Vietnam Briefing Nov. 28, 2022: Vietnamese Environmental Leader Nguy Thi Khanh Receives Sentence Reduction

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

Vietnam Briefing Nov. 28, 2022: Vietnamese Environmental Leader Nguy Thi Khanh Receives Sentence Reduction
Vietnamese environmental leader Nguy Thi Khanh (left); the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), raises concerns about the passing of religious prisoner Phan Van Thu (right). Photo: Mongabay/ VOA News, USCIRF.

Vietnamese NGO leader Nguy Thi Khanh has her sentence reduced

  • On November 21, the Hanoi People’s High Court slightly reduced the sentence of Nguy Thi Khanh, an anti-coal activist and a leader of the environmental NGO GreenID, from 24 months to 21 months, according to Vietnam State media.
  • Khanh was also the first Vietnamese person to receive the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2018, which came with a US$200,000 award, for her significant contribution to reducing the number of coal-fired plants in Vietnam and her recommendation to help the country adopt greener and more sustainable energy alternatives. Khanh was imprisoned for two years on “tax evasion” charges last June. Many observers believe her sentence is politically motivated.
  • The Vietnamese prosecutors alleged that Khanh did not declare and pay income tax for the award money that she received in 2018. The court later concluded that she had evaded around 456 million dong ($18,400) in tax, although the environmental activist claimed that she was unaware of the tax obligation and later said she was willing to recompense the State. State-run media reported that the reduction of her sentence was due to her admission of failing to pay the tax and her contributions to society.
  • According to The 88 Project, an advocacy group for freedom of expression in Vietnam, the case of Khanh, along with that of Dang Dinh Bach and Mai Phan Loi, who were imprisoned on similar charges, has “[raised] flags of a widening crackdown on civil society groups that contradicts Vietnam’s public rhetoric on the importance of fighting climate change.”
  • “If Vietnam is serious about its commitments to an energy transition, it cannot continue to hold its most valuable environmental voices behind bars nor force NGOs to navigate perplexing tax laws,” the group noted.

Family of activist Trinh Ba Tu denounces prison for his maltreatment

  • Trinh Ba Khiem, the father of Vietnamese land rights activist Trinh Ba Tu, was allowed to visit his son on November 21 in Nghe An Prison No. 6 after Tu was denied family visitations for two months. He was reportedly beaten and shackled by prison authorities for petitioning against the prison’s maltreatment of Do Cong Duong, another political prisoner. Duong later passed away while in custody after being denied timely medical treatment by prison officials.
  • During a meeting with Tu, Khiem said that his son claimed the prison officials prohibited him from reporting that he was tortured there. Tu added that he initiated a hunger strike from September 6 to 28 to protest the maltreatment. The land rights activist reportedly lost nearly 10 kilograms after his hunger strike. It was also reported that he is being held in a prison cell with people who have tuberculosis.
  • In a Facebook update, Do Thi Thu, Tu’s sister-in-law, and Trinh Thi Thao, his sister, wrote that she and Thao came to the Nghe An Provincial People’s Procuracy on November 23 to push for an investigation into allegations of him being mistreated in Nghe An Prison. According to Thu, Le Quoc Bao, deputy director of the provincial People’s Procuracy, told her that he already went to the prison to investigate, but “there was no evidence that he was beaten while in custody.” Thu said she believed “the Nghe An People’s Procuracy has covered up for Detention Center No. 6.”
  • The family of Trinh Ba Tu previously sent a petition to the Nghe An Provincial People’s Procuracy on October 21 to demand an investigation into his alleged torture, but they received no reply from the authorities. They only received an answer from the Nghe An Province’s Procuracy on Nov. 17 after submitting another petition on November 4.

United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) is saddened about the passing of religious prisoner Phan Van Thu

