U.S. State Department 2022 Human Rights Report Outlines Systemic Rights Abuses Committed By the Vietnamese Government
In the annual Vietnam 2022 Human Rights Report released on March 20, the U.S. Department of State outlines numerous human rights abuses committed by the Vietnamese government, including the practices of committing unlawful or arbitrary killings, degrading treatment and punishment against political prisoners, arbitrary arrest and detention, interference with citizens’ privacy, restrictions on free expression, movement and media, and the use of libel laws to criminalize freedom of speech, among other things.
The State Department notes there were “credible reports” that members of Vietnam’s security forces committed numerous rights abuses. Meanwhile, police officers and state officials frequently “acted with impunity” even after they “abused human rights or engaged in corruption.”
The report consists of seven sections measuring different aspects of Vietnam’s human rights situation: Respect for the Integrity of the Person; Respect for Civil Liberties; Freedom to Participate in the Political Process; Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government; Governmental Posture Towards International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights; Discrimination and Societal Abuses; and Worker Rights.
Vietnam’s notable rights violations detailed in the State Department report include the mistreatment of political prisoners and detainees, as in the case of prisoner of conscience Do Cong Duong, who passed away last August while serving a prison term on his “anti-State” conviction. The Hanoi regime also reportedly restricts the freedom of religion by requesting neighboring Southeast Asian nations to extradite or deny refugee or asylum-seeker status to members of ethnic and religious minorities from Vietnam’s Central and Northwest Highlands.
At the same time, land disputes remain a perpetual problem in Vietnam since the State does not recognize private land ownership. Vietnamese people have also been effectively restricted from their political participation rights, especially the right to establish alternative political parties and affiliations other than the ruling Communist Party. On corruption, the lack of governance transparency and the inconsistent enforcement of an anticorruption law explain why this problem persists in Vietnam. And regarding workers’ rights, the current law limits freedom of association by not allowing or recognizing the formation of independent trade unions.
In a press conference on March 23, Pham Thu Hang, deputy spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said that Vietnam “regretted” that the State Department's 2022 annual Human Rights Report contained “unobjective comments based on inaccurate information about the actual situation in Vietnam.”
Hang added that “protecting and promoting human rights is a consistent policy of Vietnam” and that “Vietnam always puts humans at the center, and considers them as the driving force of the renovation process and the development of the country.” She did not clearly say which information mentioned in the report is “unobjective.”
Vietnam Claims It Has No Information Regarding The Whereabouts Of Chinese Activist Dong Guangping
In a diplomatic note dated March 15 , Vietnam said it had “no information” regarding the disappearance of Chinese activist and human rights defender Dong Guangping, who was reported to have been arbitrarily detained by Vietnamese public security forces in Hanoi while waiting for resettlement with his family in Canada. Hanoi also claimed that incidents of “arbitrary detention” and “forced disappearance” did not occur in Vietnam.
The diplomatic note was a response to an earlier letter from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), which said that there were reports Vietnamese police arbitrarily detained Dong Guangping in Hanoi on August 22, 2022. The letter added that OHCHR was “seriously concerned” about the possibility that Dong had been unlawfully deported back to China, where Dong could face State prosecutions for his activism. The activist sought refuge in Vietnam in January 2020 after Chinese authorities released him in August 2019.
Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at the rights advocate Human Rights Watch, told Radio Free Asia (RFA) that he believed Hanoi was lying about the disappearance of Dong Guangping, adding that Vietnam “knew exactly where Dong Guangping was during the entirety of his stay in the Hanoi area.” He believed Vietnamese authorities provided “blatant lies to cover up the reality that the authorities arrested and disappeared him.”
“Once again, despite the popular sentiment of the Vietnamese people against the Chinese government, the Vietnam Communist Party can’t seem to resist doing secret deals with its neighbor to the north, often abusing human rights in doing so,” Robertson added.
