Vietnam Is, Again, Classified “Not Free” in Freedom House’s Latest Report
- Vietnam is categorized “not free” in the latest report measuring civil liberties and political rights released by Freedom House, a Washington D.C.-based nonpartisan organization. In their annual report, Freedom in the World 2023, released on March 9, Freedom House measures individual freedoms in 210 countries and territories worldwide. The report notes that around 43 percent of all countries measured in 2022 are classified as “free,” while about 29 percent are viewed as “partly free,” and over 27 percent are rated “not free.”
- According to the evaluation, Vietnam scores 19 out of 100 regarding civil liberties and political rights. Countries with higher scores are viewed as having more freedom. The Communist country’s rating remains unchanged in comparison to the previous year. In particular, Vietnam receives four out of 40 points regarding political rights and 15 out of 60 points regarding civil liberties.
- Freedom House writes in the report introduction that global freedom has “declined for the 17th consecutive year,” while Russia’s aggression led to “devastating human rights atrocities in Ukraine.” Meanwhile, coups and political repression continued to hamper and diminish basic liberties in Turkey, Myanmar, and Thailand.
- But also, according to the organization, despite the global deterioration of civil rights, this year’s result witnesses the narrowest gap between the countries registering overall improvements in political rights and civil liberties and those that registered overall declines for 2022. Freedom House determined that 34 countries improved, and 35 countries declined in their democratization process. Holding fair and competitive elections and a rollback of pandemic-related restrictions were believed to be the main drivers for this positive development.
- Vietnamese authorities in Dong Nai Province reportedly pressured Nguyen Thai Hung, a local Youtube commentator, and Vu Thi Kim Hoang, his fiancée, to confess to their alleged wrongdoings in exchange for a sentence reduction while they were incarcerated, according to Hoang’s interview with Radio Free Asia (RFA).
- Hung, 36, was sentenced to a four-year term last November on charges of “abusing democratic freedoms” under Article 331 of Vietnam’s Penal Code. Hoang received two and a half years in prison on the same charges, but she was reportedly released on bail after spending nearly four months in detention. The couple appealed the court verdict after the trial concluded. Their appellate hearing is scheduled to begin on March 29.
- Before his arrest, Hung regularly uploaded live streamings and talk shows on his personal Youtube account. He raised concerns about social and political issues in Vietnam, including police brutality, corruption, and the lack of fundamental freedoms. His fiancée was also arrested despite not participating in the live streams. The Youtube commentator is now being held in Dong Nai Police Detention Center B5.
- Hoang told RFA in an interview that when she was in prison, the Dong Nai authorities pressured her to “admit wrongdoings” to reduce her prison terms. But she told them she “had done nothing” for them to justify her being prosecuted under Article 331. According to Hoang, the authorities also forced Hung to confess in exchange for his reduced sentence. Still, he declined their request, claiming that he had done nothing illegal and only practiced his freedom of speech.
Freedom of Religion in Vietnam: What Happened Last Week?
Police In Hoi An City Disband The Religious Sect ‘Church Of Mother God,’ Claiming It’s A “False Religion”
- Vietnamese police in Cam Ha Village, Hoi An City, have disbanded the religious sect “Church of Mother God” after they found the sect adherents were conducting “illegal religious activities” in their residences, according to police sources. After the crackdown, the Hoi An Police summoned the sect’s followers to their interrogation sessions and requested they stop holding such religious activities in the future.
- Vietnam’s State-owned media reported that on March 4, Hoi An Police and Cam Ha Commune Police raided a house in Ben Tre Village, Cam Ha Commune, and found that a group of 10 religious practitioners, including six women and four men, were conducting “illegal religious activities” related to the “Church of Mother God.”. The police also discovered and seized one laptop, three computer speakers, 10 bibles, five notebooks, 14 white towels, 15 plastic chairs, one bible stand and a metal shelf.
- Hoi An authorities claimed this sect “has not been authorized by the State to operate in Vietnam” and that its teachings show some characteristics of “a false religion,” which seeks to “manifest superstition and take advantage of this doctrine to earn profits.” The police also asked local residents to “raise their awareness” and “not join unlicensed religious organizations” such as the Church of Mother God. They also demanded that the people “promptly report” to the police should they “detect any illegal religious organizations operating in the area.”
- The “Church of Mother God,” or the “Church of God,” is a Protestant sect founded in South Korea in 1964. The Vietnamese authorities began their crackdown on the operations and followers of this sect in 2018, branding it a “false religion” and accusing its practitioners of conducting “illegal activities” and “significantly affecting the social security” in the country. However, critics say that the government has been infringing on the religious freedom of the Vietnamese people by banning them from leading or joining these sects. Hanoi has repeatedly rejected all accusations regarding the government’s restrictions on religious freedom.
