The Vietnam Briefing, released every Monday morning at Vietnam time, looks at Vietnam’s social and political developments of the past week.
Vietnamese journalist Pham Doan Trang’s appeals trial is set for August 25
- The Hanoi People’s High Court announced that it would hold an appeals trial for Vietnamese journalist and human rights defender Pham Doan Trang at 8 a.m. on August 25. Doan Trang’s hearing will occur in Courtroom No. 6 at the high court’s Cau Giay District headquarters. The trial is declared that it will be open to the public.
- Doan Trang, 44, was convicted of “distributing anti-State propaganda” under Article 88 of Vietnam’s 1999 Penal Code and received a nine-year prison sentence on December 14, 2021. She previously said that she would appeal her conviction. The international community and organizations advocating for press freedom have condemned the sentencing of Pham Doan Trang and asked the Vietnamese government to release her immediately and unconditionally.
- Ngo Anh Tuan, one of Doan Trang’s defense lawyers in the coming appellate court hearing, told RFA that he believed “the probability of the first-instance judgment being upheld is over 90 percent” since “it’s about the attitude [of the defendant].”
- The evidence used to prosecute Doan Trang included several reports and assessments on Vietnam’s marine environment disaster in 2016, the human rights situation, and the right to freedom of religion and belief in Vietnam. She was also accused of giving interviews to foreign broadcasters, such as BBC News Vietnamese and RFA Vietnamese.
- Bui Thi Thien Can, Doan Trang’s mother, said that her daughter was mistreated during the investigation and hadn’t received proper medical treatment despite her critically declining health. Thien Can also added that her daughter did not have any family visitations since her arrest, which was more than 22 months ago.
Vietnam holds appeals trials for three NGO leaders
- The Hanoi People’s High Court, on August 11, held two appeals hearings for three civil society leaders, Mai Phan Loi, Bach Hung Duong, and Dang Dinh Bach, on earlier convictions of “committing tax evasion.” After the trials concluded, the court slightly reduced the prison terms of Loi and Duong while upholding their previous conviction of Bach.
- Bach, Loi, and Duong are executive board members of the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA)-VNGO network, a coalition of seven civil society groups that had applied to become part of the official Vietnamese Domestic Advisory Group (DAG). The formation of DAG was required as part of the EVFTA to monitor each side’s commitment to fair trade, labor rights protection and sustainable development.
- According to the court’s final verdict via State media, Loi and Duong each had their prison sentences mitigated by three months, and will now serve 45 and 27 months in jail, respectively. Meanwhile, Bach had his earlier conviction of five-year imprisonment upheld by the court.
- The court announced that its decision was based on Mai Phan Loi’s efforts to reimburse the government a portion of the alleged evaded taxes and his willingness to confess and cooperate with the investigation agency in solving the case, while his alleged crime partner, Bach Hung Duong, had not “financially benefited from the evasion.” Meanwhile, Dang Dinh Bach’s sentence was upheld because he reportedly denied all of the allegations and didn’t recompense the government for the alleged “tax evasion” money.
Families of political prisoners in Vietnam demand better healthcare for inmates in an open letter
- On August 9, about 30 families of political prisoners in Vietnam co-signed an open letter titled “Healthcare is also a Human Right,” calling for the improvement of living conditions, as well as proper and prompt healthcare for their relatives who are currently behind bars. The letter was published following the death of a prisoner of conscience, Do Cong Duong, due to a lack of proper healthcare and mistreatment in detention.
- The letter noted that Duong was not the first political inmate to die in Vietnamese custody due to the maltreatment of prison authorities. Duong’s family said he was healthy before his arrest in 2018. According to the letter, Dinh Danh Dinh and Dao Quang Thuc, both former teachers and prisoners of conscience, also passed away in prison following their prolonged illnesses and harsh imprisonment conditions.
- “Prisoners are human, too. Their human rights must be protected just like anybody else because the government of Vietnam is a signatory to the UN’s Declaration of Human Rights,” the open letter said. “For prisoners of conscience — people who accept imprisonment as the price to pay for the rights and human dignity of others, this principle is even more critical.”
- The families of Vietnamese prisoners of conscience also called on democratic governments and human rights organizations around the world to join hands “in demanding that Vietnam respect the rights of its political prisoners,” as well as “that inmates be provided with water that is clean, food that is safe and healthcare that is proper and timely.”
Vietnamese security forces reportedly harassed the wife of an imprisoned Protestant pastor
- Nguyen Thi Lanh, the wife of the imprisoned Protestant pastor Nguyen Trung Ton, was summoned by Thanh Hoa Provincial security forces on August 10 regarding the frequency of the visitations to her husband. Ton was a former member of the now defunct Brotherhood for Democracy; he was jailed for 12 years on April 5, 2018, allegedly for “carrying out activities to overthrow the government” under Article 79 of Vietnam’s 1999 Penal Code.
- It was reported that Lanh had received dozens of police summons following her visits to Pastor Ton, who is now being held at Gia Trung Prison, Gia Lai Province. During the interrogation on August 10, the police reportedly questioned Lanh on the details of her trips and threatened to limit the visits to her husband. The Thanh Hoa police added that they would regularly summon Lanh to the police station for future interrogation of her husband’s case.
- Since Pastor Ton was arrested, Lanh, a market vendor, became the breadwinner of the whole family. Lanh reportedly suffers from heart disease; meanwhile, she also needs to take care of her mother-in-law, who has liver disease, and their daughter, who is disabled. It was reported that the Thanh Hoa Police frequently harassed Pastor Ton’s family and prevented them from visiting him in prison.
