Vietnam Briefing August 1, 2022: Nguyen Son Lo - The Former Director Of Think Tank SENA - Indicted Under Article 331

Vietnam Briefing August 1, 2022: Nguyen Son Lo - The Former Director Of Think Tank SENA - Indicted Under Article 331
Photos (left to right): Blogger Nguyen Ngoc Anh at his trial. Nguyen Son Lo, the former director of the SENA (Southeast and North Asia) Institute of Technology Research and Development. (RFA) Graphics: The Vietnamese Magazine.

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

Nguyen Son Lo - a Vietnamese academic - was placed under house arrest for alleged violation of Article 331


  • Nguyen Son Lo, the former director of the SENA (Southeast and North Asia) Institute of Technology Research and Development, has been placed under house arrest and banned from leaving Vietnam amid the investigation of his allegedly “abusing democratic freedoms” under Article 331 of the Penal Code. Lo, 74, is known for submitting a series of recommendations on improving the ruling Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP).
  • The announcement was made on July 27 by the Ministry of Public Security.
  • The public security ministry did not explain why the investigation had been launched into the academic. It only said that the Investigative Security Agency was “investigating, collecting documents, and consolidating evidence on the criminal acts of the accused and related individuals […] according to the provisions of law."
  • Lo’s close friend Nguyen Khac Mai, director of the Hanoi-based Minh Triet Cultural Research Center, said his colleague was a prominent war veteran who later became a researcher. Mai said that Lo was particularly concerned about the situation of modern Vietnam and about how to improve people’s lives. Mai added that his colleague was not acting against the Party.
  • “He only wants to be constructive. He wants to contribute, correct mistakes, improve, make [the VCP] and this government more civilized and cultured, more humane, more popular, and kinder,” Mai said. “That’s his aspiration, and I think [nearly 100 million Vietnamese people] also want the same thing. No one wants to overthrow the regime. They just want it to be better.”

Jailed Vietnamese blogger Nguyen Ngoc Anh protests poor prison conditions

  • Nguyen Ngoc Anh, a Vietnamese blogger and an aquatic engineer, who was sentenced to six years of imprisonment in 2019 on the charge of “distributing anti-State propaganda,” initiated a sit-in in front of his prison’s kitchen area to protest poor living conditions and mistreatment of prisoners, RFA reported. The report was confirmed by Anh’s family after they visited the prison on July 13.
  • Anh is serving his sentence at Xuan Loc Prison in Vietnam’s southern Dong Nai Province, where many other Vietnamese political prisoners are also being held. According to Anh via his family, most of the political prisoners jailed at Xuan Loc Prison “are now held in small, humid cells” and “suffer from poor health.”
  • Nguyen Thi Chau, Anh’s mother, told RFA that almost all of the inmates imprisoned on political charges in Xuan Loc have problems “in their bones and joints” while many others also suffer from “scabies and toothaches.” Chau added that the prison has newer and better cells, but political prisoners are being mainly kept in the old cell block. Anh’s earlier request to prison authorities to allow him and other inmates to move to the better cells was denied.
  • A large number of prison guards, accompanied by police dogs, later removed Anh from the sit-in area and took him to a cell located three doors away from his former cell, Chau told RFA. The prison authorities didn’t respond to RFA’s request for comment.

7 protesters against civil road demolition were charged with “resisting officers on official duty”

  • The Vietnamese authorities on July 22 officially charged seven villagers, who previously protested against a civil road demolition in Nghi Loc Village, Nghe An Province, with “resisting officers on official duty” and “disturbing public order,” the family of the accused told RFA on July 27.
  • On the morning of July 13, the villagers of Nghi Loc held a demonstration near the destruction site of an old public road, which local authorities were beginning to dismantle to clear land for an industrial project. A clash broke out between the villagers and riot police after several protesters forced their way past the police line. The police then responded with tear gas and arrested 10 protesters.
  • Three protesters were later released on July 13 after being coerced into signing police documents and confessing to the crimes of “stirring up public order” and “resisting a public officer in the performance of his/her official duties.” The other seven villagers were being held at a detention center while waiting for further investigation into their cases. The investigation is expected to continue until September 10, according to Nghe An provincial police.
  • The police announced that none of the defendants had requested access to a defense lawyer. It was unclear whether the decisions were actually true or if they were made as a result of police pressure.

