- Vietnam’s State-owned media has remained silent about the mass protests across China in protest against the Chinese government’s draconian zero-COVID policy. Hundreds of people, on rare occasions, have taken to the streets of China in recent weeks to protest the government-imposed lockdowns and travel restrictions. Many were heard calling for President Xi Jinping and the Chinese Communist Party to step down.
- According to observers, Hanoi is censoring the news because it wants to avoid upsetting Beijing. Vietnam is China’s fellow Communist comrade, and it is also one of Beijing’s key trading partners. Reporting about the protests have either been restricted or scrubbed off State-owned newspapers and television channels. But according to RFA sources, news, videos and images about the anti-lockdown demonstrations in China have been widely circulated on Vietnam’s social media.
- Vietnamese authorities are also worried that similar mass demonstrations could break out in the country.. In recent weeks, bank depositors have staged protests across the country, although on a smaller scale compared to China, to demand payments from Saigon Commercial Bank (SCB) and securities firms after the arrests of real estate tycoons for alleged financial fraud.
- Vietnamese police also started to oppress bank demonstrators. A video published on November 30 showed plainclothes agents and security forces brutally forcing peaceful protestors rallying in front of an SCB branch in Danang City onto a bus. It’s unclear where these demonstrators were taken to. A similar rally occurred in front of another SCB branch in Ho Chi Minh City on November 1 and was also met with police suppression.
Phu Yen Provincial authorities harass and prevent a local Protestant missionary from meeting U.S. Consulate diplomats on religious affairs
- VOA News reported that Vietnam’s Phu Yen provincial authorities harassed a local ethnic minority Protestant in Song Hinh District and later confiscated his motorbike to prevent him from meeting diplomats on religious affairs from the U.S. Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City.
- Nay Y Blang, 46, a Montagnard Evangelical Church of Christ missionary, a local Protestant sect, told VOA News that he was previously scheduled to meet U.S. diplomats to discuss the repression of religious freedom in Vietnam on September 30 in Ho Chi Minh City. However, local security forces barred Blang from leaving when he arrived at the Phu Lam bus station in Tuy Hoa City on September 29 to board a bus for the meeting.
- The Protestant missionary added that he was being watched “everytime and everywhere” after he attended another meeting with diplomats from the U.S. Consulate in August.
- Blang, who lives in Song Hinh District, later received a 4 million dong (US$164) fine for “gathering people” at his home to practice their religious faith after being barred from attending the meeting on September 30. It’s believed that local authorities fined him as a form of punishment. After Blang refused to pay the fine, the Phu Yen government reportedly sent an estimated 300 people, including police and district officials, to search his house and confiscate his motorbike. Blang told VOA News that the authorities did not provide a record regarding confiscating his vehicle.
- Cong An Nhan Dan (People’s Police) newspaper, a mouthpiece of Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security, called the Evangelical Church of Christ, a “reactionary organization” that “takes advantage of issues such as democracy, human rights, ethnicity and religion to defy Vietnam.” But in another interview with RFA, Blang said that he does not “oppose the State” by joining this religious organization and that his only purpose is to “worship God.”
- Protestant Pastor A Dao, who was imprisoned for four years due to his advocacy of religious freedom in Vietnam, told VOA News that the Phu Yen authorities prohibited the adherents of the Evangelical Church of Christ from worshiping and practicing their belief. The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) had raised alarms over the Phu Yen authorities’ harassment of the followers of this Protestant sect. The USCIRF in May 2021 called on the local authorities “to allow the church to practice their faith without government interference.”
Former political prisoner Nguyen Thi Hue says she was sexually harassed and maltreated in custody
- Nguyen Thi Hue, a former political prisoner from Ia Hrung Village, Ia Grai District, Gia Lai Province, told RFA in an interview that a correctional officer sexually harassed her while in custody and that she was maltreated in prison after reporting the harassment to detention center’s officials.
- Hue was arrested in March 2019 for “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe on the State and individuals’ interests” under Article 331 of Vietnam’s 2015 Penal Code. The Gia Lai Provincial Investigation Agency alleged that Hue had posted, shared, and commented on articles that contained information distorting the guidance and the policies of the state and the party. She served two years and six months in prison before being released in June 2021.
- Hue told RFA that she was sexually harassed by a correctional officer named Son while held in Ia Grai District Temporary Detention Center awaiting her trial. She said that Son once came to her detention cell and ordered her to strip off her clothes.
- The alleged officer left after Hue yelled at him, but he returned to her detention area the next day and fired two live shots, one into her cell and the other into the cell next door. Hue was not injured, but she said the detention officials covered up the incident and later mistreated her in custody as a punishment.
- The Ia Grai Police Department did not respond to RFA’s request for comment. RFA also contacted attorney Nguyen Duy Binh, Hue’s defense lawyer, to verify her claims, but the attorney refused to comment.
