Vietnam Briefing Dec. 12, 2022: On Human Rights Day 2022, Vietnam’s Situation Continues to Deteriorate

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

Vietnam Briefing Dec. 12, 2022: On Human Rights Day 2022, Vietnam’s Situation Continues to Deteriorate
Vietnamese civil society leader Dang Dinh Bach (right) reportedly went on a hunger strike in prison to draw international attention to his case; Safeguard Defenders’ latest investigation says that China has a clandestine police service station in Vietnam (left). Photo: Dang Dinh Bach/ Safeguard Defenders.

Vietnamese environmental leader Dang Dinh Bach initiated a hunger strike to call for his release

  • Tran Phuong Thao, wife of civil society leader Dang Dinh Bach told RFA on December 7 that her husband had carried out a six-day hunger strike in prison last month to draw international attention to his case. Bach told his wife that he believed his case was politically motivated.
  • “He went on a hunger strike from November 24 to November 29,” Thao said, adding that her husband wanted UN responsible organizations to conclude his arbitrary arrest by the Vietnamese government and demand immediate release and compensation. This is the third time that Bach has gone on a hunger strike. His first time was last January to demand a fair trial before his hearing. The second was in July and lasted for 24 days.
  • Dang Dinh Bach was the director of a nonprofit organization called the Research Center for Law and Policy for Sustainable Development (LSPD). He was imprisoned for five years in January 2021 on alleged “tax evasion” charges.
  • Thao said further that when she visited Bach in prison in October and November that correctional officers closely monitored their conversations, and they were only allowed to talk about health and family affairs. According to The 88 Project, Bach said in one of the family visitations that he lost 22 pounds since his arrest and currently weighs only around 110 pounds.

Dak Lak Provincial Police threaten the wife of political blogger Dang Dang Phuoc for sharing information about her husband on social media

  • RFA reported that police in Buon Ma Thuot City, Dak Lak Province, had threatened Le Thi Ha, wife of Vietnamese political prisoner Dang Dang Phuoc, a former music teacher, for sharing information about her husband on social media.
  • Ha, who works in a local kindergarten, told RFA in an interview that she began to share details about her husband and other social issues in Vietnam on her personal Facebook account after Phuoc was arrested last September. Ha said that the police told her she should stop sharing information about her husband’s detention or she could be fired from her work at the kindergarten.
  • Dang Dang Phuoc was arrested on September 8 on charges of “distributing anti-State propaganda” under Article 117 of Vietnam’s Penal Code. Phuoc is known for his posts on social media criticizing the Vietnamese government’s abysmal human rights situation and other social issues.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders raises concerns about the torture of land rights activist Trinh Ba Tu

  • In an urgent petition made on December 8, The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of the World Organization Against Torture (OMCT), and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), condemned the acts of torture and ill-treatment committed by the Vietnamese authorities against land rights activist Trinh Ba Tu. Tu was convicted and sentenced to eight years on charges of “distributing anti-State propaganda” under Article 117 of Vietnam’s 2015 Penal Code in 2021.
  • The appeal was jointly sent to Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh, Minister of Foreign Affairs Bui Thanh Son, and other relevant government officials.
  • The Observatory added that Tu’s mother, Can Thi Theu, and his brother, Trinh Ba Phuong, were also arbitrarily arrested, tried, and convicted under Article 117 of the Penal Code in 2021.
  • The petition noted that Tu was only allowed to see his father, Trinh Ba Khiem, for the first time on November 21. Khiem was denied access to his son three times when he visited Nghe An Prison No. 6. The prison authorities claimed Tu was barred from receiving family visits for allegedly violating prison regulations. He also started a hunger strike to protest his maltreatment in prison.
  • In their petition, The Observatory urged the Vietnamese authorities to “stop misusing Article 117 of the Criminal Code to prosecute human rights defenders and silence dissent in Vietnam,” “immediately and unconditionally release Trinh Ba Tu, Can Thi Theu, and Trinh Ba Phuong,” and “carry out an immediate, thorough, transparent, and impartial investigation into the alleged acts of torture and ill-treatment against Trinh Ba Tu and Trinh Ba Phuong,” among other things.

Safeguard Defenders report: China has a police service station in Vietnam

  • According to a report titled “Patrol and Persuade,” published on December 5 by Safeguard Defenders, a Madrid-based human rights advocate, Chinese authorities have established 102 overseas police service stations in at least 53 countries worldwide, including one office based in Vietnam.
  • “Patrol and Persuade” is a follow-up investigation of an earlier report, 110 Overseas – China’s Transnational Policing Gone Wild, which Safeguard Defenders also published. These illicit police stations, according to the human rights advocate, are deployed to “harass, threaten, intimidate and force targets to return to China for persecution.”
  • More notably, these clandestine police offices are not directly controlled by the Chinese central government but by provincial police jurisdictions. They are under the control of public security bureaus of four mainland Chinese jurisdictions of Nantong, Wenzhou, Qingtian, and Fuzhou. The Nantong Public Security Bureau reportedly manages the police station located in Vietnam. The location of this office remains unclear.
  • According to the report, China also has secret police offices in other Asian countries such as Japan, Indonesia, South Korea, Cambodia, and Myanmar. VOA News reported that the Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Chinese Embassy in Hanoi did not respond to requests for a comment regarding the report by Safeguard Defenders.

