Vietnam Briefing Oct. 31, 2022: Vietnam Continues to Oppress Freedom of Speech After Being Elected to the UN Human Rights Council

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

Vietnam Briefing Oct. 31, 2022: Vietnam Continues to Oppress Freedom of Speech After Being Elected to the UN Human Rights Council
Citizen journalist and land petitioner Le Manh Ha (left) was jailed for eight years on “anti-State” charges; Chinese President Xi Jinping and Vietnamese Communist PartySecretary General Nguyen Phu Trong met during Xi’s visit to Vietnam in 2017 (right). Photo: Le Manh Ha - Tieng Dan TV Youtube channel/ VGP.

Vietnamese Facebook user jailed for two years on a charge of “abusing democratic freedoms”

  • A Vietnamese court in Hanoi sentenced Dang Nhu Quynh, a local Facebook user, to two years in prison 0n Oct. 27, 2022, on the charge of “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe on the State and individuals’ legitimate rights” under Article 331 of Vietnam’s Penal Code, state media reported. The Vietnamese government regularly uses Article 331 to penalize people in defamation cases.
  • According to the indictment by state media, Quynh used his Facebook account, which has more than 300,000 followers, to publish and share unverified information regarding the arrests of multiple real estate directors and financial tycoons in Vietnam.
  • The court announced that Quynh’s publications on social media had “sowed confusion among the public” and “negatively affected stocks and the financial market, the image and reputation of businesses, and the economic interests of many investors.”
  • Quynh was arrested on April 13, 2022, for allegedly posting “unverified information” about several people and companies in the finance and real estate sectors, according to the Vietnamese Ministry of Public Security spokesperson, To An Xo. State media reported that Quynh had earlier been summoned to interrogation sessions by local police for “publishing more than 200 unverified articles on the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Local police release DNA test results of Tinh That Bong Lai practitioners ahead of their appeals trial

  • State-owned media, on Oct. 28, 2022, reported that the Long An Provincial Police had released the DNA test results of 27 practitioners from Tinh That Bong Lai, a local independent temple, as evidence to prosecute them for allegations of “incest.” However, the police did not provide the actual details of the DNA results, nor did they specify whether or not the Tinh That Bong Lai members had committed “incest.” State-owned media only claimed Le Tung Van “did not open the temple’s gate and refused to receive the test results.”
  • Six people at Tinh That Bong Lai, including the head monk Le Tung Van, were previously convicted of “abusing democratic freedoms” under Article 331 of Vietnam’s Penal Code.
  • The test results were declared only a few days before the beginning of the appeals trials, which are scheduled for November 2. Dang Dinh Manh, one of the defense attorneys of the temple, wrote on his Facebook page that the Vietnamese authorities released the DNA results in such a vague and ambiguous way to smear the defendants' names and try to gain some public approval in the upcoming trial.
  • Attorney Manh also raised concerns over the authenticity of the results, adding that these samples were forcefully collected by local police against the will of Tinh That Bong Lai’s monks and nuns earlier on Sept. 24. 2022. Despite not being directly involved in the criminal case, several young orphans at the temple also had their saliva and hair samples involuntarily taken. At the same time, Manh urged the authorities to respect the defendants’ legal rights when it came to collecting the DNA samples.

Vietnamese citizen journalist Le Manh Ha sentenced to eight years in prison

  • Tuyen Quang People’s Court in northern Vietnam sentenced Le Manh Ha, a citizen journalist and land petitioner, to eight years in prison on charges of “making, storing, and distributing anti-State materials,” violating Article 117 of the Penal Code on Oct. 25, 2022. His trial was postponed twice before the authorities confirmed it would be officially held last Tuesday.
  • Ha, 52, has actively campaigned against the relocation of farmers in Tuyen Quang Province due to the construction of a major hydroelectric project in the area. In 2018, Ha founded a Youtube channel called Tieng Dan (Voice of the People), where he interviewed and reported the stories of many land rights petitioners who lost their land to the developers of government-approved projects.
  • The verdict claimed that Ha had “produced 21 video clips and 13 articles,” which were deemed as “propaganda against the socialist state of Vietnam.” According to Ma Thi Tho, Ha’s wife, her husband said in his final statement that what he had done was the “exercise of freedom of speech.” Tho added that Ha’s actions were simply the reflection of his own opinions and patriotism and that he “didn’t intend to oppose the state or to defame the people’s government.”
  • In a statement released on Oct. 26, 2022, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), an advocate for press freedom worldwide, urged the Vietnamese government to “immediately and unconditionally release journalist Le Manh Ha and stop treating independent journalists as criminals for merely doing their jobs of reporting the news.”
  • “Vietnam must stop equating independent journalism with criminal behavior and release all the journalists it wrongfully holds behind bars,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative.
  • The conviction of Le Manh Ha came after Vietnam was elected to the United Nations Human Rights Council on Oct. 11.
  • “If Vietnam is serious about being a productive, contributing member of the UN Human Rights Council to which it was recently elected, the government should release all people locked up for simply expressing opinions the government doesn’t like,” said Phil Robertson, Asia deputy director at Human Rights Watch. “Vietnam should immediately and unconditionally release all prisoners being held for this Stalinist era sounding offense ‘conducting propaganda against the state.’”

