Vietnam Briefing October 17, 2022: Recently Elected Member to the UN Human Rights Council - Vietnam - Abstains from Resolution Condemning Russia’s Unlawful Annexation of Ukrainian Territories

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

Vietnam Briefing October 17, 2022: Recently Elected Member to the UN Human Rights Council - Vietnam - Abstains from Resolution Condemning Russia’s Unlawful Annexation of Ukrainian Territories
Monitors at the United Nations General Assembly hall display a vote on a resolution condemning the annexation of territories of Ukraine by Russia at the UN Headquarters in New York City, October 12, 2022 (left); Vietnamese blogger and activist Huynh Thuc Vy (right) was reportedly maltreated in custody. Photo: Reuters/ David 'Dee' Delgado, Huynh Thuc Vy/ Facebook.

Vietnam was elected to the United Nations Human Rights Council despite serious human rights violations

  • Vietnam was elected to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) on October 11, despite opposition from international human rights organizations because of the one-party state’s consistent poor human rights record. Vietnam’s three-year term on the council will begin on January 1, 2023.
  • Radio Free Asia reported that Vietnam had conducted intense propaganda and lobbying efforts to secure its seat at the UNHRC. It received 145 of 189 valid votes, becoming one of the 14 countries elected by members of the UN General Assembly in New York last Tuesday. Vietnam is the only country from Southeast Asia to have been elected to the council’s 2023-2025 term. The number of votes required to win a seat in the UNHRC is 97.
  • Numerous human rights organizations and critics have called on relevant parties to reject Hanoi’s bid to join the UNHRC, especially after the recent arrests and convictions of three influential civil society leaders this year. Vietnam is notoriously known for its brutal suppression and persecution of journalists, activists and critics of the Communist regime.
  • Amnesty International and other rights groups released a statement on October 10, before the UN General Assembly vote, calling on Vietnam to “immediately commit to taking concrete steps to improve its human rights performance.” These steps include “releasing arbitrarily detained human rights defenders, including journalists, ensuring the rights to freedom of expression and association, and improving cooperation with international human rights mechanisms.”
  • “The Vietnamese government should demonstrate a genuine commitment to robust and rights-respecting climate policies by immediately and unconditionally releasing wrongfully imprisoned environmental defenders,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, in a statement issued on October 11 after the voting. “As a new Human Rights Council member, the Vietnamese government should show that it’s prepared to uphold human rights rather than violate them,” he said.

Vietnam abstains from the UN resolution condemning Russia’s unlawful annexation of Ukrainian territory

  • Vietnam, on October 12, joined 34 other countries in abstaining from a UN vote to condemn Russia’s unlawful annexation of four partially occupied regions in Ukraine. Previously, Hanoi had twice abstained from other UN resolutions condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and demanding it withdraws its troops from Ukrainian territory within a week. It also voted against a UN resolution calling for Russia to be suspended from the UN Human Rights Council on April 7.
  • The country’s inactivity in condemning Russia’s violation of the basic principle of territorial integrity and the UN Charter stood in contrast with the speech made by Vietnam’s permanent delegation at the UN, Dang Hoang Giang, at an emergency session of the UN General Assembly on October 12.
  • In his speech, Giang emphasized the need “to abide by the U.N. Charter and basic principles of international law, not  to intervene in internal affairs and not to use the threat of force in international relations.” “From a history of going through multiple wars to gain independence, unity and protection of the country, Vietnam understands the value of peace and opposes all behaviors that threaten and use force to infringe on countries' independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Giang added.
  • Independent observers and critics have disagreed with Hanoi’s decision to remain silent towards Russian aggression. “In my opinion, if Ho Chi Minh were still alive, he would be ashamed of Vietnam for abstaining from the vote,” said Will Nguyen, a Vietnamese American pro-democracy advocate, in an interview with RFA. “In fact, if there is nothing more precious than independence and freedom, Vietnam should have voted to support Ukraine,” he said.

