On Human Rights Day,  Dec. 10, we would like to use the stories of Dang Dinh Bach, Tinh That
Vietnam Briefing August 22, 2022: Vietnam’s New Decree On Cybersecurity Requires Tech Companies To Store Users’ Data Locally
The Vietnam Briefing, released every Monday morning at Vietnam time, looks at Vietnam’s social and political developments of the past week.
Vietnam orders tech companies to store users’ data locally
- In a new decree issued on August 15, the Vietnamese government has sought to further tighten cybersecurity rules and its control over local internet users by ordering technology firms to store users’ data in Vietnam and to set up local offices, Reuters reports.
- The new regulations, which are expected to take effect on October 1, will apply to popular social media platforms currently operating in Vietnam, such as Facebook, Google’s Youtube, TikTok, and telecommunications operators.
- According to the new rules, data belonging to and created by users in Vietnam, including account names, credit card info, email and IP addresses, service use time, most recent logins and registered phone numbers, must be stored within Vietnam. The decree added that data about local users’ relationships, including their friends and groups they interact with online, must also be stored domestically.
- Meanwhile, the authorities can request to have data access for investigation purposes and demand that the tech companies remove content deemed violating the government’s guidelines. Foreign tech companies are required to set up local data storage and representative offices within 12 months after receiving instructions from the Ministry of Public Security (MPS), and will have to store the data onshore for a minimum period of 24 months, according to the decree via Reuters.
- In Freedom House’s report, Vietnam was rated “not free” in terms of internet freedom. The new decree has been regarded as the government’s latest legal toolkit deployed to curtail freedom of expression and to silence opposition opinions on social media in Vietnam.
Committee to Protect Journalists calls on Vietnam to release journalist Pham Doan Trang
- In a press release on August 16, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a press freedom advocate, called on the Vietnamese authorities “not to contest journalist Pham Doan Trang’s appeal” and to “release her without terms or conditions that would affect her ability to work as a journalist.”
- The statement was published in response to the news reports about Doan Trang’s appeals trial on August 25 held by the Hanoi People’s High Court.
- “The sooner Vietnam releases all of the journalists it wrongfully holds behind bars, the sooner it will be taken seriously as a responsible global actor,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative.
- Doan Trang will also be honored with CPJ’s International Press Freedom Award on November 17 this year as a recognition of “her courage in reporting in the face of persecution.”
- The CPJ statement came amid reports that Doan Trang’s health is deteriorating in prison. She’s reportedly suffering from many health problems, such as sinusitis, arthritis, gynecological problems and prolonged menstruation. Doan Trang has also been recovering from a previous COVID-19 infection.
Vietnam’s appellate courts uphold activists’ convictions after consecutive hearings
- The Hanoi People’s High Court, on August 16, held an appeal hearing for Le Van Dung, a citizen journalist and online commentator, who was previously sentenced to five years in jail on the conviction of “distributing anti-State propaganda” under Article 88 of Vietnam’s former 1999 Penal Code. The court later upheld Dung’s sentence despite his argument that he only practiced the right to freedom of speech enshrined in Vietnam’s Constitution.
- On the same day, an appellate court in Vietnam’s Dak Lak Province upheld a four-year prison sentence of the ethnic minority activist Y Wo Nie, who was sentenced to four years in jail for “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the State and individuals’ legitimate rights” under Article 331 of Vietnam’s 2015 Penal Code. Nie was an advocate for religious freedom in Vietnam’s Central Highlands. It was reported that there were no witnesses or judicial supervisors during his appeals trial.
- On August 17, an appellate court in Hanoi held a trial for two land rights activists, Trinh Ba Phuong and Nguyen Thi Tam, who respectively received 10 years and six years in jail in 2021 for “distributing anti-State propaganda” under Article 117 of Vietnam’s Penal Code.
- The court upheld the two land activists’ sentences after the trial. Phuong and Tam’s families were not allowed to enter the courtroom, despite the trial being declared to be open to the public.
