogger and photographer who frequently participated in anti-China protests which took place in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City following Beijing’s aggressive activities in the South China Sea.
  • However, according to other Vietnamese activists, Thang has ceased all pro-democracy activities since the birth of his second child and only published posts critical of the government on social media. Thang, who comes from a prominent family of scholars and doctors in Hanoi, has more than 152,000 followers on his personal Facebook account.
  • Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said on July 6 that the detention of Nguyen Lan Thang is “absolutely absurd” and that Thang “should be immediately and unconditionally released.”
  • "Vietnam’s outrageous and unacceptable crackdown on freedom of expression has just snared another victim who will invariably face a kangaroo court trial and years in prison for speaking his mind,” Robertson added in another interview with AFP.

Thanh Hoa Provincial Police to conclude investigation of Vietnamese dissident Bui Van Thuan

  • Trinh Thi Nhung, the wife of political dissident Bui Van Thuan, told RFA in an interview on July 5 that the Thanh Hoa Police were completing the investigation of her husband on the charge of “making, storing, and distributing anti-State propaganda and materials” under Article 117 of Vietnam’s 2015 Penal Code. Nhung was questioned by local investigators regarding Thuan’s case on the same day.
  • Thuan, 41, is a Muong ethnic minority activist famously known for his online posts that criticize the Vietnamese Communist Party and corruption within the government. The activist was arrested on August 30, 2021, just a few days after U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris’s visit to Hanoi. He has been held incommunicado since his arrest.
  • Nhung told RFA that Thanh Hoa Provincial Police said that the investigation of Thuan was about to be completed and that they would bring him to trial this year.. Regarding Thuan’s health, Nhung said that her husband had ankle pain but the detention authorities denied her request to send him medicines, stating that the detention center already had its own medicines.
  • Nhung previously had a discussion with the police on March 17. The police threatened her saying that she could be arrested at any time if she refused to provide more details regarding Thuan’s political activism.

Russian Foreign Minister visits Vietnam ahead of G20 meeting

  • On July 5, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov arrived in Hanoi for a two-day visit before heading to the G20 Foreign Ministers’ meeting in Bali, Indonesia, on July 6 and 7, Reuters reported, citing a statement by the Vietnamese government.
  • According to the statement, Minister Lavrov visited Vietnam at the invitation of Vietnamese Foreign Minister Bui Thanh Son to mark the two nations’ 10th anniversary of the establishment of their “comprehensive strategic partnership.” China and India are the only two other countries with which Vietnam established this special partnership.
  • Russia is Hanoi’s top supplier of defense equipment, and its companies play a major role in many energy projects in Vietnam. At the same time, the two nations enjoy a distinctive political relationship, which dates back to the Soviet Union’s financial and technological support to Hanoi during the early Cold War.
  • Vietnam’s Foreign Minister Bui Thanh Son said that Russia is always one of Vietnam’s top partners in foreign policy of Vietnam as he affirmed the country’s consistent stance on international and regional issues, including the current situation in Ukraine, state media reported.
  • Previously, Vietnam twice abstained from the UN General Assembly’s vote to condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine and to call for the withdrawal of its troops from Ukraine. In April, Hanoi also voted against a resolution to suspend Russia from the UN Human Rights Council, a move which had disappointed many Western countries.
  • Nonetheless, Sebastian Strangio, a writer at The Diplomat, wrote in an article that Western countries, especially the United States, would likely “turn a blind eye” to the Russian foreign minister’s official visit to Vietnam. Strangio claimed that Western countries have chosen to downplay the authoritarian nature of Vietnam’s political system and its close relationship with Moscow to serve their broader strategic goal of curbing Chinese influence in the region.

China holds another military drill in the South China Sea

  • Vietnam’s state media cited information from China’s Maritime Safety Administration (MSA) office on July 5 that Beijing would conduct another military drill on July 5 and 6 off the east coast of Hainan island, which is located in the disputed South China Sea. The MSA announcement did not mention the specific scale of the military drill.
  • According to Vietnamese state media quoting MSA statistics, China has conducted at least 41 military drills in the disputed South China Sea since the beginning of 2022. Nine of these exercises took place in the Gulf of Tonkin, and one was conducted within Vietnam’s claimed sovereignty of the Paracels Islands on June 19.
  • On the sidelines of a Mekong River cooperation meeting in Myanmar on July 4, the Vietnamese Foreign Minister and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi agreed to “properly handle conflict and differences” regarding disputes in the South China Sea and sought to “advance maritime cooperation,” reported the South China Morning Post.
  • Minister Son was quoted by Vietnam’s state media as saying that he requested China respect Vietnam’s legitimate rights in the South China Sea in accordance with international law. On the other hand, Son also sought to improve the bilateral relationship between Vietnam and China with the demand that China creates favorable conditions for the export of Vietnamese products to China and resume commercial flights between the two nations.

Vietnam Insight: Learn more about Vietnam

Why Vietnam can’t and won’t leave Russia's side

Asia Times/ Nate Fischler/ July 7

“Economically, bilateral trade and investment remain strong and growing. Trade reached US$7.1 billion last year and Russia reportedly has 151 investment projects in Vietnam with a total value of US$950 million. Vietnam also has a free trade agreement with the Russia-dominated Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU – Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Armenia, and Kyrgyzstan).

Cooperation in the energy sector is of top importance, with several Russian oil and gas outfits operating off Vietnam’s coast, providing Hanoi with a certain geopolitical buffer against China’s growing assertiveness in the disputed and resource-rich South China Sea.”

Vietnam’s App-based Driver Protests Surge amidst Rising Petrol Prices

Fulcrum/ Joe Buckley/ July 6

“From an initial exploration into strikers’ demands at the end of 2020, analyzing 13 strikes, a major grievance of the drivers was the high levels of commission taken by the app platforms (a complaint in nine of the strikes). Bonus levels were demands in six strikes while demands about tax levels featured in three. All of the strikes were  “defensive strikes”: they were opposing changes rather than demanding improvements.

There were fewer strikes over the Covid-19 pandemic period as drivers were unable to work, but in recent weeks a new trend has developed and seems to be gathering pace – strikes over the price of petrol. Following global trends, petrol prices in Vietnam are increasing rapidly, from a fairly standard price of 23,000 đồng (US$0.99) per liter at the beginning of 2022 to nearly 33,000 đồng (US$1.42) per liter as of 21 June. A moped driver can travel around 45 to 60 kilometers per liter of petrol. For app-based drivers, who shoulder all of their own costs, this is a significant increase in expenses that seriously impacts their take-home income.”

Viet Leader’s Anti-Corruption Campaign Continues to Fizzle

Asia Sentinel/ David Brown/ July 5

“2016 was a turning point. Until then, although underlings were often punished for flagrantly corrupt activity, high-ranking party members were rarely prosecuted. Public opinion, inherently cynical, expected that Trọng would punish Dũng’s closest collaborators and then move on to other matters. Trọng proved them wrong.

Here’s the paradox: although some 170 high officials have now been punished during Trong’s tenure for failing the public trust, their peers don’t seem to fear the fiery furnace enough to go clean. Put another way, the supply of metaphorical ‘firewood’ hasn’t noticeably diminished. None of the aforementioned commentators claims that current officials are less likely than their predecessors to take advantage of their position to further their private interests.”

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