Vietnamese activist Huynh Thuc Vy allegedly beaten in prison

  • According to her family members, Vietnamese blogger and human rights activist Huynh Thuc Vy has been allegedly beaten and choked by prison guards. Her family claimed that they found this out because Vy whispered the incident to her young daughter during family visitation to ask for help, RFA reported.
  • Vy, 37, is serving a 33-month prison term for “offending the national flag” under Article 276 of Vietnam’s Penal Code. She was convicted in 2018 after being found spraying paint on Vietnam’s flag on its national day. Vy is being held in Gia Trung Prison in the Central Highlands, about 200 km away from her home, which makes family visits difficult.
  • On this month's visit, Vy secretly told her six-year-old daughter about her treatment in prison. “Mom was beaten and her neck was choked tightly by the correctional officers. Please tell the family to tell lawyer Dang Dinh Manh to save Mom,” her daughter told her grandfather about the conversation after the family returned home.
  • Vy's brother, Huynh Trong Hieu, said he believed Vy was beaten because she tried to help her cellmates by sharing her food or giving their relatives’ phone numbers to her father so that he could tell their relatives how they were being treated. Vy had told her family that the correctional officers did not want her to help other cellmates that way.
  • “Recent reports about guards beating and abusing Vietnamese political prisoners should raise alarm bells about the Vietnamese government’s total lack of commitment to respect human rights, just as the country is running for a UN Human Rights Council seat for the 2023-2025 term,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch, in response to the alleged mistreatment of political prisoner Huynh Thuc Vy.
  • “The Vietnamese authorities should immediately carry out a thorough and transparent investigation into the serious accusations of beatings and choking of Vy at Gia Trung prison, and other abuses committed at other prisons in Vietnam, and hold the perpetrators accountable. Prison authorities are committing these abuses against political prisoners who should not be detained in the first place since they were imprisoned solely for exercising their rights to freedom of association, expression, and peaceful public protest,” Robertson added.

Citizen journalist Le Manh Ha’s trial scheduled for October 24

  • A court in northern Tuyen Quang Province will hold a first-instance trial for the citizen journalist Le Manh Ha on October 24 on the allegation of “distributing anti-State materials” under Article 117 of the Penal Code. Ma Thi Tho, Ha’s wife, told RFA about her husband’s trial in an interview on October 10.
  • The Tuyen Quang court had previously postponed Ha’s trial two times, on September 19 and September 26, respectively. The court said that it had to postpone the trial twice because the evidence examiner “was too busy to attend the trial.”
  • Ha was arrested last January by plainclothes police in Tuyen Quang’s Chiem Hoa District. Before his arrest, the citizen journalist had operated a Youtube channel called “People’s Voice Television,” and a Facebook account called “Voice of the Vietnamese People,” where he shared his criticisms of the government regarding land-related issues.
  • Ha became involved in land rights activism after the government took his community’s land in Na Hang to build a power plant without paying him and his former neighbor’s proper compensation. Since then, he has studied Vietnamese law and helped others with legal advice and instruction on petitioning the government to reclaim their lost lands.

Vietnamese police summons social media users for allegedly spreading false information about Saigon Commercial Bank

  • Police in Ho Chi Minh City, Binh Duong Province, Nghe An Province, and Ha Nam Province have reportedly summoned several Facebook users in their localities for “spreading false information” about the Saigon Commercial Bank (SCB) after an earlier arrest of Truong My Lan, a real estate tycoon with links to SCB, on October 8.
  • Truong My Lan, chairwoman of Ho Chi Minh City-based Van Thinh Phat Holdings Group, was accused of illegally issuing bonds to raise trillions of dong from investors during the 2018-2019 period, Reuters reported, citing information from a news release from Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security.
  • According to police sources, these social media accounts have “published information that creates mental insecurity for [SCB] depositors, which adversely affects the [social] security and order.”
  • The arrest of Lan has worried many Vietnamese who have bank accounts or deposit their savings at SCB. Depositors at SCB were seen flocking to its branches to withdraw savings from their personal accounts, despite reassurances from the Vietnamese authorities and SCB that the situation was “being monitored” and was “under control.”
  • Vietnam has regularly utilized “fake news” accusations to summon and fine social media users who publish information considered “unfavorable” by the local authorities. “Fake news” allegations also serve as a legitimate pretext to stifle free speech and curb opposition voices in Vietnam, especially regarding online materials that threaten the reputation of local authorities and the ruling Communist Party.

