Vietnam Briefing September 12, 2022: Vietnam Arrests Numerous Political Critics Amid The Ruling Communist Party’s Growing Intolerance Of Dissent

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

Vietnam Briefing September 12, 2022: Vietnam Arrests Numerous Political Critics Amid The Ruling Communist Party’s Growing Intolerance Of Dissent
From left to right: Political dissidents Bui Tuan Lam, Dang Dang Phuoc, and Phan Son Tung were arrested last week on charges of “distributing anti-State propaganda” under Article 117. Photo: Peter Lam Bui (Facebook)/ Dang Dang Phuoc (Facebook)/ Hanoi Police.

Vietnam arrests famous noodle vendor on anti-State charges

  • Vietnamese police, on September 7, arrested Bui Tuan Lam, a beef noodle vendor in the city of Danang, who became famously known after making a viral video mocking the country’s minister of public security, To Lam, last year. Lam was charged under Article 117 of Vietnam’s 2015 Penal Code which forbids “distributing propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.”
  • Tuan Lam, 38, was summoned by the local police in November 2021 after filming himself imitating the signature moves of Turkish celebrity chef Nusret Gökçe, or “Salt Bae,” after the Vietnamese minister To Lam was caught on camera eating gold-encrusted steak at the chef’s restaurant in London a few days earlier. A gold-encrusted steak at Salt Bae’s London restaurant can cost as much as US$2,000. Vietnam’s State-owned media had not reported on the incident.
  • According to a police statement via Reuters, Lam is accused of “posting online content that distorted guidelines and policies of the ruling party.” “Lam is also a member of many ‘civil society organizations,’ which are in fact anti-State groups,” said the police statement. The police added that local authorities had repeatedly warned and educated him against uploading content that insulted the Communist country’s leaders, their honor and reputation.
  • In an interview, Le Thanh Lam, Tuan Lam’s wife, told BBC News that she believed her husband was abducted after leaving his brother’s house. Thanh Lam added that she lost contact with her husband around 4 p.m. on the day he was arrested.
  • In another interview with RFA, she claimed that at about 7 p.m. on the same day, the police surrounded their home and demanded a house search, although they didn’t present a warrant. The police reportedly proceeded with their search after assaulting Lam’s younger brothers and escorting them to the police station. After searching the house, the police confiscated three T-shirts printed with the message “Human rights should be respected in Vietnam,” said Thanh Lam.
  • New York-based Human Rights Watch condemned the arrest and said that “Vietnam should abolish rights-abusing article 117 of the Penal Code, and immediately free Bui Tuan Lam and others locked up for simply expressing views the communist party dislikes.”
  • “Vietnamese authorities regularly define any comment they don’t like as ‘propaganda against the state’ making Vietnam one of the most thin-skinned governments in the region when it comes to public criticism,” said Phil Robertson, Deputy Asia Director at HRW. “Mockery is a legitimate form of expression that should not be considered a crime,” added Robertson.

Vietnamese music teacher arrested on “anti-State” charges

  • Vietnamese police in Dak Lak Province on September 8 arrested Dang Dang Phuoc, a music teacher, on charges of “making, storing, and distributing information, documents, products against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam,” under Article 117 of Vietnam’s Penal Code.
  • Phuoc’s last online post on his social media was about the recent arrest of Bui Tuan Lam, the noodle vendor. According to a friend, he was arrested while doing morning exercises near his house and wished to remain anonymous due to security concerns.
  • Phuoc, 59, worked at Dak Lak Provincial Musical College. He was also an online commentator who frequently shared his critical opinions of Vietnam’s human rights violations, corruption, and social injustice. His personal Facebook account has more than 6,000 followers.
  • The Dak Lak Police claimed that Dang Dang Phuoc had used his Facebook account to write and publish content that “contains distorted propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.” It added that the local authorities “had informed and educated Phuoc to halt the illegal activities but he refused to comply and even advanced such activism.”

Hanoi police arrest Youtuber on alleged “anti-State” charges

  • The Hanoi Police on September 9 arrested Phan Son Tung, a local Youtuber, on charges of “making, storing, and distributing information, documents, products against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam,” under Article 117 of Vietnam’s Penal Code. The arrest was approved by the Hanoi People’s Procuracy.
  • Tung, 38, owns two Youtube channels, Son Tung TV and For a Prosperous Vietnam. Last August, Tung publicly declared that he would form a new political party named “For a Prosperous Vietnam,” while proclaiming that the establishment of different political entities was not illegal in Vietnam and that his aim was not fighting against the ruling Communist Party. His Youtube channel “For a Prosperous Vietnam” has more than 80,000 followers, but all the videos were no longer on display one day before Tung was arrested.
  • The Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP) remains the only legitimate ruling party in Vietnam, despite the country’s Constitution not prohibiting the formation of different political parties. Vietnam’s state media accused Tung of “publishing videos and posts containing content which is against the Party and the State.”