HRW: Vietnam adopts global LGBT health standard
- In a news article released on August 18, Human Rights Watch acknowledged that the Vietnamese health ministry’s earlier confirmation on August 3 that same-sex attraction and being transgender are not mental health conditions “brings Vietnam’s health policy in line with global health and human rights standards.”
- “The Vietnamese Health Ministry’s recognition that sexual orientation and gender identity are not illnesses will bring relief to LGBT people and their families across Vietnam,” said Kyle Knight, senior health and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights researcher at Human Rights Watch.
- But according to an HRW report in 2020, although Vietnam has made some progress on LGBT rights in recent years, there are still an existing stigma, factual misunderstandings, and negative stereotypes against the LGBT community in the country.
- One of the most common misconceptions about homosexuality and same-sex attraction in Vietnam is that they are diagnosable mental health conditions. “This false belief is rooted in the failure of the government and medical professional associations to effectively communicate that same-sex attraction is a natural variation of human experience,” writes the news article.
- On the other hand, HRW’s senior health and LGBT rights researcher Kyle Knight said that the Vietnamese Health Ministry’s new directive “is a major step in the right direction.” “Vietnam’s Health Ministry has boosted fundamental rights with this directive, and LGBT people now have increasingly firm grounding for expressing themselves without fear of negative reactions,” Knight added.
FIDH: Vietnam uses arbitrary detention and judicial harassment against four environmental rights defenders
- In an urgent appeal addressed to Vietnamese government officials on August 17, The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organization Against Torture (OMCT), expressed its “deepest concerns” about the Vietnamese authorities’ use of legal harassment, especially the use of tax evasion charges, to persecute and criminalize four environmental rights defenders, Dang Dinh Bach, Mai Phan Loi, Bach Hung Duong, and Nguy Thi Khanh.
- The Observatory also “strongly condemns” the Vietnamese authorities’ unfair convictions and arbitrary detention of these environmental activists. In conclusion, it urged the authorities to “put an end to all acts of harassment against the above-mentioned human rights defenders and immediately and unconditionally release them.”
- Bach, Loi, and Duong had their appeals hearings on August 11. The Hanoi appellate court slightly reduced Loi and Duong’s prison terms to 45 and 27 months, respectively, while upholding Bach’s earlier conviction of five-year imprisonment. They were all convicted of “committing tax evasion” under Article 200 of Vietnam’s Penal Code. Dang Dinh Bach’s wife, Tran Phuong Thao, said that she was barred from entering the courtroom by security forces stationed outside the court.
Vietnamese artist ‘shocked’ after being ordered to destroy 29 paintings
- Popular Vietnamese artist and poet Bui Quang Vien vows to fight an order from authorities in Vietnam’s largest city to destroy 29 abstract paintings because he showed them in a gallery last month without a permit.
- The Ho Chi Minh City authorities, on August 9, fined Vien 25 million dong (US $1,000) and, in an unprecedented move critic called a “step backwards” even in a country known for heavy censorship, ordered the destruction of his work for a painting exhibition he held July 15-30 at Alpha Art Station.
- “I can’t find a word to express my shock,” [said] the artist, who publishes poetry under the pen name Bui Chat. He called the order “unbelievable and unimaginable.” “I knew I would be given a fine because they had established an inspection group of 15-16 people who came and made a record that I had held the exhibition without a permit,” he told RFA Vietnamese in an interview.
- Vien’s 29 paintings that have been targeted by the authorities contained no political message or nudity. He is no stranger to harassment by authorities in the one-party Communist state. In 2011, under his pen name Bui Chat, he won the International Publishers Association’s 2011 Freedom to Publish Award. However, after returning from a trip to Argentina to receive the prize, he was detained and grilled by the police for two days.
Vietnam’s High-Speed Railway is Back on the Agenda
“The main question is whether the enormous cost can be justified. Unlike its fraternal rival, the Chinese Communist Party, which has built tens of thousands of kilometers of high-speed rail since the turn of the century, the VCP does not have the technological know-how, industrial overcapacity, and surplus capital that have made breakneck high-speed rail development economically feasible for Beijing.
