Vietnam Briefing Jan. 2, 2023: Blogger Nguyen Nhu Phuong Imprisoned Under Article 117; High-Profile Officials Dismissed from Communist Party’s Central Committee

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

Vietnam Briefing Jan. 2, 2023: Blogger Nguyen Nhu Phuong Imprisoned Under Article 117; High-Profile Officials Dismissed from Communist Party’s Central Committee
Blogger Nguyen Nhu Phuong (left) was sentenced to five years under “anti-State” charges; Deputy Prime Minister Vu Duc Dam and Vietnamese Foreign Affairs Minister Pham Binh Minh (right) were dismissed from the Communist Party’s Central Committee. Photo credit: Nguyen Nhu Phuong, Facebook account via RFA/ Phap Luat Online.

Vietnamese blogger Nguyen Nhu Phuong sentenced to 5 years on “anti-State” charges

  • On December 26, the An Giang Provincial People’s Court held a trial for Nguyen Nhu Phuong, a Vietnamese blogger, on charges of “making, storing, and distributing anti-State materials” under Article 117 of Vietnam’s Penal Code. Phuong was subsequently sentenced to five-year imprisonment and three-year probation.
  • Phuong, 31, resides in Ba Ria - Vung Tau Province. He studied in Japan in 2014 and later opened a convenience store selling imported Japanese products in Vietnam. The Vietnamese blogger regularly used his personal Facebook account as a platform to raise concerns about multiple political and social issues in Vietnam.
  • According to the indictment mentioned in State media, Phuong had used his social media account to “publish information, documents, images, and audio files containing content” that “distorts the guidelines and policies of the Party and State; incites opposition against the Party and State; and offends the honor and dignity of individuals and organizations.”
  • Last year, Phuong uploaded a recording on his Facebook account in which Col. Dinh Van Noi, the police head of An Giang Province, was heard talking to an official from the province’s Party committee. In the recording, that police officer claimed defiantly that he rejected an order from his superior to bar local people from returning to the province to stop the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. At the time, hundreds of thousands of migrant workers were flocking out of Ho Chi Minh City to return to their hometowns after the Vietnamese government lifted its months-long draconian lockdowns. Social media users widely shared the recording in Vietnam.
  • Police of An Giang Province claimed that the recording was “modified,” damaging Col. Dinh Van Noi's reputation and adversely affecting the province's security, public order, pandemic prevention and control policy. At that time, the Vietnamese government used the police to prevent residents from returning to their hometowns, fearing the virus could be spread among these localities. This policy created a humanitarian crisis when people were prevented from traveling from place to place. The defiance was a rare move in Vietnam’s top-down political system.
  • The Vietnamese authorities arrested Phuong on August 30 under the allegation of “illegally possessing and using narcotics.” He was additionally indicted under Article 117 on September 29. According to Dang Dinh Manh, Phuong’s lawyer, the trial on “anti-State” charges lasted about two hours. Phuong has been transported back to Ba Ria - Vung Tau Province to be further investigated for narcotics-related charges.

Another Vietnamese Facebook user was sentenced on the charge of “abusing democratic freedoms”

  • Phan Van Phu, 42, a Vietnamese Facebook user from Ben Tre Province, was sentenced to two years and three months for “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe on the State and individuals’ legitimate rights” under Article 331 of the Penal Code. A court announced the verdict in Binh Tan District, Ho Chi Minh City. Vietnam’s State media reported on the trial results on December 26.
  • According to the indictment, since 2015, Phan Van Phu has created and managed a Facebook account named Gau Dai ca (Big Brother Bear). From December 2021 to May 2022, Phu published five articles, which the authorities claimed had content that “seriously offended the honor, reputation, and dignity of Party and government leaders.” The published articles were classified as “containing defamatory information,” violating Section 3, Article 16 of the 2018 Cybersecurity Law.
  • Vietnam has regularly used Article 117 of the Penal Code to prosecute social media users who criticize the government and State leaders. The law is vaguely defined and could be used to stifle freedom of expression. According to a database from The 88 Project, an advocate for speech freedom in Vietnam, 60 people are detained or imprisoned under Article 331.