Vietnamese blogger Le Anh Hung jailed for five years after a trial without a lawyer

  • Le Anh Hung, a Vietnamese political dissident blogger, was sentenced to five years in prison on August 30 after spending more than four years in a mental hospital on the charge of “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe on the State and individuals’ legitimate rights,” under Article 331 of Vietnam’s Penal Code, RFA reported with confirmation from Hung’s family.
  • Tran Thi Niem, Hung’s mother, claimed that she didn’t know about his trial until she contacted the police officer investigating his case, which was one week after the trial was held. The police investigator also told Niem that after spending around four years in a detention center and a psychiatric hospital, Hung “will probably be released next year.”
  • Hung was a blogger for Voice of America. He was arrested on July 5, 2018, after sending petitions to a variety of central agencies accusing then-Deputy Prime Minister Hoang Trung Hai of smuggling and spying for China. In 2019, the investigation agency declared that Hung had a mental illness and sent him to a State-run psychiatric facility for forced treatment. Hung was sent back to his former detention center on May 9, 2022. There were allegations that he was drugged and abused while receiving mental treatment.
  • Nguyen Thuy Hanh, another Vietnamese activist known for her funding campaign to help the families of political prisoners in Vietnam, was also transferred to a State-run psychiatric facility earlier this year. The Vietnamese authorities alleged that Hanh was sent to the mental hospital to treat her depression. But Hanh’s family expressed concerns that the police might forcibly hold the activist in the facility and not bring her case to trial.

Livestreamer fined for deriding Vietnamese officials as bald, porn addicts


  • According to State media, authorities in Vietnam have fined an online gaming streamer for defaming unnamed government officials as “bald” and addicted to pornography.
  • Nguyen Thi Thanh Loan, also known as Milona, was ordered to pay an administrative fine of 10 million dong (US$425), reports said Tuesday, citing a statement from the Internal Security Office of the Thai Binh Provincial Police.
  • Milona, who has more than 200,000 followers on Facebook and is a well-known streamer, did not mention specific heads of state or specific countries, but many Vietnamese Facebook users and State media suggested that she should be punished if she had referred to one of the country’s four top leaders. But rights lawyers told RFA Vietnamese at the time that authorities were overreacting to her comments, which appeared to have been made in jest.

Vietnamese authorities walk back the decision ordering an artist to destroy his 29 paintings


  • The Ho Chi Minh City People’s Committee has reversed a decision ordering a popular Vietnamese poet and artist to destroy 29 of his works because he hosted an exhibition in July without a permit, the artist told RFA.
  • Bui Quang Vien, commonly known by his pen name Bui Chat, held the exhibition from July 15 to 30 at the Alpha Art Station, a private gallery. Authorities on August 9 fined him 25 million dong and ordered the destruction of 29 of his abstract paintings, an unprecedented move critics called a “step backwards” even in a country known for heavy censorship.
  • Authorities summoned the artist on August 31 to inform him they had made a new decision on his case, and he received official notification on Monday, Chat told RFA Vietnamese.
  • “Assessments show that the 29 exhibited paintings do not have content that goes against the country’s customs or the Party and government’s guidelines on culture and art,” the decision said. “In addition, Mr. Bui Quang Vien is aware of his violations and has expressed his wishes that the paintings not be destroyed,” it said.
  • Chat told RFA he was happy about the decision. “It means that [my paintings] can be freely moved from one place to another to be seen by art lovers. I am glad that I was able to get out of a difficult situation,” said the artist.

Vietnam announces new decree on regulating foreign NGO activities and registration

  • Vietnam announced a new decree on August 31 regarding the registration and management of foreign non-governmental organizations (NGOs) operating in the country. Decree No. 58/2022/ND-CP, expected to take effect on November 1, 2022, will replace the previous Decree No. 12/2012/ND-CP, which took effect in 2012.
  • The new decree requires foreign NGOs in Vietnam to connect their database to “the National Public Service Portal and the Public Service Portal of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the national database, the ministries and ministerial-level agencies, governmental agencies, the People's Committees of provinces.” The information in this database includes the NGOs’ permits for their legal operation in Vietnam and periodic reports, among other things.
  • Meanwhile, Tran Phuong Thao, wife of imprisoned NGO leader Dang Dinh Bach, told The 88 Project that she was allowed to see her husband on August 31 for about 20 minutes. According to Thao, Bach said he was being held in a prison cell with 20 other people and that he needed some books to read.
  • Their conversation was later interrupted when Bach tried to tell Thao that he was innocent and needed the international community’s help to exonerate him. After a warning from the prison police, they were allowed to resume their conversation. Bach is serving five years in prison for “committing tax evasion.” His earlier appeal of the prison sentence was rejected by an appellate court in Hanoi.