Vietnamese refugees held in Thailand say they fear being forced home
- Nguyen Thi Thuy and Ho Nhut Hung, two Vietnamese refugees held by the authorities in Thailand, say they fear for their safety after being visited in detention by Vietnamese embassy staff who urged them to return home, where they face charges as political activists.
- Thuy and Hung are both civil society Constitution Group members promoting freedom of expression and assembly in Vietnam and fled as refugees to Thailand in September 2018. Both had taken part in protests against draft laws on Cyber Security and the Special Economic Zones to foreign investors, which rocked major cities across Vietnam four years ago, leading to mass arrests.
- Living on expired UN-issued refugee cards in a province north of Bangkok, Thuy and Hung were detained by Thai Royal Police on July 24, 2022, charged with “illegal immigration and residence” and sent to an Immigration Detention Center in the capital.
- Speaking to RFA by phone, Thuy said that she and Hung were visited in detention in early August by staff from Vietnam’s embassy in Bangkok, who tried to persuade them to return to Vietnam. But they both refused the embassy’s request, Thuy said.
Vietnam sets up specialized police units to suppress protests across the country
- More than a dozen provinces and cities in Vietnam have set up Riot Police Regiments or Battalions to be held in reserve to crack down on people accused of “disturbing public order” and carrying out “illegal demonstrations.”
- RFA research shows at least 15 provinces and cities had launched forces as of October 10, 2021. They include Ho Chi Minh City, Binh Duong, Binh Phuoc, Dong Nai, Nghe An, Lao Cai, Bac Giang, Thanh Hoa and Gia Lai provinces.
- The riot squads have been formed to crack down on worker protests at the many industrial parks in southeastern Vietnam, in places such as Ho Chi Minh City, Binh Duong, and Dong Nai. These security forces could also be used to stop demonstrations by ethnic and religious minorities such as the Protestant Rhade and Duong Van Minh sect in provinces like Cao Bang and Gia Lai.
Vietnam Insight: Learn more about Vietnam
Nguyễn Phú Trọng’s Legacy
Asia Sentinel/ David Brown/ August 11
“The successes and shortfalls of Trọng’s drive to suppress corrupt dealings by senior officials have been widely reported, including here. Less visible but equally significant is Trọng’s intra-party campaign to stamp out the heresies of self-evolution and self-transformation.
By all the evidence in the public domain, Trọng has never wavered in his conviction that only socialism – the Leninist sort, in which a vanguard party “actualizes the people’s right to mastery” – can lead Vietnam to “a qualitatively new type of society … that actively harnesses people’s creativity, support and active participation.”
Vietnam Takes Major Step Forward in Recognizing LGBTQ Rights
The Diplomat/ Sebastian Strangio/ August 12
“Vietnam last week took a major step forward in recognition of LGBTQ rights, with the country’s Ministry of Health stating that being gay, bisexual, or transgender is not a disease and urging medical practitioners to end discrimination in medical care.
On August 3, the country’s Ministry of Health published a document stating that “homosexuality cannot be ‘cured’, does not need ‘to be cured’ and cannot be changed.” Citing the World Health Organization’s removal of homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses in 1990, the ministry urged medical professionals to be “respectful” of gender and sexual orientation.”
To nuke or not to nuke in SE Asia
Asia Times/ David Hutt/ August 11
“Before plans were stopped in 2016, Vietnam was going to build its reactor in cooperation with Rosatom, which has also signed MOUs with Cambodia and Laos for sharing nuclear advice.
In mid-July, Myanmar’s junta signed an MOU with Rosatom. This came after Russia and Myanmar signed a preliminary agreement to cooperate in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy in June 2015.
But analysts are unsure of whether Russian nuclear firms will be welcome in the region after the invasion of Ukraine, while Moscow probably lacks the funds to offer the same sort of generous packages it did previously due to war costs.”
The Taiwan Crisis Could Spill Over Into Southeast Asia
The Diplomat/ Huynh Tam Sang/ August 11
“Not only does this turmoil put even more strain on U.S.-China relations and the perceived U.S. commitment to the ‘One-China Policy,’ it also decreases the security and stability of the wider region, including the South China Sea. Just before Pelosi’s visit, China announced that it would hold military drills in the disputed waters from August 2 to 6. As China’s coercion has been accelerating, as can be seen from its aggressive actions during the Taiwan crisis, Chinese leaders could deploy simultaneous and massive exercises in the contested sea to showcase Beijing’s unwavering might and win domestic support, an option that threatens the ASEAN claimant states – Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and the Philippines – and widens the power asymmetry between China and these smaller states.”
Time for Vietnam to Apply Minimum Wage to Gig Economy Workers
Fulcrum/ Joe Buckley/ August 10
“At first glance, the incomes of app-based drivers seem to already be higher than the minimum wage. One recent report by a popular online recruitment platform, Việc Làm Tốt, suggested that the monthly income of delivery drivers is higher than those doing many other jobs, at around VND10 million (US$428) in Ho Chi Minh City, the country’s biggest urban center. This estimate seems to be a bit too optimistic; it is based on an assessment of the job adverts posted on the recruitment platform, which, unsurprisingly, advertise high potential incomes to attract drivers. Other studies suggest that the average monthly income of app-based drivers in Ho Chi Minh City is lower, at VND9,290,000 (US$398).”