Tinh That Bong Lai's appeals trial postponed until November 2

  • Vietnam’s State media reported that the Long An Provincial People’s Court had postponed the appeals trial of six members from Tinh That Bong Lai, an independent Buddhist temple, until November 11. The trial was previously scheduled for October 14. Dang Dinh Manh, one of the temple’s defense lawyers, wrote on Facebook that he and other attorneys were not informed about the postponement.
  • According to State media, the Long An Provincial Court decided to reschedule the appeals trial at the request of the lawyers of Thich Nhat Tu, a monk from the government-controlled Vietnam Buddhist Sangha, as well as due to the absence of important witnesses and relevant parties.
  • Last July, six members of Tinh That Bong Lai, including head monk Le Tung Van, were sentenced to a combined 23 and a half years in prison on the charge of “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe on State and individuals’ legitimate rights and interests,” under Article 331 of the Penal Code. State-owned media frequently accused the temple’s members of “committing fraud,” “seeking personal gain,” and “incest,” but had not provided any evidence to support their accusations.

Journalist Pham Doan Trang’s mental health “remains well,” her family said

  • The family of journalist Pham Doan Trang announced on October 14 that her mother and brother had visited her in An Phuoc Prison, Binh Duong Province, on October 12. Doan Trang was transferred to An Phuoc Prison on October 1 to begin serving her nine-year sentence there.
  • According to the update on Facebook, Doan Trang’s health “has slightly deteriorated but still remained in adequate condition.” Meanwhile, her mental health “remains well,” the family said. The prison authorities also accepted Doan Trang’s previous request to receive her guitar in custody.

Vietnam Insight: Learn more about Vietnam

China’s Novelistic ‘Soft Power Invasion’ of Vietnam

Asia Sentinel/ Oct. 12

“In early 2017, the Department of Publication, Printing and Distribution under the Ministry of Information and Communications reminded both state-owned and private publishing houses to not apply for publishing permits for novels that contain escapist romance and boys’ love without giving those terms a definition. The department also urged the publishers to review drafts of the novels that they intend to publish. Yet the warning fell on deaf ears. Publication, including those by the Publishing House of Literature, a major state-owned publishing company, has continued unabated.

In Vietnam, only state-owned publishing houses are authorized to print books. Private publishers must cooperate with a state one to be allowed to print yanqing novels. As a result, it is safe to say that state-owned publishers play a crucial role in bringing Chinese romantic books to Vietnamese readers.”

ASEAN is Vietnam’s platform to diversify relationships with major powers

Southeast Asia Globe/ Hien Phan/ Oct. 12

“Whether Vietnam can continue to manage relationships with major powers through ASEAN depends on the country’s capacity to maintain influence within the bloc; meaning an active role in facilitating its unity in regional security issues, particularly the South China Sea disputes.

As Bui Thanh Son affirmed during the foreign ministers’ meeting in early August, peaceful resolutions to the South China Sea disputes are key to maintaining the centrality of ASEAN on the wider Asian landscape and Vietnam’s key role within the hub. Cultivating these relationships in the face of growing geopolitical tensions takes more than just shared values, it takes a carefully planned strategy. Vietnam should play its cards carefully.”

Vietnamese Private Enterprises’ Covid-19 Donations: Not All about Altruism

Fulcrum/ Le Hong Hiep, Phan Xuan Dung/ Oct. 10

“These firms can be seen performing corporate social responsibility (CSR) — the idea that businesses should contribute to societal goals by engaging in or supporting volunteering or ethically-oriented practices. Since its introduction to Vietnam in the early 2000s, the concept has been increasingly embraced by Vietnamese firms. However, there are other reasons for these conglomerates to make generous Covid-19 donations.

First, since the reopening of the economy was conditioned upon a high-level of community immunity, businesses were motivated to fund and facilitate the national vaccination campaign. Second, they wanted to burnish their reputations to appeal to the public and foreign investors, ultimately increasing their profitability in the long run. Media coverage of their support for the government’s efforts to control the pandemic helps enhance their image as socially responsible firms, while diverting public attention away from their scandals and wrongdoings.”

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