Vietnam Briefing Jan. 9, 2023: Lutheran Pastor Dinh Diem Passes Away in Prison; Government Declares Boy Trapped in Concrete Pile Dead

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

Vietnam Briefing Jan. 9, 2023: Lutheran Pastor Dinh Diem Passes Away in Prison; Government Declares Boy Trapped in Concrete Pile Dead
Vietnamese Lutheran Pastor Dinh Diem during his trial in 2018 (left); Facebook user Hoang Van Vuong was arrested after publishing posts criticizing his former employer (right). Photo VOA News via VTV/ Facebook Hoang Van Vuong via RFA.

Vietnamese Lutheran Pastor Dinh Diem passes away in prison at 60

  • Dinh Diem, a Lutheran pastor imprisoned for 16 years on charges of “attempting to overthrow the people’s administration” in 2018, reportedly died at 10 a.m. on Jan. 5. Dinh Thi Xa, Diem’s wife, released the news. He was 60.
  • According to Xa, she learned about her husband’s death when she was on her way to visit Diem in Nghe An Province. He was previously held at Nghe An Provincial Prison No. 6. The prison authorities earlier informed Xa that Diem had been hospitalized at Nghe An Hospital. The pastor suffered multiple diseases, and his health deteriorated in prison due to poor conditions. Diem’s wife had sent several urgent petitions to the Vietnamese authorities raising concerns about his critical health, but the pastor’s imprisonment conditions never improved.
  • Diem, born in Vietnam’s central Quang Ngai Province, was prosecuted for his links to the U.S.-based democracy group Provisional Government of Vietnam, which the Vietnamese Ministry of Public Security designated as a “terrorist group.” The Quang Ngai Province accused him of joining the organization to “build up [opposite] forces and carry out activities to overthrow the regime.” The pastor was later convicted under Article 79 of the former 1999 Penal Code.
  • Religious leaders in Vietnam condemned the Vietnamese authorities for their suppression of religious freedom following the conviction of Pastor Dinh Diem. Before being arrested, Diem was a Vietnam - United States Lutheran Union Evangelical Church missionary. He was also a member of the Vietnamese People's Evangelical Fellowship, a charitable organization that ministers to ethnic minority communities in Vietnam’s Central Highlands. Its founder, Pastor Nguyen Cong Chinh, was imprisoned for more than six years before being released in 2017. He now lives in exile in the U.S.

Local Vietnamese Facebook user arrested after publishing alleged defamatory posts

  • RFA reported that Vietnamese authorities in Dong Nai Province arrested Hoang Van Vuong, a local Facebook user, on Jan. 3 after he posted two short messages on his Facebook account that appeared to criticize his former employer, a water purification company. The charges used to arrest him remain unknown.
  • The post published by Hoang Van Vuong on his social media said, “Whoever has membership in the [Communist] Party should establish clean water companies to sell dirty water [and] receive payments for clean water. Easy profit!” His second post said, “Clean water companies provide dirty water. Who is held responsible?”
  • According to Hoang Van Quoc, Vuong’s younger brother, Vuong had received a phone call from the water company where he used to work asking him to come and receive some gifts. He went to the company and was reportedly arrested there. Hoang Van Long, another brother of Vuong, said that around ten people, including three uniformed police officers, escorted Vuong home and proceeded to search his house. The search occurred around 6.30 p.m. on Jan. 3.
  • The Vietnamese government is strengthening control of the country’s social media sphere. Many internet users have been fined or imprisoned for “abusing democratic freedoms” and “distributing anti-State propaganda.”
  • Dinh Quang Tuyen, an activist in Ho Chi Minh City who has a close relationship with Vuong, told RFA that he was surprised by the arrest because “Vuong was not an influential political dissident, and he did not post messages often on Facebook.” Tuyen said Vuong began sharing his political views on social media in 2011. Vuong was also detained and beaten by police that year and in 2012 for his social media posts, according to Tuyen.