  • In an email interview with VOA News, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) had raised concerns about the recent passing of religious prisoner Phan Van Thu in Gia Trung Prison, where he was held, on November 20.
  • In February 2013, Thu was sentenced to life on the charge of “carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the people’s administration.” He had suffered from diabetes, arthritis, hypertension, and heart failure before his death, according to information published by the USCIRF. The prison authorities reportedly did not provide Thu with timely and adequate medical treatment during his time in prison.
  • Phan Van Thu founded An Dan Dai Dao, a local Buddhist sect, in South Vietnam in 1969. After the Communist takeover in 1975, the An Dan Dai Dao sect was outlawed, and Thu was sentenced to eight years in prison. According to The 88 Project, the Buddhist group’s activities were not involved in politics. Their primary goal was to create a utopian society in which humanity lives in harmony with nature. The adherents of this Buddhist sect mainly practice their religion in the Da Bia Ecotourism Area, a religious site in Phu Yen Province.
  • Commissioner of the USCIRF, Frederick Davie, told VOA News in an email interview on November 22 that the religious freedom commission is saddened to learn of the passing of Phan Van Thu. Davie added that USCIRF has been urging the U.S. government, including the U.S. mission in Vietnam, to closely monitor and highlight the status of prisoners of religious conscience, in addition to advocating for their better medical care in prison and their release.
  • Many prisoners of conscience have raised concerns about the substandard conditions of Vietnamese prisons. Political prisoner Le Thi Binh, who recently completed her prison term on November 22 in An Phuoc Prison, Binh Duong Province, told RFA that Vietnamese inmates are subject to hard labor, malnourished meals and a lack of medical care while in custody.
  • Binh participated in peaceful protests against the draft Laws on Cybersecurity and Special Economic Zones in 2018. She was sentenced to two years in 2021 on charges of “abusing democratic freedoms” under Article 331 of Vietnam’s Penal Code for posting content critical of the government on social media.
  • Meanwhile, the family of Huynh Truong Ca, another prisoner of conscience currently being held at Xuan Loc Prison, Dong Nai Province, told RFA in an interview that he needs to have urgent surgery to remove acne in the groin, but the prison’s doctor has not scheduled an appointment for him to be examined. Pham Thi Tam, Ca’s wife, said he is frail and cannot walk on his own without the help of a correctional officer.
  • Huynh Truong Ca was arrested in September 2018 while on the way from Tien Giang Province to Ho Chi Minh City to participate in a rally organized by members of Hien Phap (Constitution), a group of activists advocating for the amendment of Vietnam’s Constitution. He was later sentenced to five and a half years on the charge of “distributing anti-State propaganda” under Article 117 of the Penal Code. Ca reportedly initiated a hunger strike in 2019 to protest Xuan Loc Prison’s lack of medical treatment.

Former journalist Nguyen Tuong Thuy receives the 2022 Human Rights Prize from Vietnam Human Rights Network

  • RFA reported that former Vietnamese journalist Nguyen Tuong Thuy was among seven activists to be awarded the 2022 Human Rights Prize by the U.S.-based Vietnam Human Rights Network (VNRN). Thuy, the co-founder of The Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam (IJAVN), a press freedom advocate, is serving an 11-year sentence on charges of “distributing anti-State propaganda.” The VNRN announced the results in a press statement on November 20.
  • This year, the VNRN human rights award was also given to the dissident poet Tran Duc Thach, who received a 12-year sentence after being convicted of “conducting activities aimed at overthrowing people’s administration.”
  • The other prize recipients this year include Vietnamese activist Luu Van Vinh, founder of the pro-democracy Vietnam National Self-Determination Coalition (VNSDC), along with four other members of the VNSDC, Nguyen Quoc Hoan, Nguyen Van Duc Do, Tu Cong Nghia, and Phan Trung. A Ho Chi Minh City court gave Vinh a 15-year sentence in 2018 on “subversion” charges; other members of the VNSDC received sentences ranging from one to eight years in prison.
  • “They fought with their own lives for human rights and democracy,” Nguyen Ba Tung, executive director of VHRN, told RFA in an interview. “Poet Tran Duc Thach and journalist Nguyen Tuong Thuy used their pens to non-violently express their aspirations.”
  • “Luu Van Vinh and his friends in the Vietnam National Coalition for Self-Determination called on the Communist Party of Vietnam to return the right of national self-determination to the entire [Vietnamese] people so that the people have the full right to choose the political system that they want,” Tung added.