- Ill-treatment and substandard living conditions remain prevalent in Vietnamese prisons. The religious prisoner Phan Van Thu, who was sentenced to life in the Vietnamese government’s campaign to crack down on independent religious groups, passed away in prison on November 20, 2022, as an indirect result of such maltreatment. Other former political prisoners also claimed that inmates are subject to hard labor, malnourished meals and a lack of medical treatment while in custody.
Vietnamese government ignores appeals for the release of political prisoner Tran Huynh Duy Thuc
- RFA reported that the Vietnamese authorities had ignored the latest petition from the family of Tran Huy Duy Thuc, a Vietnamese engineer who received a 16-year sentence on “subversion” charges, to release him from prison. Thuc’s family has sent many petitions to the authorities demanding his freedom, but their requests have fallen on deaf ears.
- Previously, on November 4, Thuc’s father, Tran Van Huynh, sent an application to President Nguyen Xuan Phuc asking him to exempt Thuc from the remaining two years and six months in prison and to drop his probation term because, according to the 2015 Penal Code, Thuc had already served the maximum sentence for the crime he was charged.
- Tran Huynh Duy Tan, Thuc’s brother, told RFA in an interview that although his brother sent multiple petitions to Vietnamese leaders and government offices to demand them to respect the law and release him as he had already served the maximum terms, the prison authorities only allowed the family to send one of Thuc’s petitions to the People’s Supreme Court.
- “They didn't deny it, but they didn't reply either,” Tan told RFA. “The State of Vietnam’s declaration to build a rule-of-law state must be based on respecting the law and legal procedures, and [they must] release Thuc.”
- Thuc’s family is particularly concerned about his health. The political prisoner has reportedly initiated a series of hunger strikes, which lasted for 100 days, to demand his release, improve prison conditions, and protest police maltreatment following his arrest.
- On November 29, Vietnam’s State media reported that the Ho Chi Minh City People’s Procuracy approved the two-month extension of detention of Nguyen Phuong Hang, a popular social media influencer, to investigate allegations of her committing defamation further. Hang was previously arrested on charges of “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe on State and individuals’ interests under Article 331 of the Penal Code.
- Nguyen Phuong Hang is a businesswoman who managed Dai Nam Amusement Park, one of the biggest theme parks in Southeast Asia. Before her arrest on March 24, 2022, she regularly live-streamed talk shows on her personal social media account, which at times drew hundreds of thousands of viewers, to discuss and reveal unverified personal secrets of popular Vietnamese entertainers and even State journalists. The authorities have prolonged Hang’s detention period several times since her arrest.
- According to The 88 Project, an advocate for freedom of speech in Vietnam, although the businesswoman is not involved in any civil rights activism and the content of her live streams was controversial, Hang should not be penalized for her commentary. The legal code used to prosecute Hang, Article 331, is also vaguely defined and has often been used to silence critics of the Vietnamese government.
Analysis: Vietnam’s anti-graft crackdown chills supply chains, investment
“While fighting bribery is broadly considered positive in the long-term, short-term disruptions can paralyse business, especially if enforcement is seen as opaque and politically driven.
As investigations multiply, officials fear they could be caught if they inadvertently break the rules, which are often badly written and hard to interpret.
The procurement and licensing problems currently in the pharmaceutical sector follow high-ranking officials' arrests last year for purchasing COVID-19 treatments at inflated prices and for graft in the organisation of repatriation flights for Vietnamese citizens stranded abroad during the pandemic.”
Vietnam Insight: Learn more about Vietnam
Fulcrum/ Lye Liang Fook, Ha Hoang Hop/ December 1
“The outcomes of high-level bilateral exchanges between Vietnam and the United States should also not be over-hyped. There are generally two main drivers of the U.S.-Vietnam relationship. The first driver is the benefits that would accrue to the two countries arising from their cooperation. The second driver is the two countries’ common threat perception of China. At times, however, Vietnam finds itself in an unenviable position of having to dispel the perception that it is drawing closer to China. Not long after Trong’s China visit, Vietnam made it a point to announce that it would cooperate closely with the United States to prepare for a telephone conversation between Trong and U.S. President Joseph Biden. It added that the two countries would arrange a high-level visit at a suitable time and when conditions allow. In essence, Vietnam’s latest overtures towards Washington are less about drawing closer to the U.S. but about managing perceptions that it is inclining too close to China.”
Southeast Asia Globe/ Tuyen Tran/ November 1
“As China continues to extend its influence on Laos and Cambodia with projects such as the Belt Road Forum, an international political and economic cooperation that provides an attractive financial support tool, the Asian superpower’s increasing influence is causing concerns for Vietnam.
If its neighbours side with China, Vietnam will be isolated around its land border, and vulnerable from a geopolitical perspective. The powerful communist country is also unafraid to signal to the international community that its military presence is increasing in strength.”