Freedom of Religion in Vietnam: What happened last week?

  • Police in Vietnam’s Dak Lak Province detain Protestant Montagnards as they attend a Christmas service

RFA reported that the police in Vietnam’s Dak Lak Province detained two Montagnard Christians, including religious freedom advocate Y An Hdrue, as they tried to attend a Christmas service of the Evangelical Church of Christ, a local Protestant sect. This Protestant church is an independent religious organization that the Fatherland Front of Vietnam does not control.

According to RFA via the Montagnard Stand for Justice Facebook page, on the morning of December 25, Y An Hdrue, 52, and a fellow worshiper, Y Pok Eban, 37, travelled to Cuor Knia 2 Village in Buon Don District’s Ea Bar Commune to attend a Christmas service at the invitation of the church. But the traffic police stopped them as soon as they arrived, demanding to see their vehicle documents and driver’s licenses.

“[When we were] going to the gas station near Cuor Knia Village, the traffic police and security forces stopped our motorbike and asked to check our papers,” Hdrue told RFA. “After checking our papers, they said they were fake. They forced us into the commune. We were held from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. before we were allowed to go home.”.

The police also confiscated the men’s phones and searched the content. Y An Hdrue told RFA his phone contained the International Human Rights Law and Vietnam’s Law on Religion and Belief and some documents reporting human rights violations in Vietnam that he had collected and sent to foreign human rights groups. Y An Hdrue admitted that he stored information about human rights violations in Vietnam on his phone. The police returned their papers and ordered them to drive home while keeping their phones.

The local security officers also ordered other members of this Protestant church not to attend the religious ceremony, according to Pastor Aga of the Central Highlands Evangelical Church of Christ. “The Provincial Police called to threaten them, saying that if they left their homes to go to Cuor Knia Village [...], they would be sent to prison, making them very scared and confused,” he said. “Some people still went and some had their phones and motorbikes confiscated.”

Meanwhile, according to the Hmong Human Rights Coalition, a Bangkok-based group advocating for the human rights of Hmong ethnic minorities in Vietnam, the policemen from Pa Co Commune, Mai Chau District in Vietnam’s northern Hoa Binh Province, also disrupted and harassed Hmong Christian adherents as they were gathering and singing hymns at a local house. The incident reportedly took place at 10 a.m. on December 26. The police chief of Pa Co Commune said in the video that singing hymns outside the government’s designated locations was against the law.

  • Binh Duong authorities ignore reports from Falun Gong practitioners, who claim police beat them

RFA reported on December 27 that more than a dozen Falun Gong practitioners in Di An Ward, Binh Duong Province, claimed that the local police department had deployed security forces and plainclothes agents to harass and attack them when they were gathering to practice their religion. The Binh Duong authorities did not respond to their multiple urgent reports on the incidents.

One of the Falun Gong practitioners who were attacked asked to remain anonymous, told RFA that the police harassed and disturbed their practice previously on July 18 and 19 as they were gathering in Green Square Park, Binh Duong Province. The harassment occurred one week after the group resumed regular exercises following a four-year deferral. According to the unnamed source, the breakout of COVID-19 and the government’s suppression are the main reasons for the postponement.

Specifically, the unnamed practitioner said that on July 18 and 19, when the practitioners were practicing in the park, security officers and plainclothes police suddenly came and confiscated their meditation mats. They also arrested a practitioner named Linh and brought him to the police station to get personal information. The practitioners recognized these people as officials from Di An Ward, Di An City, Binh Duong Province. On July 20, when the practitioners were gathering again at the park, local authorities sent around 30 policemen and plainclothes security forces there to distribute leaflets smearing the founder and practitioners of Falun Gong. After distributing the leaflets, the security forces attacked them. All Falun Gong practitioners were pushed into a bus and transported to the Di An Ward Police Station.

On Aug. 29, seven Falun Gong practitioners who were beaten co-wrote an urgent letter to the Binh Duong Provincial administration to resolve the case. On September 29, they submitted another “urgent petition,” but the case has still not been resolved. The unnamed practitioner told RFA that the group decided to publicize information regarding the crackdown after Binh Duong authorities ignored their petitions for nearly four months.