Tinh That Bong Lai practitioners appeal court conviction of “abusing democratic freedoms”

  • On July 28, Le Tung Van, the head monk of Tinh That Bong Lai, an independent Buddhist temple, appealed the Long An provincial court’s earlier conviction of “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe on the State and individuals’ interests” under Article 331 of Vietnam’s Penal Code, according to a Facebook update from attorney Trinh Vinh Phuc, one of the temple’s defense lawyers.
  • In his appeal letter, Tung Van wrote that he’s an elderly monk who is unable “to use a mobile phone or social media” and that he didn’t “abuse democratic freedoms” to “infringe on the interests of the State, or any organizations and individuals.”
  • “I did not offend the Vietnamese Buddhist Sangha in Long An Province or the Duc Hoa district police. On the contrary, several people at the monastery and  I were victims of humiliation and slander for a long time. Those who accuse me of offending them should appear in court. [We should] confront each other and make the accusations clear. Don’t deceive the court,” Tung Van added.
  • Previously, Tinh That Bong Lai’s attorneys announced that Le Thu Van, another practitioner at the temple who was also charged with violating Article 331, had presented herself at the Long An Provincial Investigation Agency. The Long An police previously issued an arrest warrant for Van since she was absent during the trial of the temple’s practitioners. It was reported that Van was in the final stage of cancer and temporarily left the temple for medical treatment. She was later granted bail during the investigation.
  • Meanwhile, the Long An police announced that they had “temporarily suspended” the investigation into the alleged activities of “incest” and “committing fraud” by Tinh That Bong Lai’s monks and nuns. These two crimes were not mentioned in the final indictment of the temple’s practitioners. The Vietnamese authorities claimed that they needed time to “gather sufficient evidence” to decide whether to “resume the investigation” or drop the case.
  • The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) stated that Le Tung Van and others from his group were convicted in Vietnam because of their religious activities.

Vietnam’s top immigration official arrested on bribery charges

  • Vietnam’s State media on July 25 reported that Colonel Tran Van Du, a former immigration official at the Ministry of Public Security, was arrested on the allegation of “taking bribes” in organizing repatriation flights for Vietnamese citizens during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Du, 61, a former deputy director of the Immigration Department, along with four other government officials and a travel company leader, were being detained for further investigation into their involvement in the corruption scandal regarding the rescue flights program for Vietnamese people stranded overseas due to COVID-19 border restrictions.
  • According to State media, Vietnam had operated around 2,000 rescue flights for Vietnamese people who wished to return home during the pandemic. But many had to pay excessive prices and wait for months to buy plane tickets. It was estimated that each operator could profit by around several billion dong from each rescue flight.

Vietnam Insight: Learn more about Vietnam

Why is Vietnam’s VinFast Building an EV Factory in the United States?

The Diplomat/ James Guild/ July 26

“VinFast does have a large domestic manufacturing base in Hai Phong which is expected to eventually be capable of producing 950,000 units annually. The output from this facility can serve export markets in China, South Korea, Japan, and around the region. But when it comes to tapping the U.S. electric vehicle market, VinFast made the strategic calculation that offshoring manufacturing to North Carolina is the right play rather than basing production in Vietnam and shipping units across the Pacific.”

Covid corruption rears its ugliest head in Vietnam

Asia Times/ Richard S Ehrlich/ July 26

“Vietnam has arrested foreign ministry, tourism, air, medical and manufacturing officials and expelled them from the ruling Communist Party amid multi-million dollar corruption scandals which are testing Hanoi’s reliability in the US Indo-Pacific Economic Framework and Centers for Disease Control.

Corrupt officials allegedly pocketed US$240 million by suckering frightened Vietnamese into paying inflated fees for government-arranged Covid-19 repatriation flights from abroad and cumbersome permits. They also allegedly price-fixed emergency pandemic health care and equipment.”

We need to fight corruption at a cultural level

VnExpress/ Nguyen Khac Giang/ July 24

“When someone's pay does not reflect the kind of jobs they do, there are three outcomes. They may work half-heartedly, not putting in all their effort. They may abuse their positions for self-interest to make up for the meager salaries they have. Or, they may simply quit.

Workers being able to sustain themselves on their own salaries is a prerequisite for fostering a healthy working culture. Not everyone who is poor dabbles in corruption, but the poorer one is, the more likely that they will succumb to temptation.”

Endemic corruption and policy impasses are holding Vietnam back

Nikkei Asia/ Zachary Abuza/ July 15

“Hanoi has no shortage of challenges and risks being caught in the middle-income trap. Previous governments demonstrated competency and policy pragmatism. But the current government does not exude confidence after a series of missteps, a botched vaccine rollout, ongoing corruption scandals and stalled reforms.

Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh, a former police officer, has no economic experience and had not even served as a deputy prime minister before heading the government. His government seems insecure and preoccupied with the specter of colored revolutions, evident from several speeches and hot mic incidents during the U.S.-ASEAN summit in May 2022. Consolidating power, not solving complex economic challenges, remains the priority.”

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