Vietnam’s White Book Claims The Government Respects Of Religious Freedom
- The Vietnamese government’s Committee for Religious Affairs, at a public conference on March 9, released a white book claiming that Hanoi respects the diversity of religions and religious freedom in the country.
- According to the religious committee, the 132-page white book “consists of three chapters that provide a basic introduction on different religions in Vietnam, its religious policies, as well as achievements, challenges and advantages in ensuring the right to freedom of belief and religion.” The committee added that the book “also presents the Vietnamese Communist Party’s view on beliefs and religions during the renovation period, the right to freedom of belief and religion stipulated in the Constitution, and regulations on religious activities in legal documents.”
- Deputy chairperson of Vietnam’s religious affairs committee, Nguyen Tien Trong, said Vietnam “has a long-standing cultural tradition and is home to 54 ethnic groups with diverse religions.” Trong is a Bac Giang Province-born police colonel trained in public security reconnaissance. Before being assigned to the religious committee, Colonel Trong was the deputy director of the Department of Domestic Security, a subsidiary of Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security, overseeing political dissent.
- In reality, the Vietnamese government has heavily policed and restricted religious freedom, especially among ethnic minority communities. These violations include the denial of registration of new religious groups and organizations, the crackdown against and defamation of local religious leaders, and restrictions on the right of prisoners of conscience to receive religious books.
- You can read more about Vietnam’s religious freedom in our monthly Religion Bulletin.
Police Unlawfully Bar the Family Of Facebook User Le Minh The From Meeting Him In Custody
- Vietnamese police in Can Tho City prevented the family of Facebook user Le Minh The from meeting him in custody during the investigation period, RFA reported. The, 60, was detained on Feb. 22 for allegedly “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe on the State and individuals’ legitimate rights and interests” under Article 331 of Vietnam’s Penal Code. He is currently being held at the Long Tuyen Detention Center managed by the Can Tho City Police.
- The’s family was not allowed to visit him in custody following his arrest. Le Thi Binh, his sister, told RFA that the detention center did not let her visit her brother in custody, but they accepted the money and personal items that she sent to The. Vietnam’s Penal Code stipulates that those arrested on “national security” charges are prohibited from seeing their family members during the investigation period. But the social media user was arrested under Article 331, which is not regarded as endangering national security.
- The was imprisoned for two years in 2019 for “abusing democratic freedoms.” After being released in 2020, he continued to publish his opinions on social media regarding various social and political issues in Vietnam. State media cited police sources which claimed that The had “posted and shared articles and images containing illegal content on his personal Facebook account that led many people to share and comment.”
- Asia deputy director of Human Rights Watch, Phil Robertson, told RFA that it’s unacceptable for Vietnam to prevent lawyers and relatives from visiting Le Minh The. “Every time the government commits such blatant human rights violations, it undermines Hanoi’s claims of free and fair trials for those who are prosecuted,” Robertson added.
Vietnamese Political Dissident Tran Van Bang Allowed To See His Family In Detention
- According to an update from the family of Tran Van Bang, the political dissident was allowed to see his family in detention for the first time on March 3, one year after his arrest on March 1, 2022. Earlier in February, he was allowed to see his lawyers after the authorities concluded their investigation into his activism. It was reported that the Vietnamese dissident’s physical health has significantly deteriorated in custody and that he has received minimal medical assistance from the detention center.
- Bang, 62, is reportedly being held in Chi Hoa Prison in Ho Chi Minh City. He was arrested for “distributing anti-State propaganda” under Article 117 of Vietnam’s Penal Code.
- During the investigation, Bang told his family that he had lost 22 pounds in less than two months. He said the weight loss resulted from malnourished meals and poor living conditions. The activist added that he had a tumor in the lower abdomen, which was examined at the hospital last April. After conducting an ultrasound diagnosis, the doctor there urged that he undergo surgery to remove the tumor “as soon as possible.”
- The Vietnamese dissident also made several requests to local authorities. These included his request for hospitalization to examine the tumor further, visitation with a notary to make his personal testament, the authorization of his family members' access to his personal bank account to fund their visitation, and finally, his immediate release because he believes he is not guilty.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Calls For The Release Of Imprisoned Female Journalists On International Women's Day, Including Pham Doan Trang
- Press freedom advocate Reporters Without Borders (RSF) on March 8 called for the immediate and unconditional release of imprisoned female journalists around the world while raising concerns over the fact that women reporting in the field in 14 countries, including Vietnam, are likely to fall victim to the relentless persecution by their governments.