Falun Gong groups all across Vietnam have met with suppression from the government. Practitioners of another Falun Gong group in the central city of Da Nang were also assaulted by plainclothes police on October 18. Meanwhile, members of this group in Da Lat were harassed by local police when they were gathering to practice last April and September. The group members in Da Lat sent a report on the harassment to the local authorities last April, but their case has also not been ignored.

Vietnamese Foreign Affairs Minister Pham Binh Minh and Deputy Prime Minister Vu Duc Dam were dismissed from the Communist Party Central Committee

  • After an extraordinary session of the Central Committee of the Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP) on December 30, the Vietnamese Foreign Affairs Minister Pham Binh Minh, and Deputy Prime Minister Vu Duc Dam were dismissed from their positions in the committee, according to Vietnam’s State-owned media.
  • The dismissal was believed to result from their involvement in managing and organizing the homebound flights of Vietnamese citizens stranded abroad during the COVID-19 pandemic, which was mired in corruption and led to the arrests of many high-profile officials in the foreign ministry.
  • The Central Committee is an influential political organ which gathers the most powerful members of the VCP. According to the VCP’s charter, the Central Committee meets every six months but can gather more often if necessary. The meetings are officially called plenary sessions, and the extra meetings are called extraordinary sessions.
  • According to State media, the Central Committee has suggested to Politburo two new members to replace Pham Binh Minh and Vu Duc Dam. The results are expected to be announced at the second extraordinary session of the committee, which begins on January 5, 2023.

Vietnam considers banning performing artists for lawbreaking and immorality


“Vietnam is considering a clampdown on performing artists who make what it considers to be ‘false statements’ online or offend public morality through their words and actions.

Nguyen Thi Thanh Huyen, who works in the Department of Radio, Television and Electronic Information at the Ministry of Information and Communications, said her ministry had asked the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism to come up with a series of punishments, including a ban on performing live, online or on radio and television, according to the Thanh Nien newspaper.

Other sanctions being considered include blocking artists’ social media channels and cutting off their advertising income.”

Vietnam Insight: Learn more about Vietnam

In Vietnam, the mighty Mekong’s banks are crumbling as illegal sand miners run riot

South China Morning Post/ Sen Nguyen/ Dec. 26

“Sand mining is eating away at the foundations of the Mekong Delta, with a report last month from Vietnam’s Department of Climate Change and France’s government-run French Development Agency finding that the practice had done more to alter sediment flows in the river than even hydropower dams – many of which are in China and have been blamed for worsening droughts downstream. Many researchers have also warned about sediment being trapped upstream and in tributary dams.”

The Domestic Political Optics of Vietnam’s International Defense Expo

The Diplomat/ Le Ngoc Thao Nguyen, Nguyen The Phuong/ Dec. 23

“Despite the commercial nature of the Expo, the discourse associated with the fair was hardly commercial. The connecting thread in this discourse was rather built on the themes of patriotism and nationalism. From Chinh’s speech to the official posts on the government’s Facebook portal, the VPA is described with words like ‘heroic,’ ‘powerful,’ and ‘glorious’ and associated with the lyrics of war-themed songs. Specifically, four out of 12 posts on the government official Facebook’s page about the event included patriotic language, and each triggered an echoing effect in the comments section. The phrases were also repeated in the accumulation of Facebook posts and comments related to the hashtag #VietnamDefense2022.”

A window of opportunity to upgrade US-Vietnam relations

The Brookings Institution/ Jonathan Stromseth/ Dec. 20

“If the United States wishes to establish a strategic partnership with Vietnam, it should return to quiet — but persistent — diplomacy with the goal of realizing the partnership by the end of the current presidential term. Toward this end, it should seek to integrate related issues into ongoing bilateral dialogues with Hanoi (e.g., the U.S.-Vietnam Asia-Pacific Dialogue and the U.S.-Vietnam Defense Policy Dialogue) to flesh out the main focus areas of an elevated relationship. In addition to maritime security, the dialogues could explore areas of shared concern that will resonate with Vietnamese leaders and the public at large — especially pandemic prevention, climate change, and sustainable infrastructure development in Vietnam and the Lower Mekong subregion.”

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