Protests against Vingroup erupt as Vietnamese developers face debt maturities

  • Customers of Vingroup, Vietnam’s biggest real estate developer, have staged protests across the country opposing the company’s intransparent financial reports and violation of their land purchase contracts. Vietnam’s State-owned media have not reported on these incidents.
  • Previously, on November 15, a group of Vingroup customers were seen protesting in front of the company’s headquarters in Hanoi after they were not paid the interest disbursement on their investment in the Vinpearl RiverFront Condotel, a hotel project of Vingroup located in Da Nang. Vingroup’s customers demanded the real estate developer pay their investment and interest payment. Several protesters were seen assaulted by Vingroup security guards and plain clothesmen when they were gathering and chanting slogans denouncing the company for fraud and deceit.
  • On November 23, customers of Vingroup were seen protesting the company’s housing project, Vin Grand World, located on Phu Quoc Island. According to the protesters, the construction was not carried out following the original planning as agreed in the contract, which made it difficult for them to do business and live there. Vingroup has reportedly cut back on several items of the infrastructure project, possibly due to financial strains. There was a heavy presence of Vingroup guards and riot police at the scene.
  • According to a recent report from Bloomberg, while besieged by a regulatory crackdown, Vietnamese real estate developers are facing a “funding squeeze and a historic stock meltdown” amid the government's probe into corruption and mismanagement of the real estate sector. Bloomberg wrote that the crackdown has “[pummeled domestic debt sales and [turned] local stocks into the world’s worst-performing major benchmark.”

Vietnamese couple imprisoned on charges of “abusing democratic freedoms” on their  Youtube channel

  • A Vietnamese court in Dong Nai Province on November 22 sentenced a Vietnamese couple to prison on the charge of “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe on the State and individuals’ interests” under Article 331 of the  Penal Code, RFA reported.
  • Nguyen Thai Hung, a local Youtuber running his personal channel called “Telling the Truth TV,” where he discussed multiple social and political issues in Vietnam, received a four-year prison sentence. At the same time, Vu Thi Kim Hoang, Hung’s wife, received a two-and-a-half-year sentence on the same charge. RFA reported that both were tried without the presence of a lawyer.
  • Hoang, 44, told RFA that she and Hung first hired lawyer Nguyen Van Mieng as their defense lawyer, but they had to dismiss their lawyer after being pressured by the police. Hoang added that although the trial was open to the public, only their daughter was allowed inside the courtroom, while other relatives had to remain at the building entrance.
  • According to the indictment via RFA, from June 2020 to January 2022, Hung used his YouTube channel to host 21 online discussions that contained content “speaking badly of the [Communist] Party and the State, distorting the government’s socio-economic policy, slandering the Party and State’s high-level leaders, and distorting recent high-profile incidents.” Meanwhile, Hoang was accused of “being a related and supportive person” for providing Hung with accommodations and letting him use her laptop and access her bank account.
  • It was reported that Hoang admitted the acts in court, while Hung pleaded innocent, claiming that he was exercising his right to freedom of speech and democratic rights by live-streaming his talks on YouTube.

Vietnam Insight: Learn more about Vietnam

Vietnamese cybersecurity law reveals Hanoi’s “obsession with control”

Southeast Asia Globe/ Govi Snell/ Nov. 23

“Since the internet became increasingly accessible in Vietnam starting in the early 2000s, the Vietnamese Communist Party has struggled to silence online dissent. In response, the government is tightening its grip on the internet. About four years after policymakers approved the Law on Cybersecurity in June 2018, the state released a guiding decree for the implementation of the law.

The government unveiled Decree 53 on August 15. It states tech companies must store user information – including financial records, biometric data, ethnicity and political views – within Vietnam for a minimum of two years. If users post something deemed to violate government guidelines, authorities have the right to issue data collection requests.”

Agent Orange in Vietnam: lingering pain and injustice

New Mandala/ Phan Xuan Dung/ Nov. 21

“Decades after the spraying stopped, Agent Orange continues to inflict pain on presumably millions of people. Those directly exposure to dioxin might contract chronic ailments such as cancer and diabetes, while their descendants have a high chance of suffering from severe disabilities. Vietnam claims 4.8 million victims, 3 million of whom are debilitated by the health effects of Agent Orange. There are now up to four generations of victims in Vietnam, and for all we know, the inter-generational transmission of effects will continue. Hundreds of thousands of American, South Korean, Australian, and New Zealand veterans and their children also experience health conditions linked to dioxin exposure.”

The Quiet Evolution of Vietnam’s Digital Authoritarianism

The Diplomat/ Gerard McDermott, Alice Larsson/ Nov. 19

“Control over social media platforms is a demanding yet politically vital matter for the VCP. As Vietnam’s internet penetration climbs to over 70 percent, due in large part to its growing youth population, the use of social media platforms such as Facebook and YouTube is also on the rise. The struggle between the VCP and Facebook peaked in 2020, when Facebook’s servers in Vietnam were taken offline for several weeks in a bid to force compliance with the country’s new censorship legislation. Faced with the prospect of being shut down entirely in a market reportedly worth $1 billion in annual revenue, Facebook eventually bowed to the government’s pressure, setting a dangerous precedent for the severe curbing of online expression.”

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