Vietnam holds its first large-scale arms expo in Hanoi

  • Vietnam held its first large-scale defense expo, Vietnam International Defence Expo 2022, in Hanoi starting on December 8.  The Southeast Asian nation is seeking to globalize and diversify its arms supply and defense systems, which traditionally relied on Russian products, amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Vietnam’s procurement of Russian arms has plummeted from US$1.06 billion in 2014 to US$9 million in 2020, according to data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), which tracks global military transfers.
  • According to Reuters, the arms fair attracted 174 exhibitors from 30 countries. China did not participate in the expo, which lasted until December 10.
  • According to a Reuters analysis, Vietnam is increasingly turning to arms suppliers from Europe, East Asia, India, Israel and the United States as the country strives to become more self-sufficient in obtaining advanced military equipment. According to experts, the country is also boosting its domestic arms-producing capability with support from Israel and other partners, hoping to export weapons in the future.
  • Ha Hoang Hop, a military procurement expert and visiting fellow at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, told Reuters that possible buyers for Vietnamese-produced arms would likely be Vietnam’s neighbor, Laos, and African countries, where it could offer competitive prices.
  • Meanwhile, Carlyle Thayer, a veteran Vietnam watcher, told RFA that a national defense industry is a major resolution of the Vietnamese Communist Party. “Weapons industry is costly to develop, and the way to reduce unit costs is to try to sell the products elsewhere besides domestic consumption,” said Thayer. He added that such arms fairs could help Vietnamese companies find potential buyers.

Vietnam upgrades relation with South Korea to “comprehensive strategic partnership”

  • During a three-day state visit to South Korea from December 4 to 6, Vietnamese President Nguyen Xuan Phuc announced that Hanoi would elevate its ties with Seoul to a “comprehensive strategic partnership” given the achievement of “broad and meaningful growth milestones” between the two countries, according to State media. So far, Vietnam has established this special partnership with only three nations, China, Russia, and India.
  • Analysts believe that the growing rivalry between the United States and China fosters the strategic relationship between Vietnam and South Korea. “As growing middle powers in the Asia-Pacific region, South Korea and Vietnam have been targeted and induced by both Washington and Beijing,” Huynh Tam Sang, a lecturer at Vietnam National University, told RFA.
  • South Korea played an active role during the Vietnam War. There are allegations of atrocities committed by South Korean troops during that time, with its military accused of killing thousands of civilians in South Vietnam. The voices of the victims of these massacres are often unheard of due to a variety of reasons, ranging from the complicated historical context in both countries to Hanoi’s preference for closer economic cooperation with Seoul rather than seeking justice for war victims.
  • Huynh Tam Sang said that although Vietnam maintains strong ties with Japan, it has chosen to elevate ties with Seoul instead of Tokyo because Hanoi wanted to avoid unnecessarily upsetting China. “As Japan forges ties with the United States while being critical about China’s assertive diplomacy, upgrading ties with Tokyo could draw Hanoi into a delicate and unpleasant position,” Sang added.

Vietnam’s human rights situation ‘continues to deteriorate,’ according to civil society groups

  • The Vietnam Interfaith Council, a civil society organization advocating for human rights in Vietnam, in an open letter, joined four overseas organizations calling on Hanoi to respect its commitment to upholding human rights, RFA reported. The letter was issued on December 6, ahead of the 74th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on December 10.
  • “According to domestic and international NGOs, the human rights situation in Vietnam continues to deteriorate,” the letter said. “Politically, the country remains a one-party system under the communist party, and the Vietnamese leadership has no intention of considering nor accepting any change to its authoritarian model.
  • Le Quang Hien, a member of the Vietnam Interfaith Council, who is also a senior official of the Pure Hoa Hao Buddhist Church, a local religious sect, told RFA that the Vietnamese authorities constantly harass the Hoa Hao Buddhist Church. Pure Hoa Hao is a fringe Buddhist sect not recognized by the government. Therefore, the church cannot hold religious ceremonies.
  • “The situation of human rights, as in previous years, is not respected, particularly for my religion,” Hien said.
  • On December 2, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced that Vietnam has been added to the U.S. State Department’s Special Watch List for “engaging in or tolerating severe violations of religious freedom.” Blinken said further that the United States “will continue to carefully monitor the status of freedom of religion or belief in every country around the world” and “advocate for those facing religious persecution or discrimination.”

Vietnam Insight: Learn more about Vietnam

Vietnam to block ads on 'toxic' online content in further crackdown

Nikkei Asia/ Lien Hoang/ December 9

“Vietnam is drafting a blacklist of websites -- including individual user accounts on YouTube and Facebook -- that will be barred from receiving advertising revenue if they are deemed to have posted anti-government or otherwise ‘toxic’ content.

Hanoi said it will ‘strictly punish’ companies that advertise on such sites, move campaigners fear will add to a climate of less "free expression than ever.’”

Can Hanoi Afford the Reputational Costs of Friendship with Myanmar’s Military Regime?

Fulcrum/ Bich Tran/ December 8

“Hanoi wants to have its cake and eat it, too. It wishes to enhance its international image and reputation but refrains from defending universal norms and values to protect its economic interests and domestic regime. At this juncture, Hanoi needs to reconcile its behaviour with its aspiration. It could either maintain the current approach towards Myanmar and undermine Vietnam’s ambition to elevate its international status, or work with other ASEAN members to ensure that the junta stops oppressing its people.”

Vietnam in the South Pacific: Dynamics for Strategic Cooperation

The Diplomat/ Nguyen Minh Quang, James Borton/ December 5

“The recent visit of Vietnam’s National Assembly Chairman Vuong Dinh Hue to Australia and New Zealand sheds new light on the country’s post-COVID foreign policy. One the one hand, Hue’s visits to the largest economies in the South Pacific matches the momentum of their bilateral relations. Just like the U.S.-Vietnamese ties, bilateral relations between Vietnam and the two biggest US allies in Oceania have turned from foe to friend in recent decades.

Australia and New Zealand have provided numerous aid programs to help nation-building and support a stronger Vietnam. The soft power of these countries in Vietnam could be found in [the] education sector, where Australia and New Zealand are among the largest donors for educational reforms.”

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