CIVICUS Report: Vietnam Continues with Suppression of Journalists and Political Dissidents Despite Recent Election to UN Human Rights Council

CIVICUS Report: Vietnam Continues with Suppression of Journalists and Political Dissidents Despite Recent Election to UN Human Rights Council
Graphic: The Vietnamese Magazine.

Hanoi Police Complete Their Investigation of Blogger Nguyen Lan Thang

  • Hanoi Police’s Investigation Agency has finished its investigation into the case of Nguyen Lan Thang, a prominent Vietnamese blogger, according to updates from his lawyers and family members. The investigators suggested that he be charged with “distributing anti-State propaganda” under Article 117 of Vietnam’s Penal Code. Thang was arrested in July 2022 under the same criminal code.
  • According to Le Van Luan, one of Thang’s two defense lawyers, the investigation concluded on Jan. 17. Le Bich Vuong, Thang’s wife, said that neither she nor his lawyers have been able to see or talk to him since his arrest. In cases deemed as “endangering Vietnam’s national security,” the defendants are often restricted from seeing their families or lawyers until the investigation is completed.
  • Vuong told RFA that her family was allowed to send Thang food and personal items purchased directly from the prison weekly. She said she was very worried about his health as he had asthma. The detention center did not allow her to send her husband medicine from the outside. In another interview with VOA News, Vuong wished her husband would be tried soon and get transferred to another detention facility with better living conditions.

Vietnam Arrests Former NGO Director Nguyen Son Lo

  • The Ministry of Public Security (MPS) on Feb. 2 announced that it had issued a warrant for the arrest, as well as permission for a search of the residence and workplace, of Nguyen Son Lo, an academic and former NGO director. The warrant was based on the charges of “abusing freedom and democracy and infringing upon State and individuals’ legitimate rights and interests” under Article 331 of Vietnam’s Penal Code. Lo, 77, is the former director of the Southeast and North Asia Institute of Technology Research and Development (SENA). He was prosecuted and put under house arrest on July 27, 2022, under the same charge.
  • The MPS announcement stated Lo was arrested after its security investigation agency found that he “showed signs of continuing to commit crimes” after being prosecuted. Last year, the police said it released the academic on bail instead of detaining him due to his old age and weakening health. It didn’t specify his signs of “continuing to commit crimes.”
  • Article 331 has been criticized by lawyers and legal experts due to its vaguely defined provisions and definitions. The law code is often deployed to silence regime critics and journalists in Vietnam. Meanwhile, the arrest of Lo is also the latest example of the Vietnamese Communist Party’s crackdown on civil society. Nguyen Son Lo wrote many books offering advice to Vietnam’s leaders, with recommendations on politics, economy and culture.

Vietnamese Activist Granted Early Prison Release After Suffering Near Total Blindness

  • RFA reported that Vietnamese authorities on Feb. 9 freed activist Do The Hoa for “good behavior” seven months before the end of his five-year sentence. However, the political prisoner emerged nearly blind because he was denied medical treatment. Hoa will now serve a two-year probation period following his release.
  • Hoa, also known as Facebooker Bang Lĩnh, was arrested on Sept. 1, 2018, along with seven other members of the Constitution Group, which consisted of activists promoting the rule of law and constitutional reform in Vietnam. The 55-year-old was sentenced to five years in prison for “disturbing security” and was sent to Binh Duong Province, where he served time at An Phuoc Prison.
  • The political prisoner was near-sighted before his arrest. Hoa told RFA that after noticing his eye problems, he requested that the prison send him to a hospital for treatment. But the prison authorities ignored his requests for medical treatment for his eyes until it was too late. When he was approved for medical care, the doctors could no longer treat his condition.

