Vietnam’s Human Rights Situation Continues to Worsen After Implementation of EVFTA

Vietnam’s Human Rights Situation Continues to Worsen After Implementation of EVFTA

Former Vietnamese Political Prisoner Reveals Dismal Living Conditions in Thanh Hoa Prison No. 5

  • Vietnamese political prisoner Nguyen Van Dien, who received six and a half years in prison on the charge of “distributing anti-State propaganda” under Article 88 of Vietnam’s former 1999 Penal Code in January 2018, was released on Feb. 22, about six months before his expected release date. He’s now serving four years on probation.
  • Dien, 39, was a leader of a pro-democracy group called the “National Movement to Revive Vietnam” (Phong Trào Dân Tộc Chấn Hưng Nước Việt). He was imprisoned along with two other group members, Vu Quang Thuan and Ngo Van Dung.
  • In an interview with Radio Free Asia upon returning to his hometown in Yen Bai Province, Dien revealed the inhumane living conditions in Thanh Hoa Prison No. 5, where he was held. “Being in prison was very harsh, we were kept in cells 24 hours a day. Most cells have two prisoners and some cells have one,” Dien said, adding that each cell is around 15 square meters. He also said that his prison cell had no windows, which made it very hot during the summer months. The prisoners, according to Dien, were only allowed to exercise within a small yard next to the prison cell.
  • The former prisoner of conscience initiated hunger strikes twice to protest the dismal living conditions in the Thanh Hoa Prison. Dien conducted a 21-day hunger strike in July 2019 and a seven-day hunger strike two months later. In mid-August 2020, he climbed onto the water tank of the detention center to protest the prison treatment and demand his release. After that, Dien was put in solitary confinement for 50 days. Dien told Radio Free Asia that he believed his sentence got reduced by six months because he signed a guilty plea.

Vietnamese Land Rights Defender Nguyen Thi Tam’s Physical Health Reportedly Deteriorates in Prison

  • In a Facebook update published on March 4, Nguyen Thanh Mai, daughter of Nguyen Thi Tam - a Vietnamese land rights defender of Duong Noi Commune, Hanoi City - raised concerns about the physical health of her mother in Gia Trung Prison, where she is being held.
  • According to Mai’s posting, she received a phone call from Tam on March 3, in which her mother said that she was hospitalized on Feb. 28 due to severe blood loss. At the Gia Lai Provincial Hospital, where Tam received treatment, the doctor diagnosed that she had lost a lot of blood due to the development of uterine fibroids.
  • Mai wrote that the doctor said her mother didn’t have to undergo surgery, but she was still concerned about Tam’s health as her voice sounded weak when they spoke on the telephone. She added that Gia Trung Prison authorities did not show any concern for her mother’s health condition. Mai claimed that the prison authorities used a police van instead of an ambulance to transfer Tam to the hospital, despite rough road conditions. There was also no medical staff taking care of her during the arduous drive, Mai added.
  • Nguyen Thi Tam was convicted of “distributing anti-State propaganda” under Article 117 of Vietnam’s Penal Code. The Duong Noi farmer and activist had spoken up and actively updated information about the police raids in Dong Tam Village, Hanoi City, on her social media. She received a six-year prison sentence at a trial in December 2021.

Vietnam’s Human Rights Situation Continues to Worsen After the Implementation of EVFTA

  • On Feb. 28, EU parliamentarians held a conference in Brussels to examine and review Vietnam’s violations of human and labor rights after two years of the enactment of the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA), VOA News reported. EVFTA took effect on Aug. 1, 2020, which removed nearly all tariffs on goods and services traded between the EU and Vietnam. The free trade agreement also entails commitments requiring Hanoi to ensure and promote human and labor rights, sustainable development, and environmental protection, among other things.
  • Marianne Vind, a member of the European Parliament for the Social Democrats, was in charge of the discussions. The EU invited civil society and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), including Reporters Without Borders (RSF), pro-democracy group Viet Tan, Vietnam Workers’ Defenders (VWD), and the Swiss-Vietnam Committee, to join the same discussions.
  • According to these civil society organizations, Hanoi has demonstrated little interest in defending or promoting basic rights as required in the agreement. They also underscored the Vietnamese government’s various human rights violations, such as freedom of speech, press freedom, religious freedom, and workers’ rights. Meanwhile, the right of Vietnamese workers to establish independent unions is heavily restricted, said Huy Nguyen, a representative of VWD.
  • The participants also discussed the regime’s crackdown on leaders of Vietnamese environmental NGOs on questionable “tax evasion” charges. This move is regarded as a violation of Chapter 13 of the EVFTA, which stipulates each signatory of the agreement establishes a domestic advisory group (DAG) to monitor and make recommendations for the implementation of EVFTA.
  • In July 2021, Vietnam police arrested Mai Phan Loi, director of the Center for Media in Educating Community, and Dang Dinh Bach, director of the Center for Legal Studies & Policy for Sustainable Development, for violating the “tax evasion” law. Loi and Bach had registered to become members of the Vietnamese DAG. In February 2022, the police arrested Nguy Thi Khanh, director of the environmental advocate GreenID, on the same charges.
  • In an interview with VOA News, Tran Duc Tuan Son, a representative of Viet Tan in Europe, called on the European Parliament to pressure Vietnam to properly respect human rights, especially after the country’s election to the Human Rights Council. At the same time, Huy Nguyen of the VWD said EU parliamentarians should advocate for releasing imprisoned Vietnamese NGO leaders because their charges are vague and politically motivated.