Vietnamese Communist Party chief Nguyen Phu Trong visits Beijing after the 20th Chinese Communist Party Congress concludes

  • Nguyen Phu Trong, the general secretary of the Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP), traveled to Beijing last week as part of an official visit to China from Oct. 30 to Nov. 2, 2022, at the invitation of Chinese President Xi Jinping. Trong’s visit occurred after the conclusion of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) 20th Congress, where Xi secured an unprecedented third term as the CCP chief. Trong was the first foreign leader to visit Beijing after the CCP’s all-important political event concluded.
  • Sebastian Strangio, a writer at The Diplomat, wrote that the meeting between the two Communist Party leaders “is not only a prominent demonstration of the special relationship between the CCP and the VCP but also a positive signal about the steady progression of Sino-Vietnamese relations.” Meanwhile, the VCP chief’s trip to Beijing comes as Vietnam is in talks with the United States to strengthen ties between the two formal war rivals, the South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported.
  • “On the one hand, maintaining close relations with China has always been a top priority of Vietnam’s diplomacy; on the other hand, Vietnam has attempted to further develop relations with the United States,” writes the SCMP. “But Hanoi needs to allay China’s rising concerns about the fast-growing U.S.-Vietnam relationship in recent years, particularly the defense cooperation between Vietnam and the United States in the South China Sea.”
  • On Oct. 23, 2022, Trong sent his congratulations to Xi Jinping on his reelection to the top position in the CCP Central Committee. “I look forward to seeing you again soon so that we can deepen our discussions on strategic issues, contributing to the further strengthening of political trust, and setting out major orientations for the future development of the two countries’ relations,” he wrote in his message.

Father Truong Hoang Vu, known for his assistance to disabled veterans of the former Republic of South Vietnam, was barred from leaving Vietnam


  • Father Truong Hoang Vu, a Catholic priest assisting disabled veterans who fought for the Republic of South Vietnam during the Vietnam War, has been temporarily banned from leaving the country.
  • Father Vu, a Can Gio Redemptorists Church member under the Archdiocese of Ho Chi Minh City, told RFA’s Vietnamese Service that security officials stopped him at the Tan Son Nhat International Airport before boarding an 8:45 a.m. flight to Manila from where he planned later to fly to the United States.
  • “I was temporarily banned from leaving the country while on a business trip to the U.S.,” he said in an interview by phone. Authorities told him “the ban was for social order and safety reasons.” He was instructed to contact the Ho Chi Minh City Police Department with any inquiries about his travel prohibition, but he said he had no plans to do so as “it will just be a waste of time.”
  • Father Vu runs a program at the church named “Paying Tribute to Disabled Veterans of the Republic of Vietnam,” referring to the short-lived country formed in the wake of the 1954 division of Vietnam. Vietnam was unified after Communist troops seized control of Saigon in April 1975, at the end of the war. RFA reported that the Vietnamese government provides no social benefits and welfare to the disabled veterans of the Republic of Vietnam, who number an estimated 20,000 people.

Vietnam Insight: Learn more about Vietnam

Nguyen Phu Trong’s Trip Highlights Special Relationship Between China and Vietnam

The Diplomat/ Nian Peng/ Oct. 29, 2022

“As Vietnam is now in the vortex of the intensified China-U.S. competition, if not confrontation, it has to cautiously manage its relations with the two great powers. On the one hand, maintaining close relations with China has always been a top priority of Vietnam’s diplomacy; on the other hand, Vietnam has attempted to further develop relations with the United States. But Hanoi needs to allay China’s rising concerns about the fast-growing U.S.-Vietnam relationship in recent years, particularly the defense cooperation between Vietnam and the United States in the South China Sea.”

Why LGBT Rights Trump Environmentalism in Vietnam

The Diplomat/ Mai Truong/ Oct. 27, 2022

“With the rise of the internet and Vietnam’s deep integration into the global economy, the VCP cannot completely ignore people’s demands for more rights. Indeed, recent efforts show that in the face of its waning performance-based legitimacy, the VCP is trying to enhance its legitimacy by promoting – or by being seen to be promoting – human rights. However, this requires the VCP to balance between the needs of citizens and those of the various interest groups critical to the Party’s survival. As a result, the VCP has focused on promoting rights in areas that are not politically sensitive. Being strategic in choosing which rights to protect (and which to ignore) ensures that key interest groups are not adversely affected, while sending the message that the VCP cares about citizens’ rights.”

What Lies Ahead for Cambodia-Laos-Vietnam Trilateral Security Cooperation?

The Diplomat/ Prashanth Parameswaran/ Oct. 24, 2022

“To be sure, what exactly this means for wider trilateral cooperation and how it will evolve in the future remains unclear. Trilateral defense cooperation between Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam has thus far evolved quite gradually, and it has often taken several years for more ambitious strategic ideas to take hold even as the density of engagements and interactions on the ground increases in areas like border exchanges. Furthermore, while official public readouts may play up the progress made within trilateral cooperation, they can also understate the significant challenges that remain. These include lingering border management and war legacy-related issues that can occasionally flare up, the greater geopolitical penetration of mainland Southeast Asia by other powers including China, and the balancing acts that Laos and Cambodia are performing relative to their larger mainland Southeast Asian neighbor within trilateral ties and the dynamics of those asymmetric relationships.”

Why Vietnam needs to pivot landward for its security

The Strategist/ Khang Vu/ Oct. 24, 2022

“Even if China decided to ‘teach Vietnam a lesson’ from the sea, Vietnam could fall back on the mountain ranges in the west, a strategy that the Vietnamese communists used to drive the French and the Americans out of the river deltas. And this strategy further stresses the importance of Vietnam’s land security. Allowing China to wrest Laos and Cambodia from Vietnam would deprive Hanoi of strategic depth. As I have argued elsewhere, the best way for Vietnam to protect its maritime security is to first and foremost ensure it is safe on the land, including both its western and northern borders. China’s occupations of Vietnam’s islands didn’t bleed the country dry, but the presence of Chinese troops along the border did.”

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