Vietnamese Dissident Blogger Nguyen Nhu Phuong Receives Additional Sentence On “Possessing And Using Narcotics”
On March 20, a Vietnamese court in Ba Ria - Vung Tau Province held a trial for Nguyen Nhu Phuong, a Vietnamese dissident blogger, and sentenced him to 15 months on charges of “possessing and using narcotics.” Phuong previously received a five-year prison term on the conviction of “distributing anti-State media.”
Nguyen Thi Thu Ha, Phuong’s mother, said in an interview with RFA that she believed her son did not actually use or possess narcotics. In a visitation that occurred on March 15, Phuong told her he had a drink his friends offered while they were drinking in a bar, and that he suspected that someone spiked his drink because he didn’t know that the drink contained narcotics. After that, he dozed off. When the police raided the bar, the dissident blogger claimed that he woke up and found that he was at a different table, which had drugs on it.
Phuong, 32, is a human rights activist who joined the No-U Saigon group that advocates against the nine-dash line territory claimed by China in the South China Sea. He also participated in several against China and Vietnam’s draft Law on Special Economic Zones and Cybersecurity. Phuong returned to Vietnam from Japan in 2022.
Vietnamese NGO Leader Dang Dinh Bach Says He Plans To Go On Hunger Strike In Protest Against His Sentence
RFA reported that Vietnamese NGO leader Dang Dinh Bach, who is serving a five-year prison sentence on “tax evasion” charges, has called on the Vietnamese government to stop oppressing civil society and activists, while urging them to adhere to sustainable development goals. Bach passed the announcement to his wife, Tran Thi Phuong Thao, during her visit to Nghe An Prison No. 5, where he is being held.
“I urgently request the Vietnamese Communist Party and the State of Vietnam reconsider their viewpoint that NGOs and social activists are a threat to political security in order to stop making unlawful arrests and convicting innocent people,” Thao quoted Bach as saying. “At the same time, [the government] should ensure the country’s sustainable development goals are carried out in a substantive and responsible manner, including, but not limited to, climate change, environmental protection, and human rights.”
According to Thao, her husband announced that he would go on a hunger strike starting June 24, the second anniversary of his arrest, to protest his sentence. Bach added that from March 17 to the beginning of his hunger strike, he would eat less, limiting his diet to only one of the three meals the prison provides. Thao also told RFA that the Hanoi Civil Judgment Enforcement Department had frozen Bach’s bank account and threatened to auction their apartment to pay for the alleged evaded tax money.
RFA also reported that Vietnamese journalist Le Manh Ha, who received an eight-year sentence on “distributing anti-State propaganda” last October, had withdrawn the appeal of his first-instance sentence. Ha told his wife, Ma Thi Tho, the reason behind his decision was that he believed he would not get a sentence deduction since Vietnam does not have an independent judiciary.
Former Political Prisoner Phan Kim Khanh Released From Prison
Vietnamese political prisoner Phan Kim Khanh, who received a six-year prison term in October 2017, was released from prison on March 21 upon the completion of his sentence. Khanh, 30, a former member of the U.S.-sponsored Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI), was held in Ba Sao Prison, Ha Nam Province.
In an interview with RFA after his release, Khanh recounted multiple prisoner rights violations in the Ba Sao Prison. “The prison authorities force inmates to work more than six hours a day, from 7 a.m. to 10.30 a.m., and from 1.00 p.m. to 4.30 p.m.,” Khanh said. “[The work] normally consists of making bamboo and rattan products.” He added that the prison does not provide protective equipment for inmates and that they are not paid for their work.
Khanh added that the healthcare service for inmates in Ba Sao was very poor and that they only received basic healthcare and treatment at the prison. Those with serious illnesses who need to be treated in a specialized hospital will undergo a lot of difficulty when asking for such treatment. According to Khanh, Le Thanh Tung, another political prisoner who was being held in the same prison, had been on a hunger strike since March 19 to protest the prison’s denial of his request to be treated for a stomach illness.