Lawyers of Local Buddhist Church Face Possible Charges of “Abusing Democratic Freedoms”

  • Three defense lawyers of Tinh That Bong Lai, an independent Buddhist temple, are under investigation for alleged violations of Article 331, which criminalizes the activities of “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe on the State and individuals’ legitimate rights and interests,” according to Vietnam police in Long An Province. Article 331 is often utilized by Vietnamese authorities to suppress dissidents and opposition voices in the country.
  • The lawyers who could be charged with Article 331 include Dang Dinh Manh, Dao Kim Lan, and Ngo Thi Hoang Anh. They were part of a legal team defending Tinh That Bong Lai practitioners who were arrested and convicted under the same charges in July 2022.
  • These attorneys often published updates and their opinions on the Buddhist temple case on social media. Attorney Dang Dinh Manh also openly advocated for the abolition of Article 331 due to its vague definition, which had been used to curtail freedom of expression in Vietnam.
  • Long An Provincial Police claimed that the videos, live streams, photos, and postings uploaded by the lawyers showed several signs of violating Article 331. Meanwhile, one of the lawyers, Dao Kim Lan, told RFA that the police notice “had something to do with our comments and complaints against Long An Province’s judicial agencies.” Previously, Tinh That Bong Lai’s defense team filed a complaint against Long An Police and the court for their alleged violation of due process in investigating their clients.
  • The lawyers said they were sending a request to Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security to assign an independent group instead of Long An Police to investigate the alleged wrongdoings and to ensure fairness and impartiality.

Vo Van Thuong, Youngest Politburo Member, Elected as President of Vietnam

  • At an extraordinary session on March 2, Vietnam’s National Assembly elected Vo Van Thuong as the country’s new president, following the voluntary resignation of his predecessor Nguyen Xuan Phuc in January 2023. Senior Communist Party officials confirmed Thuong’s nomination as president to Reuters one day before the vote.
  • Thuong, 52, the youngest member of the Politburo, Vietnam’s de facto most powerful organization, received overwhelming approval from members of Vietnam’s rubber-stamp legislature. Vietnam’s new president, whose hometown is in the southern province of Vinh Long, is viewed as being close to General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong, a Party ideologue. He is also expected to continue the anti-graft campaign spearheaded by Trong that witnessed the arrests of numerous high-profile government officials.
  • Experts on Vietnamese politics believe that the election of Thuong as the country’s president helped restore “stability and predictability” after the dismissal of President Nguyen Xuan Phuc, one of Vietnam’s four pillars of power.
  • “There will be no major changes to Vietnam’s foreign policy following Thuong's election,” Le Hong Hiep, senior fellow and Vietnam expert at ISEAS–Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore, told Reuters. Carl Thayer, an Australian Defence Force Academy expert in Canberra, described Thuong as “a trusted member of Secretary General Trong’s inner circle,” making him a safe choice over more prominent and powerful figures.

Vietnam Threatens to Block Netflix Unless the Company Establishes Local Office

  • Vietnamese authorities said that companies providing cross-border streaming services like Netflix would be blocked in the country if they do not set up a legal office in Vietnam, State media reported.
  • “If a crossborder television service provider does not have a legal representative in Vietnam, the Ministry of Information and Communications (MIC) will coordinate with telecommunications companies to block their access,” State-run VnExpress quoted Nguyen Ha Yen, deputy director at the Department of Broadcasting and Electronic Information of the MIC, who spoke at a conference in Ho Chi Minh City on Jan. 27. According to MIC representatives, the requirement was introduced to “ensure fair competition” between foreign streaming services and domestic companies.
  • Decree 71, which came into force on January 1, 2023, also requires streaming service providers in Vietnam to have a domestic legal representative. Vietnamese authorities will also regulate these services.
  • Tran Van Uy, chairman of the Vietnam Pay Television Association (VNPAYTV), said that without State regulations, these streaming services could pose a risk of “violating customs, lifestyle, politics and the law” of Vietnam. Uy added that several movies censored by Vietnamese authorities due to violations of such standards are still broadcast on Netflix.
  • Last year, Netflix was ordered by Vietnamese regulators to take down the Korean drama series “Little Women” due to the alleged distortions of Vietnam War events. Similar to its Communist neighbor China, Vietnam heavily censors the media. This year, the government introduced a new decree 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.”
  • Meanwhile, Netflix is reportedly preparing to open an office in Vietnam after years of conducting negotiations with local authorities and assessing security and political risks, two sources with knowledge of the matter confirmed with Reuters. One of the sources added that the office could open as early as late 2023 but will require a lengthy regulatory process that could take longer.

