Vietnam Briefing October 3, 2022: Vietnam’s Traffic Police Officers Disciplined After Brutally Assaulting Two Young Men

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

Vietnam Briefing October 3, 2022: Vietnam’s Traffic Police Officers Disciplined After Brutally Assaulting Two Young Men
Human rights lawyer Vo An Don (left) and his family were prohibited from leaving Vietnam on “national security” grounds; Traffic policemen from Soc Trang Province (right) were recorded beating up two civilians, outraging Vietnam’s social media users. Photo: Bao Tieng Dan/ CCTV footage.

Vietnamese police officers were disciplined for beating up two young motorcyclists

  • On September 30, five traffic policemen in Vietnam's southern Soc Trang Province were disciplined after they were filmed beating up two young motorcyclists with batons and helmets earlier on September 25. According to local authorities, three policemen who directly engaged in the beating, Captain Chau Minh Trung, Lieutenant Nguyen Quang Thai, and Captain Doan Tan Phong, had their police badges confiscated. At the same time, two other officers, Hua Truong An and Tran Minh Doi were reprimanded following the assault.
  • Earlier last week, CCTV footage widely circulated on Vietnam's social media showed two traffic policemen chasing the two young motorcyclists into a courtyard, which was reportedly located in a shrimp processing facility in Vinh Chau Ward, Soc Trang Province. The police then got off their motorcycles and brutally assaulted the two young men. After about two minutes, another two policemen arrived, and one of them started punching one of the two motorcyclists.
  • Vietnam's State media reported that the police officers shown in the video were part of a police patrol team in Vinh Chau Ward. The local police head, Colonel Lam Thanh Sol, claimed that the physical assault occurred after Trung and Thai, the patrol police, witnessed two young men driving under the influence of alcohol and ordered them to pull over. But the young motorcyclists reportedly sped up and cut in front of the patrol police's motorbikes to escape, which resulted in the chasing and assault.
  • Colonel Sol didn't provide further answers to the state journalists' question about whether there were other witnesses at the scene to verify his claims.
  • Police brutality remains a systemic problem in Vietnam, and many independent observers and social media users say that what happened in Soc Trang was only the tip of the iceberg. The most common forms of brutality committed by Vietnam's law enforcement are torturing and beating local police stations and detention facilities. The Ministry of Public Security previously admitted that 226 suspects and inmates died in police stations and detention facilities throughout the country between October 2011 and September 2014

Vietnamese human rights lawyer Vo An Don was barred from leaving the country

  • On September 27, police at Tan Son Nhat Airport stopped lawyer Vo An Don and his family at the customs check. According to Don's update on social media, Vietnam barred his family and him from leaving Vietnam for the United States for "national security" reasons. Don and his family expected to apply for political asylum in the United States.
  • Vo An Don, 45, a lawyer from Phu Yen Province, is popularly known for his legal activism in defending political prisoners and victims of injustice in Vietnam. The Phu Yen lawyer has faced harassment, intimidation, and retaliation due to his legal representation of political dissidents.
  • In 2014, Don gained prominence when he represented the family of Ngo Thanh Kieu, who died after being beaten by the police while in custody. He demonstrated tireless efforts in bringing the police officers who committed the brutality to justice in Kieu's case. In 2017, Don was disciplined and disbarred from his legal practice by local authorities just days before he was set to defend Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, a Vietnamese dissident blogger who is now living in exile, in her appellate hearing.
  • After being prohibited from leaving Vietnam, Don and his family reportedly prepared to return to their home province of Phu Yen. Don added that airport police told him he would need to contact immigration authorities in Phu Yen, where the order was issued, for an explanation regarding the immigration ban on his travel overseas. "I'll take legal action against them and file a request for compensation if they fail to give legitimate reasons for what they did," the lawyer told RFA.
  • "Blocking Vo An Don's travel to the US shows the all-pervasive Vietnamese government system in action, restricting freedom of movement of activists based on vague claims of "national security," wrote Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
  • "This travel ban against Vo An Don and his family shows how the Vietnam government is prepared to use every dirty, abusive trick to silence the very few lawyers left in the country who dare stand up for the principle that everyone deserves legal representation," Robertson added.

Vietnam sends prisoners of conscience to prisons far from families as an extra form of punishment

  • The Vietnamese land rights activist Nguyen Thi Tam was recently transferred to Gia Trung Prison in Gia Lai Province, located nearly 1,200 km (746 miles) from her home in Duong Noi District, Hanoi City, RFA reported based on information from Tam's family.
  • Meanwhile, another land rights activist convicted of carrying out "anti-State," activities, Trinh Ba Phuong, was taken to An Diem Prison in the central province of Quang Nam, which is located around  497 miles from his home in Hanoi City, on September 21, one month after the Higher People's Court in Hanoi upheld his 10-year prison sentence in an appeal hearing mid-August.
  • According to Phuong's wife, Do Thi Thu, it took her and Phuong's family at least 29 hours and around 1 million dong (US$44) per person to go from their hometown in Hoa Binh Province, where Phuong's family lives, to visit him in the Quang Nam prison.
  • Can Thi Theu, Phuong's mother and land rights activist, currently serves her sentence for "anti-State" charges at Prison No. 5 in Yen Dinh District, Thanh Hoa Province. Trinh Ba Tu, Phuong's brother, is serving his sentence at Prison No. 6 in Thanh Chuong District, Nghe An Province. It's reported that it took more than two hours to reach Prison No. 5 and eight hours to get to Prison No. 6 by motorbike from their hometown in Hoa Binh Province.
  • According to a Vietnamese activist quoted by RFA, the transfer of prisoners of conscience to prisons far from their families makes prisoners unaccustomed to living in new climatic conditions, which results in their getting sick more often, especially as medical care provided by Vietnam's prisons is limited. The activist added that sending them away to faraway prisons also makes it difficult for their families to find the time and money to visit them.