The nutrition provided to prisoners is only at the minimum level, Khanh said. Meanwhile, the correctional officers also banned prisoners who share the same faith from gathering for religious activities, as such gatherings are forbidden.
Ho Chi Minh City Summons A Female Singer Following Accusations Of “Abusing Democratic Freedoms”
Vietnam’s State media reported that Ho Chi Minh City Police on March 24 had summoned Vy Oanh, a female singer, after she was accused of “defaming” businesswoman Nguyen Phuong Hang. Nguyen Quang Tuan, Hang’s son, filed the report, alleging that Oanh had “abused democratic freedoms” to tarnish the reputation of his mother.
Previously, the singer sent a report to the Ho Chi Minh City Police Department accusing Nguyen Phuong Hang of using social networks to “publish false information” to “slander and insult many individuals,” including herself. According to Oanh, after Hang defamed her on social media, many followers of Hang “ created groups on Facebook and YouTube” to repost the businesswoman’s live streamings that contained defamatory information against her.” Meanwhile, Tuan also filed reports condemning Vy Oanh, as well as other individuals, including journalist Han Ni and lawyer Tran Van Sy, of slandering Nguyen Phuong Hang.
The businesswoman was arrested in March 2022 on allegations of “abusing democratic freedoms” under Article 331 of Vietnam’s Penal Code. Article 331 is a criminal law which is often utilized to suppress criticism of government officials and leaders of the Communist Party by criminalizing the acts of slander and libel. Meanwhile, journalist Han Ni and lawyer Le Van Sy, who previously reported Hang to the police, were also arrested last February under the same Article 331.
Vietnam Arrests A Facebook User On “Subversion” Charges
Reuters reported that Vietnamese police had arrested Phan Thi Thanh Nha, a local Facebook user in Tien Giang Province, on the accusation of “attempting to overthrow the State” by sharing content that allegedly defamed leaders of the ruling Communist Party, according to the statement from the Ministry of Public Security (MPS), the State police.
Nha, 39, was accused of posting and sharing 25 articles and videos since 2018 that sought to “distort and defame leaders of the Vietnamese Communist Party and the State,” the statement said. She was also accused of joining and recruiting members for the U.S.-based “Provisional Government of Vietnam,” an exile group designated by the MPS as a “terrorist organization.”
On March 14, a court in Binh Dinh Province sentenced two members of the Provisional Government of Vietnam to six and two years in prison, respectively, on the same “subversion” charges. According to RFA, at least 19 people have been convicted and imprisoned for joining the Provisional Government of Vietnam since October 2022.
Major U.S. Companies Join “Biggest” Business Trip To Vietnam
According to CNN and Reuters, more than 50 U.S. firms, including major corporations such as Boeing, Netflix, and SpaceX, were in Vietnam last week to take part in the biggest business mission organized by the U.S.-ASEAN Business Council, a trade lobby. The mission is reported to be focused on initiating discussions on investment and sales opportunities as American companies seek to diversify their markets and supply chains from China.
The trip, led by Ted Osius, former U.S. ambassador to Vietnam, began March 21 and concluded on March 23. Vietnam, with a population of 100 million people, and an expanding middle class, has emerged as a lucrative market for foreign companies in Southeast Asia. To maintain annual economic growth, the Vietnamese government has also sought to build its image as a politically stable market to lure foreign investment.
The United States is Vietnam’s leading investor and its largest export market. This growing economic and diplomatic relationship between the two former war enemies has prompted calls urging Hanoi to upgrade its diplomatic ties with the United States to a “comprehensive strategic partnership” from the current “comprehensive partnership.” According to some experts, Vietnam’s leaders are hesitating to facilitate such moves because they fear “possible retaliation from China.”
Freedom of Religion in Vietnam: What Happened Last Week?
Kon Tum Authorities Disrupt A Religious Service Held By A Local Parish
Vietnamese authorities in Dak Nong Village, Ngoc Hoi Commune, Kon Tum Province, have sent policemen and security forces to disrupt a religious service organized by Catholic priests and parishioners of the local St. Paul Diocese.