- Regarding the situation in Vietnam, RSF underscored the case of journalist Pham Doan Trang, who was awarded RSF’s Prize for Impact in 2019. The press freedom advocate noted that Doan Trang had been moved to a prison far away from her family in Hanoi to suppress any reporting about her critical state of health. According to RSF, four Vietnamese female journalists and media workers are imprisoned due to their work.
South Korean Government Appeals Court Ruling To Compensate Vietnam War Victim
- South Korea’s Defense Ministry announced on March 9 that its government had appealed a court order to compensate a Vietnamese victim of massacres committed by South Korean Marines who had fought alongside U.S. forces during the Vietnam War, Reuters reported.
- The Seoul Central District Court last February ordered the government to compensate Nguyen Thi Thanh for about 30 million won. Thanh had previously filed a lawsuit against South Korea, alleging that South Korean troops killed her family and about 70 civilians in her hometown in central Vietnam’s Quang Nam Province. Thanh, 63, survived the carnage, but she suffered wounds as a result.
- The defense ministry of South Korea said to Reuters that they will “fully cooperate with the trial proceedings under continued consultations with related agencies to receive an appellate ruling based on substantial truth.” South Korea’s Defense Minister Lee Jong-Sup previously responded to the court ruling last month that his ministry was certain there were “absolutely no massacres committed by our troops” during the Vietnam War.
- At a press conference on March 9, Deputy Spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Pham Thu Hang said Vietnam “deeply regretted” the appeal made by the South Korean government. Hang added that “the policy of Vietnam is to leave the past behind and look towards the future, but this does not mean that we deny the truth of history.” Hanoi has neither publicly demanded official apologies nor required Seoul to make reparations for its involvement in the war.
Vietnam Insight: Learn more about Vietnam
The Conversation/Quoc Tan Trung Nguyen/March 9
“A regime of checking backgrounds existed in Vietnam after the war ended. It was part of a series of attempts by the government to wipe out remnants of the defeated regime in Southern Vietnam. The assumption was that life in the south before 1975 was a crime that needed to be punished, or a sin for which people needed to atone.
From 1975 to the 1980s, an estimated one million to 2.5 million people from South Vietnam were detained in re-education camps. This was roughly 10 per cent of the region’s total population. It formed a massive exercise in the criminalization without trial of anyone who was even remotely associated with the former South Vietnamese regime.
It created an arbitrary and discriminatory system of continuous criminal detention and suspension of citizenship.”
Southeast Asia Globe/ Govi Snell/ March 9
“Quế Mai’s career is unprecedented. She is the first Vietnamese national to garner international acclaim for works in English.
She bridges divides between northerners, southerners and colonial forces – revealing humanity on all sides of a war which led to the death of 3 million Vietnamese, nearly 60,000 U.S. troops and tens of thousands of Laotians and Cambodians, leaving many more traumatised.”
The Strategist/ John McCarthy/ March 9
“That said, there’s no evidence to suggest China is behind any of the personnel shifts. Vietnam is respectful of China and Chinese concerns, but it also sees a close relationship with the United States as a deterrent to potential Chinese aggression.
In the final analysis, Vietnam’s foreign policy is driven by consensus, and for the past generation the Vietnamese government has pursued geopolitical balance. Well-informed Vietnamese sources don’t see major divisions within the leadership on international policy. But the relationship between China and Vietnam (and, as a corollary, that between Vietnam and the US) will—understandably—continue to warrant scrutiny.”
The Diplomat/ Hai Hong Nguyen/ March 7
“Standing on the ground built over the past 50 years and aiming for the next horizon, the two strategic partners are expected to elevate the strategic partnership to a comprehensive strategic partnership this year. If and when this happens, the strategic focus should be placed on the following three areas. The first is cooperation in innovation and development, as associated with digital technology. Vietnam cannot become a middle-power without having a developed digital technology-based economy. Australia is a strong and strategic partner that can assist Vietnam in this process.”
The Diplomat/ James Guild/ March 7
“Vietnam is in the process of attempting to move from a heavily state-controlled economy to one with more pro-market features. Electricity has been a priority area where the government wants the private sector to play a bigger role. They want this, at least in part, because electricity generation is very capital-intensive and the market can be an efficient way of raising money to finance large-scale investments.
But any transition from state to market is complicated. EVN and its subsidiaries still control the generation, transmission and distribution of the vast majority of electricity in Vietnam. EVN and its three generating companies produced 57.5 percent of Vietnam’s electricity in 2020, with the remainder coming from private companies and imports.”