CIVICUS: Vietnam Continues To Arrest Journalists And Political Dissidents Despite Election To The UN Human Rights Council

  • In the latest report published on Feb. 8, CIVICUS, a South Africa-based nonprofit organization working to promote civic engagement worldwide, noted that Vietnam continued to impose “restrictive laws to criminalise activists and journalists, restrictions on movement, surveillance, and allegations of torture and ill-treatment.”
  • Meanwhile, the record of human rights violations in Vietnam has not improved despite the country’s recent election to the United Nations Human Rights Council in October 2022. Civic space in Vietnam is also rated “closed” by CIVICUS.
  • According to the report, politically motivated charges, such as allegations of tax evasion, censorship, and restrictions on social media, have been frequently used to further silence activists and journalists in the country. Activists in detention have been moved to prisons far away from their families. They also face risks of torture and ill-treatment in custody. Meanwhile, corruption remains endemic in Vietnam’s governance system.
  • The report also highlighted the persistent prosecution of political activists and journalists in Vietnam. Last year, the Vietnamese authorities imprisoned Le Manh Ha, a citizen journalist, and Bui Van Thuan, a blogger, on “anti-State” charges. At the same time, members of foreign-based dissent organizations, including the Provisional Government of Vietnam, have received heavy prison terms for their activism.

Justice For Myanmar: State-Owned PetroVietnam Supports Junta’s Oil And Gas Industry

  • PetroVietnam (PVN), Vietnam’s State-owned oil and gas conglomerate, has been accused of cooperating with and investing in Myanmar’s junta-controlled oil and gas industry, according to a report released Feb. 1 by Justice for Myanmar (JFM). The report noted that the oil and gas industry “is the biggest source of foreign-currency revenue for the junta.” Revenues generated through this industry, therefore, contributed to the Myanmar military’s “war crimes and crimes against humanity.”
  • JFM is a campaign initiated to expose the “vast business network funding brutal oppression in Myanmar” and to pressure international companies to “divest from Myanmar military businesses.”
  • Other oil and gas firms from Singapore, China, South Korea, Malaysia, Japan, and the United States are mentioned in the report.
  • According to JFM, PetroVietnam Technical Services Corporation (PTSC), a subsidiary of PVN, won a contract from POSCO International, a South Korean company, in June 2021 to build a steel jacket for a compression platform for the Shwe gas project in Myanmar. PTSC has also directly provided vital construction equipment for the Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE), including a pressure hose reel shipment in October 2022.
  • In September 2021, Vietsepetro, a joint venture between PVN and the Russian state-controlled Zarubezhneft, also commenced construction of two rig bases for the Zawtika expansion project, a gas development located in shallow water in Myanmar, under a contract with the Thailand-based oil exploration company PTTEP. PetroVietnam Coating JSC won a contract from PTTEP to coat a 9.5 km-long marine pipeline in July 2022, according to the report.

International Advocacy: What Happened Last Week?

USCIRF calls for the release of Vietnamese religious prisoner Nguyen Bac Truyen

Kurt Werthmuller, a policy analyst at the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), called for the release of Nguyen Bac Truyen, a religious activist who received an 11-year sentence on “subversion” charges. Werthmuller made the statement at the 2023 International Religious Freedom Summit in Washington, D.C, VOA News reported.

Werthmuller urged Vietnam to release Truyen on Feb. 1 during a discussion session broadcast live on Facebook by BPSOS - Vietnam Advocacy Project, a campaign promoting freedom of religion in Vietnam. The USCIRF policy analyst also raised concerns about Truyen’s health, saying that he’s still being imprisoned “despite serious health problems.”

Werthmuller refers to Vietnam as a country with “longstanding religious freedom violations,” as reported by USCIRF. He added that USCIRF has “started to see some particularly worrying signs that religious freedom is on the decline, not just limited to rural areas” despite some slow but noticeable improvements over the past decade.

U.S. lawmakers call for the release of Vietnamese blogger Huynh Thuc Vy

RFA reported that in a Jan. 31 letter sent to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Rep. Gerald Connolly, a Democrat legislator from Virginia, urged the Biden administration to put pressure on Vietnam to release Huynh Thuc Vy, an independent female blogger, who was serving a 33-month sentence for spraying paint on the country’s national flag. On the same day, Rep. Ro Khanna, a Democrat from California, also called for Vy’s release on Twitter.

“I urge the Vietnamese government to release Huynh Thuc Vy, a journalist and human rights activist. The Vietnamese government and prison guards must be held accountable for Vy’s treatment during her imprisonment,” Khanna said, adding that his office would continue to monitor the situation.