Vietnamese authorities announce that a boy trapped in a concrete pillar is dead

  • Vietnamese authorities on Jan. 4 confirmed to State media that Thai Ly Hao Nam, a 10-year-old Vietnamese boy who fell into a hollow concrete pile in southern Dong Thap Province, was dead. Nam fell and got trapped inside a narrow shaft of a concrete pile as he searched for scrap metal on New Year’s Eve at a construction site.
  • Rescuers were reported to have spent nearly 100 hours trying to free Hao Nam, using a 35-meter-long support pillar driven into the ground, but without success. Earlier efforts to save the boy, including using cranes and excavators to lift the pile, had failed. Hao Nam was crying for help right after he fell into the pile, but rescuers no longer heard from him on Jan. 2 as they lowered a camera down into the pillar to locate his position.
  • After Hao Nam was confirmed dead, rescue workers began to remove the concrete pillar and try to retrieve his body for a funeral service.
  • According to Vietnamese lawyer Dang Dinh Manh, current Vietnamese law only accepts biological and legal death states. Legal death, Manh writes, is a judgment based on the length of time a person has been missing. It is still unclear whether that person is dead, so legal death can be annulled if the person is later found alive. Therefore, the lawyer argues that the announcement made by the authorities of Dong Thap Province is only for temporary reference. “Essentially, it has no legal value.”
  • Manh added that from a legal perspective, the boy must still be considered alive, and local authorities are still responsible for rescuing him.

Vietnam bids farewell to the physical household registration book

  • Vietnam has phased out the use of physical household registration books for the entire population, replacing them with an electronic household registration system. The new system will be effective from Jan. 1, 2023.
  • The household registration system was introduced in North Vietnam in 1964 by Decree 104-CP. It was similar to China’s hukou system. The physical household registration book was regarded as the physical embodiment of this household control system. In reality, Vietnam’s version of the hukou book has caused a lot of trouble for local people in almost all aspects of daily life, from buying food during the subsidy period to registering births, applying for public schools, getting married, reporting deaths, and so on.
  • On January 13, 2020, Vietnam’s National Assembly introduced the Law on Residence, effective from July 1, 2021, which set the schedule to gradually replace the physical household registration book with the electronic management system. Beginning this year, according to the new regulations, the recently-introduced chip-based identity card will be used as a legal document for people who want to update or validate their residence information instead of using the old physical household registration book.
  • All data regarding a citizen’s residence information will be stored in Vietnam’s National Database on Population, managed and controlled by the Police Department for Administrative Management of Social Order, a Ministry of Public Security division. However, the new chip-based identity cards contain privacy risks in protecting users’ data. Such security risks could allow the police to monitor and track every move of Vietnamese citizens.

Vietnam’s National Assembly appoints two new deputy prime ministers

  • On the evening of Jan. 5, during the second extraordinary meeting of the National Assembly, Vietnamese legislators approved a petition introduced by Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh to appoint Tran Hong Ha, the minister of Natural Resources and Environment, and Tran Luu Quang, the secretary of Hai Phong City’s Party Committee, as deputy prime ministers for the 2021 - 2026 term.
  • Tran Hong Ha and Tran Luu Quang are believed to replace Minister of Foreign Affairs Pham Binh Minh and former Deputy Prime Minister Vu Duc Dam. Earlier, in the morning session of the extraordinary meeting, Minh and Dam were deprived of their positions as deputy prime ministers in the government. The two officials were also dismissed from their official positions in the Communist Party’s Central Committee, allegedly due to their involvement in the corruption of Vietnam’s COVID-19 rescue flight program.
  • In addition to the appointment of these officials, Vietnam’s National Assembly also discussed and assessed other critical issues, including the government-proposed National General Planning for the period 2021-2030; the implementation of the COVID-19 prevention and control policy until December 12, 2023; and the extension of registration certificates for drug and medicinal ingredients in Vietnam.