Vietnam karaoke bar fire kills 33 people, prompting questions on safety and corruption

The Washington Post:

“The incident was the latest in a series of fires to erupt at bars in Vietnam over the past few years and has prompted Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh to order safety inspections for all venues considered “high risk,” including bars, pubs and nightclubs. Police originally said 23 people had died but raised the toll to 33 on Wednesday.

Officials said that an electrical short circuit set off the fire at An Phu Karaoke. The bar was located in a working-class, industrial district in Thuan An, a city about an hour outside the commercial hub of Ho Chi Minh City. According to locals, factory workers, food vendors and laborers living in crowded, low-rise buildings in the surrounding neighborhood often visited An Phu. Many of the employees there were migrants from more rural districts.”

On social media, a few prominent bloggers suspected that the approval for the location of the karaoke bar with a lack of safety procedures that caused the fire would be another example of corruption in business development in the big cities of Vietnam.

“Vietnam always respects its relationship with Russia,” Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh says


“Vietnam Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh said on Wednesday Vietnam always respects its relationship with Russia and hopes to further boost their cooperation.

Chinh was speaking virtually at the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok. Communist Vietnam, which is keen to strengthen relations with Europe and the United States, remains one of Russia's closest partners in Asia, ties that were developed during the Soviet era.”

Vietnam Insight: Learn more about Vietnam

Why Vietnam Should Not Go Nuclear

The Diplomat/ Khang Vu/ September 9

“Under this context, Vietnam going nuclear would fundamentally unravel Hanoi’s post-Cold War foreign policy of diversification and multilateralization. Pursuing nuclear weapons would immediately tarnish Hanoi’s export-led growth strategy due to the international sanctions that would likely result, and would downgrade its international status to that of a pariah like North Korea. It would also hurt Hanoi’s legal challenges against Chinese activities in the South China Sea, since Vietnam would also be breaking its commitment to multiple international treaties at a time it needs those treaties to be on its side the most. And these scenarios are not fanciful. Vietnam was indeed a pariah just 40 years ago when it was contemplating hosting Soviet nuclear weapons.”

Vietnam Tightens the Screws on Big Tech

Fulcrum/ Dien Nguyen An Luong/ September 9

“Since the passage and implementation of the Cyber-Security Law in 2019, Vietnamese authorities have appeared to focus less on enforcing the provision for data localisation. The authorities have instead remained fixated on whether major social media platforms — Google’s YouTube and Meta’s Facebook in particular — have been compliant enough to various government requests to restrict access to or take down what it labels as “false” or “anti-state” content.

In fact, it is content removal that has remained the preferred policy option for Vietnamese authorities at a time when many governments have scrambled to dictate what the public can see or not on social media. When effected, Decree 53 will become another weapon in Vietnam’s legal arsenal to censor online content that the authorities deem objectionable. Since its enactment in 2013, Decree 72 has served as the legal basis for Facebook and YouTube to restrict or scrub content at the behest of Vietnamese authorities. The authorities stopped short of saying whether Decree 53 will supersede Decree 72, despite their similar provisions governing the removal of online content. This means that Vietnamese authorities are likely to have more legal pretext to take down online content they disfavor.”

Vietnam’s ‘unjust’ energy transition

Al Jazeera/ Bobby Peek/ September 8

“Charging these particular individuals with tax-related crimes appears to be aimed at silencing members of Vietnam’s civil society who are pressuring the government to further strengthen their climate and environmental commitments, keeping the country’s people at the center.

While Khanh worked with respectful diplomacy, she maintained a strong voice against coal. She created the Vietnam Sustainable Energy Alliance (VSEA) to mobilize around this issue, which opposed the interests of certain segments of the government that support legacy coal interests. For them, she and the VSEA represent uncomfortable watchdogs urging the country to transition to clean energy faster.

Ironically, Vietnam is now poised to potentially receive billions of dollars from foreign governments, including the United States, Canada, the EU and the United Kingdom, to facilitate what is called a Just Energy Transition Partnership (JET-P).”

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