South Korean Court Orders Government to Compensate for Vietnam War Victim

  • A court in Seoul on Feb. 7 found the South Korean Marines responsible for the massacre of unarmed civilians during the Vietnam War and ordered the South Korean government to compensate one of its victims, The New York Times reported. Seoul has repeatedly denied the allegations of war atrocities committed by its troops in Vietnam, and the ruling was expected to set a precedent for resolving similar cases in the future.
  • Nguyen Thi Thanh, from central Quang Nam Province, filed a lawsuit against the South Korean government in 2020. On February 12, 1968, South Korean troops stormed the villages of Phong Nhi and Phong Nhut, located in Quang Nam Province, and allegedly massacred 74 Vietnamese civilians. Thanh survived the carnage but lost her family members and suffered injuries following the incident. She is seeking about 30 million won ($23,800) in compensation for her loss.
  • The Seoul Central District Court ordered the government to compensate around 30 million won and additional funds for the delay of Thanh's case, Reuters reported. “At the time, the soldiers forced the plaintiff's family to come out of their house, threatening with live ammunition and guns, before shooting them,” the verdict said, according to Yonhap News Agency, via Reuters. Around 300,000 South Korean troops fought alongside U.S. forces during the Vietnam War.
  • “I am so happy to hear the news,” ​said Thanh, who did not attend the court ruling, in a video clip distributed by her South Korean lawyers. “I think the souls of the victims stood by me during the trial.”
  • The Vietnamese government has not filed a lawsuit demanding South Korea apologize or compensate the victims of the massacres. In a press statement following the court ruling on Feb. 9, Deputy Spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Doan Khac Viet said Hanoi wanted to “leave the past behind and look towards the future.” “Vietnam supports the vision of forging an increasingly developing comprehensive strategic partnership between Vietnam and the Republic of Korea, which brings practical benefits to the citizens of both countries,” he added.
  • South Korea is Vietnam’s largest foreign investor, having invested around US$80.5 billion in 9,400 projects as of September 2022. It is believed that Hanoi has remained silent towards the massacres committed by South Korean troops because it prioritized the economic partnership with Seoul over seeking justice for the victims of war. The two countries upgraded their diplomatic ties into a comprehensive strategic partnership on Dec. 5, 2022, during the visit of Vietnamese President Nguyen Xuan Phuc to Seoul.

Vietnam Insight: Learn more about Vietnam

What to Expect from the Vietnam–South Korea Comprehensive Strategic Partnership

Fulcrum/ Huynh Tam Sang/ Feb. 10

“Under the new CSP framework, leaders from both sides have agreed to intensify their collaboration in the areas of maritime security, national defence, and the defence industry. Since 2012, the two countries have held annual bilateral defence dialogues to foster mutual understanding and promote joint actions in addressing common security challenges, such as maritime and aviation security, as well as nuclear threats in the Korean peninsula. In 2021, Seoul and Hanoi vowed to uplift cooperation in maritime security, arms production, and defence education and training. South Korea helped Vietnam strengthen its naval capabilities by transferring two second-hand Pohang-class corvettes to the Vietnam People’s Navy. South Korean Navy’s destroyers also made three port calls to Da Nang in 2017, 2018 and 2019, and participated in communication exercises with the Vietnamese Navy. Humanitarian assistance and disaster relief activities, as well as search and rescue operations, are also noteworthy areas of bilateral security cooperation, as stated in the Vietnam-South Korea Joint Vision Statement on Defence Cooperation with a vision towards 2030.”

Vietnam’s Anti-Corruption Drive Can Never Go Far Enough

The Diplomat/ David Hutt/ Feb. 9

“As such, the anti-corruption campaign will only persist for as long as a true believer like Trong remains at the helm. More perniciously, it tends towards greater centralization of power within the hands of a party whose dictatorial rule is the reason in the first place for such corruption. Nguyen Khac Giang of the Vietnam Center for Economic and Strategic Studies was on the money when he said recently that the purge has mainly been of officials from the government, rather than the party apparatus. And, therefore, the anti-graft campaign is more accurately a battle by the party against the government, which in recent years has become gradually more independent of the CPV.”

Mass layoffs abound amid record economic wins for Vietnam

Southeast Asia Globe/ Govi Snell, Nguyen Hao Thanh Thao/ Feb. 9

“With lost jobs and an unstable future in factory work, many are looking to their social insurance fund to get through this critical period.

According to the social insurance scheme, workers are able to claim their funds one year after being terminated. Local media often depicts scenes of people queuing up overnight to get their social insurance premiums.”

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