U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam Mark Knapper Offers Insights on U.S.-Vietnam Relations

The Brookings Institution:

“Vietnam, a growing economic powerhouse in Southeast Asia, has seen a significant increase in engagement with the U.S. amid escalating U.S.-China competition in the region. On March 1, the Center for East Asia Policy Studies at Brookings hosted a virtual fireside conversation with U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam Marc E. Knapper and Brookings Senior Fellow Jonathan Stromseth on U.S. policy toward Vietnam, the top priorities in the relationship, and what bilateral opportunities and challenges lie ahead.”

The talks can be found here.

Chinese ship threatens and confiscates catch of Vietnamese boat off Paracel Islands


“A Chinese ship confiscated the catch of a Vietnamese fishing boat anchored in the waters off the disputed Paracel Islands in the South China Sea on Feb. 19, the state-sponsored Tuoi Tre Newspaper reported.

The incident is one of several recent cases of Chinese ships intimidating Vietnamese fishing boats around the islands, which are claimed by Vietnam, China and Taiwan, the paper said.

It happened when the Vietnamese crew was forced to anchor in a rocky area to avoid strong winds near the Paracel Islands, about 355 kilometers from the Vietnamese coast, according to Huynh Van Khoi, the owner and captain of the vessel.”

Vietnam Insight: Learn more about Vietnam

Why Vietnam’s UN Abstention on Ukraine Was a Rational Move

The Diplomat/ Khang Vu/ Feb. 28

“From a rational standpoint, Vietnam’s abstention can be explained by its calculations of net benefits from taking this particular course of action. The country’s domestic political structure emphasizes continuity and consistency in foreign policy and changes its stance only when there is a clear benefit in doing so. In the context of the UNGA vote to condemn Russia, although Hanoi has repeatedly condemned the use of force in international relations, Vietnam reaps few benefits in siding with either side, which would also significantly hurt its own ties with either Moscow or Washington.”

Vietnam’s Accelerated Power Transition: Glad Tidings for Investors and Foreign Partners

Fulcrum/ Le Hong Hiep/ Feb. 28

“Either way, such a power transition will bring closure to the “unfinished business” from the 13th Party Congress, when the high-level personnel appointments did not go according to Trong’s plan and resulted in an unusual settlement. It will also end the political uncertainty surrounding the nation’s leadership and help restore confidence among investors and foreign partners. With less internal politicking, the new leadership will be able to focus on pressing issues, such as the long-standing bureaucratic inertia and delayed licensing process that has frustrated investors in recent years.”

Nguyen Phu Trong’s Dominance in Vietnamese politics: Far-reaching Implications

Fulcrum/ Nguyen Khac Giang/ Feb. 27

“Under Trong’s guidance, the use of party institutions in the campaign has been increasing, leading to a growing strength of the party bureaucracy relative to the state bureaucracy. In 2013, Trong was the main driving force behind the formation of the Central Steering Committee on Anti-Corruption, which was placed under the management of the Politburo instead of the government. In 2022, the provincial steering committee on anti-corruption, another initiative of Trong, was realised and enforced in all 63 provinces. Led by the provincial party secretaries, these committees are responsible for supervising anti-corruption investigations at the local level and submitting quarterly reports to the Central Steering Committee.”

Vietnam's “burning furnace” increases risks for foreign businesses

Control Risks/ Linh Nguyen/ Feb. 7

“The anti-corruption campaign is already damaging the economy. Value is being destroyed as real estate and capital markets have become collateral damage in political fights. Approvals for licensing for thousands of projects have been delayed as mid-level government officials are reluctant to make decisions on projects that could fall under investigation, thus increasing costs and confusing and frustrating foreign investors. Control Risks understands that at present, more than 1,500 companies in Vietnam are under government scrutiny for their connections to VTP and Lan. Lan’s arrest led to a run on the deposits of the HCMC-based Saigon Commercial Joint Stock Bank (SCB), which was widely believed to have close relations with VTP, despite denials by the bank. The State Bank of Vietnam – Vietnam’s central bank – repeatedly tried to reassure depositors that SCB had not been affected by the scandal, with little success.”

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