According to a video provided by the parishioners, at about 5.30 p.m. on March 22, when the service was being conducted by Rev. Francis Xavier Le Tien, a priest at the parish, the police and security forces dressed in plain clothes came and began to harass the mass. The video showed a man in plainclothes, who called himself the vice chairman of Dak Nong Village, pointing his finger at the priest and the parishoners. He also asked the priest to cease the ceremony and go to the village People’s Committee for interrogation. However, Rev. Tien continued to perform the ceremony.
According to RFA, this is the third time in a row that local authorities in Kon Tum have disrupted religious ceremonies held by St. Paul’s Church. In the previous intervention, the local police also tried to confiscate the motorbikes of local parishioners but were met with fierce opposition.
The parish consists of 20 families from the Dak Nong and Dak Dung Communes of Kon Tum Parish. This parish was established in 2017 but it is still not recognized by the local government. The local authorities have also prevented the priests and parishioners from holding a ceremonial service every Wednesday night.
Vietnamese Activists Say Hanoi Adopting China’s Model on Religious Policy
“Thich Khong Tanh, a member of the outlawed Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam, told VOA Vietnamese in a phone interview on Wednesday that "both countries crack down on independent religious groups."
Thich, who was evicted from the Lien Tri Pagoda by Ho Chi Minh City authorities in 2016 before they demolished it, added "Government bodies in charge of religion in both China and Vietnam are headed by top Communist Party members."
Le Minh Nguyen, who immigrated to the U.S. after the Vietnam War and now lives in Westminster, California, is the former chairman of the Tan Dai Viet political party in California — a group that advocates for democracy in Vietnam.
He told VOA Vietnamese via email that while the leaders of China and Vietnam fear any organized groups, they are especially wary of religious organizations with powerful leaders.”
Vietnam Insight: Learn more about Vietnam
Fulcrum/ Dien Nguyen An Luong/ March 22
“Against that backdrop, it was probably Ke Huy Quan’s mentioning of his journey “on a boat” that caused him to be singled out this time around as that line, too, was erased from media coverage after his Oscar acceptance. The online backlash and media censorship exemplify how reopening the wounds of the Vietnam War risks riling up nationalistic sentiments in Vietnam, even though bilateral ties between Washington and Hanoi have never been more burgeoning as now, almost five decades since the end of the war. It is also a testament to how dredging up post-war memories of Vietnamese humiliation, albeit apparently inadvertently as in the case of Quan’s speech, has remained anathema to the Vietnamese party-state.”
Asia Times/ David Hutt/ March 21
“On the structuralist front, there is little to suggest that the dismissal of a few individuals from the party’s upper echelons will fundamentally alter Vietnamese foreign policy. After all, that policy is set by material conditions.
US-Vietnam trade was worth almost US$140 billion last year, with Vietnam enjoying a trade surplus of $94.9 billion, the highest on record, according to official data.
While America is Vietnam’s largest export destination, China is its main provider of Vietnam’s imports, including intermediary goods used in exports sent to the US and Europe. Vietnam’s trade deficit with China widened to a record $60.2 billion in 2022.”
Fulcrum/ Nguyen Khac Giang/ March 17
“Rather than imposing more restrictions, the government should offer a wider range of choices for account members to optimise their funds while simultaneously instituting more conditions for withdrawals that account for contributors’ diverse needs such as housing, healthcare, and education. Successful models in the region like Singapore and Malaysia have long implemented such policies.
On the financial front, the VSS should diversify its portfolio and, more importantly, be more transparent and allow workers to decide how their money is invested. Currently, the VSS likely underperforms because the bulk of the fund is either loaned directly to the state budget (75 per cent) or indirectly by buying government bonds (11 per cent). Most of the remainder goes to sizeable state-owned commercial banks in the form of loans and savings.”