Vietnam imposes heavy fines for “denying revolutionary accomplishments” in the motion picture industry

  • The Vietnamese government has recently publicized Decree 128/2022/ND-CP, which imposes heavy fines on motion picture products that “distort national history; deny the revolutionary accomplishments of the Communist Party; offend the nation, famous figures, and national heroes.” Producers of motion picture products that violate the decree could receive fines ranging from 40 million dong to 50 million dong (US$1,700 to US$2,100).
  • The new legal document, which regulates penalties for violations in the fields of tourism, sports, copyrights, culture and advertising, also penalizes movie producers that “improperly express, slander or insult the reputation of agencies, organizations, and the honor and dignity of individuals,” as well as “disclose personal secrets and other secrets.” The decree was amended and supplemented from an earlier decree, Decree No. 129/2021/ND-CP, which took effect on March 29, 2021. The updated legal requirements will take effect on February 15, 2023.
  • Like its Communist neighbor China, Vietnam maintains strict censorship on art and media. Last October, Vietnam’s Ministry of Information and Communications also ordered Netflix to remove its Korean series “Little Women” from the platform’s Vietnamese market. The authorities alleged that the drama contained a “distortion of  Vietnamese history” regarding the Korean soldiers’ engagement during the Vietnam War.

Vietnam Insight: Learn more about Vietnam

Vietnam’s High GDP Growth Rate Masks Its Economic Difficulties

Fulcrum/ Le Hong Hiep/ Jan. 4

“The fact that Vietnam recorded the fastest GDP growth rate over the past 25 years while domestic firms faced mounting difficulties underlines a major issue of the Vietnamese economy: its over-reliance on foreign direct investment and exports. Indeed, in explaining Vietnam’s strong economic performance in 2022, experts have cited two key drivers: robust export performance driven by foreign-invested firms (which account for 74 per cent of Vietnam’s total exports) and improved FDI disbursement. The third factor — increased retail sales of goods and services — suggests that Vietnamese consumers are now generally wealthier and becoming an increasingly important driver of Vietnam’s economic growth. Juxtaposed against the grim responses to the income survey by VnExpress, however, it also hints at the widening income gap in the country.”

A New Era of Turbulence and Uncertainty in Vietnamese Politics

The Diplomat/ Hai Hong Nguyen/ Jan. 4

“Whomever among the above candidates is elevated to replace Minh and Dam next week, it is certain that there will be a re-division of the duties and responsibilities among the four deputy prime ministers. But even after their installment, their political careers will be uncertain unless they gain one of the key positions known as the “four pillars”: VCP general secretary, state president, prime minister, or the chairperson of the National Assembly. Vietnamese politics is like a chess board, on which each member of the Central Committee is a chess piece – and on which it is always very risky to play.”

Cracks showing in Vietnam’s economic miracle

Asia Times/ David Dapice/ Jan. 3

“Manufacturing and industry grew by nearly 9% through to the end of November — a slower rate than earlier in the year. There was a slowdown in export orders, and hundreds of thousands of factory workers may be facing layoffs, according to unofficial reports.

This is a serious concern, especially if the trend intensifies in 2023. Vietnamese firms provide limited unemployment compensation, especially for workers with only a few years of service.

Corporate bonds are also in trouble, especially those of real estate companies. There are billions of dollars of bonds denominated in Vietnamese dong that need refinancing in 2022 and 2023.”

Vietnam’s First Provincial Labour Arbitration Council: A Solid First Step

Fulcrum/ Joe Buckley/ Jan. 3

“The Dong Nai provincial labour arbitration council heard its first case on 7 November, and held an official launch event four days later. The council consists of 15 members, representing unions, employers, and the state. The launch has been greeted positively. It is seen as a major step forward in Vietnam’s efforts to reform industrial relations mechanisms and develop effective tripartite systems, one that can assist with collective bargaining, dispute resolution, and secure benefits for workers and employers alike. At the launch event, Nguyen Thi Thu Hien, the director of Dong Nai’s provincial Department of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs (under MOLISA), spoke of how labour disputes impact economic development, the investment environment, and social order. She hoped that the council could contribute to efficiently resolving disputes objectively and ensuring harmony of interests between different parties.”

It's Time for South Korea to Acknowledge Its Atrocities in Vietnam

Foreign Policy/ Dien Luong/ Dec. 30

“To be sure, there is nothing wrong with a forward-looking Vietnam embracing ties with South Korea despite a troubling past. Vietnam has been able to successfully navigate such a relationship with the United States. But advancing bilateral ties by sugarcoating history will fly in the face of the very “comprehensive” nature of the new strategic partnership, leaving its foundation standing on shaky ground.

Indeed, as the two countries are celebrating the 30th anniversary of diplomatic ties, the time has never been riper for atonement.”

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