  • On September 28, Reuters reported, with confirmation from three anonymous sources familiar with the matter, that the Vietnamese government is planning to introduce new rules to limit social media accounts that can post news-related content. This latest move from the authorities demonstrates Vietnam's efforts to control further the flow of news and information sources on social media.
  • According to the report, the details of the regulations are expected to be announced by the end of this year. However, the sources told Reuters that the news-related rules establish a legal basis for restricting the dissemination of news from unauthorized accounts on social media. Under the new regulations, the sources say, the Vietnamese government can force social media platforms, such as Facebook and Youtube, to take down content or ban accounts that violate them.
  • "The government wants to fix what it sees as the 'news-lization' of social media," one source told Reuters. The authorities use the term "news-lisation" (báo hoá in Vietnamese) to describe privately operated social media accounts that mislead users into thinking they are authorized news outlets. Sebastian Strangio, a writer for The Diplomat, writes that the new regulations "mark an intensification of the government's attempt to migrate legacy media controls to the freewheeling online space," which "would add to the already significant moderation burden on social media platforms."
  • The one-party Communist country is notoriously known for its heavy censorship of critical information and intolerance of opposition voices. And while Vietnam remains one of the top markets for Facebook and Youtube, which have over 60 million users, the country has one of the world's most stringent regulations regarding internet control and social media behavior.
  • The Vietnamese government has also passed regulations requiring tech companies to set up offices within its territory and store user data locally starting this October. According to Reuters sources, the government is also expected to implement new rules requiring social media platforms to take down "illegal content" within 24 hours.

Vietnam is placed in an awkward position as old ally Russia suffers losses in Ukraine


"Russian losses should prompt concerns in Hanoi. Their military is dominated by Russian equipment. The VPA is still highly influenced by Soviet doctrine. Their military remains top-down and unable for local commanders to seize the initiative. The VPA remains a party army, legally bound to defend the regime, not the state.

And Hanoi should be very concerned about the deleterious effects of corruption on force readiness, logistics, and operations. The once vaunted VPA has been caught in a number of corruption scandals of late, including a Covid-19 testing scheme, a Coast Guard procurement and protection racket scandals, and land. Russia's military was hollowed out by endemic corruption, something that's become normalized in Vietnam."

BBC accused of endangering World Service Vietnamese staff

The Guardian:

"Journalists at the BBC World Service have said plans to move its Vietnamese service from London to Thailand pose a danger to press freedom.

Several reporters at the World Service raised concerns that the Vietnamese state had a history of abducting journalists from Thailand. They also suggested that BBC bosses failed to comprehend that just because both countries were in south-east Asia, it did not mean Vietnamese people were naturally at home in Thailand.

"Being a critic of the Vietnamese government, even when you're in Thailand, is not safe," said one World Service employee. Journalists in Thailand have to annually submit their articles to the government to have their visas renewed."

Vietnam Insight: Learn more about Vietnam

Fuelled by meth addiction, Vietnam's drug-treatment centres are rife with abuse

Southeast Asia Globe/ Govi Snell/ September 30

"A 2011 Human Rights Watch report documented abuse at the centers. Interviewed former detainees did agricultural and construction work, sewed garments and made a variety of products, sometimes for private companies. Detainees' pay was well-below minimum wage and deductions were taken from their earnings to cover the cost of accommodation, food and water at the centers. After deductions, detainees received between 16,000 and 149,000VND ($0.68 to $6.29) monthly.

Many of the interviewees described work quotas. Refusal to work or failure to meet quotas resulted in beatings. Sometimes, the reason for the beatings was unclear."

Data localization rules will set back Vietnam's digital economy

Nikkei Asia/ Jeff Paine/ September 30

"For Vietnam, data localization requirements could cost the country as much as 1.7% of its annual gross domestic product and 3.1% of total foreign investment, according to a 2018 report by the Brookings Institution.

Free cross-border flows can harness data analytics and create the best possible ecosystem for local businesses to use digital technologies and thrive internationally. Currently, small and mid-sized enterprises that lack an international footprint rely on the free flow of data across borders to make use of common infrastructure to serve customers in different markets."

Why Vietnam's Economic Future is Bright – and Growing Brighter

The Diplomat/ Vincenzo Caporale/ September 29

"Still, Vietnam faces severe hurdles to future growth. The most limiting factor is the country's population size, which will never amount to more than a fraction of China's. Similarly, Vietnam's workforce is relatively low-skilled, its energy supply is having a hard time keeping up with demand, and although the country has made significant advances in infrastructure development, it still ranks 47th out of 160 countries in this regard."

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