Indeed, Vietnam’s bullet train plans have persistently foundered on the financial rocks. In 2010, Vietnam’s National Assembly rejected the high-speed rail proposal as economically unsustainable, arguing that few Vietnamese would be able to afford excessive fares.”
Vietnam Eyes Purchase of Israeli Air-defense System
“The Vietnamese interest in ties with Israel and the purchase of Israeli military wares come against the backdrop of Hanoi’s concern over the strategic threat posed by its neighbor to the north – China. During the period when French colonists and American troops were in Vietnam, China was an ally of Vietnamese forces fighting those Western powers.
But since the unification of Vietnam under Communist rule after the fall of the South Vietnamese regime, Hanoi began opening up to the West, embracing a market economy and befriending the United States. Fear of China has only further intensified recently amid China’s threats against Taiwan.”
Vietnam Insight: Learn more about Vietnam
Bloomberg/ Shuli Ren/ August 17
“Perhaps reeling from the chaos, Vietnam put aside its pride, approved vaccines from around the world, and in the fall of 2021 jabbed its people with doses from AstraZeneca Plc, Pfizer Inc., and even China’s Sinopharm. It accepted donations from foreign governments, through the World Health Organization’s Covax facility, and nudged businesses such as Samsung Electronics Co. to find and pay for the jabs.
With more effective vaccines protecting its population, Vietnam was able to reopen its border fully in mid-March. China, by comparison, still refuses to import the more effective mRNA vaccines and continues to resort to citywide lockdowns.”
TRENDS Research & Advisory/ Bill Hayton/ August 17
“The situation in Vietnam’s politics today bears strong similarities with the situation at the end of the 1990s. Back then, the security establishment’s fears that economic reforms might fatally weaken the Communist Party’s grip on power led the party to appoint a hard-line ‘system loyalist’, Le Kha Phieu as its General Secretary. Phieu had been a political commissar in the military and knew little about economics. He was only appointed because his comrades in the ‘red’ position could not agree on anyone else. Phieu oversaw a turn towards China as a means of shoring up the CPV’s political position and blocked the approval of a Bilateral Trade Agreement with the United States.
Phieu floundered in response to the Asian Financial Crisis. Foreign investment fell by over 60% in 1998 and again in 1999. Unemployment hit double digits and the banking sector fell into crisis. The reds had run out of road. Matters came to a head at a momentous meeting of the CPV’s Central Committee in 2000. Phieu’s approach was overturned, the BTA was agreed and the CPV agreed the opening of the Ho Chi Minh City Stock Market. In April 2001, Phieu lost his job, and the party leadership was taken over by its ‘performance legitimacy’ wing.”
East Asia Forum/ Loro Horta/ August 16
“Vietnam has been trying for decades to contain Chinese influence in Cambodia and Laos. But China’s overwhelming economic power has made these efforts difficult. In the north, Vietnam shares a land border with China and in the west, with Laos and Cambodia. Laos and Cambodia are highly dependent on China for trade and investment and have become close diplomatic allies of Beijing.
Rather than just focussing on Cambodia, the United States should look at ways to support Vietnam more actively. There have been years-long rumors that some in the Vietnamese elite were considering allowing the US navy to return to its old Vietnam War-era base at Cam Ranh Bay. US naval ships have visited the base in recent years.”
The Guardian/ Andrew Nachemson/ August 15
“The use of loudspeakers harkens back to cold war-era information sharing and propaganda. They were officially retired by the city’s mayor in 2017, but started creeping back in a limited capacity during Covid-19.
The government has since unveiled plans to roll out loudspeakers for daily announcements starting this year, aiming to cover the entire city by 2025.
Political analyst Carl Thayer called the plan 'archaic and redundant' and at odds with the government’s usual 'future-orientated' strategy with a 'focus on digital technology'.”