U.S. and Vietnam Seek to Boost Ties During Bliken Visit; Hanoi Complies with Kremlin Request to Repatriate Antiwar Critics

U.S. and Vietnam Seek to Boost Ties During Bliken Visit; Hanoi Complies with Kremlin Request to Repatriate Antiwar Critics

Vietnam Sentences Prominent Activist Nguyen Lan Thang To Six Years In Prison

In a closed trial, the Hanoi People’s Court on April 12 sentenced prominent Vietnamese political activist and blogger Nguyen Lan Thang to six years of imprisonment and two years of probation for “distributing anti-State propaganda” under Article 117 of the Penal Code.

Thang, 48, was tried in a closed-door hearing, and only his wife, Le Bich Vuong, and his defense lawyers were allowed inside the courtroom. He petitioned for an open trial last month, but the request went unanswered.

Thang, born into a prominent family of scholars and doctors in Hanoi, is well-known for his avid participation in Vietnam’s civil society. He has written numerous articles on democracy, human rights, and freedom and has participated in many anti-China demonstrations in Vietnam. The Hanoi engineer had been held incommunicado for seven months following his arrest.

Several local activists and dissidents told Radio Free Asia (RFA) that they weren’t allowed near the court. And some political dissidents were reportedly put under house watch or were followed by security forces if they left home during the trial.

The conviction of Thang occurred after Vietnam was elected a member of the UN Human Rights Council last October. Many human rights and press freedom advocates, including Human Rights Watch (HRW), Amnesty International, and The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), have condemned the charges and called for Thang’s immediate and unconditional release. Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at HRW, urged Vietnam’s trade partners to “denounce the suppression of free speech and call for Nguyen Lan Thang’s release.”

Article 117 of Vietnam’s Penal Code is a controversial legal provision often weaponized by the State to suppress the freedom of expression. According to the database of The 88 Project, a speech freedom advocate, 62 people have been convicted of violating this article.

Thang’s conviction occurred only two days before the official visit of U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken to Vietnam on April 14. A few hours before Blinken’s visit to Hanoi, the United States on April 13 condemned Vietnam’s jailing of Nguyen Lan Thang, adding that bilateral ties could only reach their full potential if the country improved its human rights record, Reuters reported.

Lawyers Of Buddhist temple Tinh That Bong Lai are Again Summoned By the Police

RFA reported that attorney Dang Dinh Manh, one of the five defense lawyers of Buddhist temple Tinh That Bong Lai, has been summoned by the police for his alleged violation of Article 331 in Vietnam’s Penal Code. Article 331 criminalizes the activities of “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe on the State and individuals’ legitimate rights and interests.”

Five monks and a landowner at the Buddhist temple were found guilty and sentenced to a combined 23 years and six months in July 2022 for violating this law.

While providing legal support to the Buddhist temple members, Manh, and four other lawyers, Ngo Thi Hoang Anh, Dao Kim Lan, Nguyen Van Mieng, and Trinh Vinh Phuc, used a YouTube account named Nhật ký Luật sư (The Attorney’s Diary) to publish information about the case as well as give their comments. The police claimed that the videos uploaded on this channel had violated Article 331.  

Long An authorities issued a summons to the five lawyers on March 6, which required them to present themselves to the police for questioning on March 21. But only attorneys Trinh Vinh Phuc and Ngo Thi Hoang Anh attended the meeting as requested. So far, neither has disclosed the discussions of their questioning. On April 14, the police sent a second summons to Manh. According to the warrant, reviewed by RFA, Manh must present himself to the police on April 19.

VOA News Special Reports: Vietnam Complies With The Kremlin Request To Forcefully Repatriate Russian War Critics

Vietnamese authorities have secretly received orders from Russia’s foreign ministry to forcefully repatriate Russian nationals living in the country due to their opposition to Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, according to the latest special reports from Voice of America (VOA) News.

The special reports comprise two parts, containing interviews and documentation of experiences told by Russians living in Vietnam. The police had reportedly questioned them and even deported them from Vietnam at the request of the Kremlin following their criticisms of Russian President Vladimir Putin and his war waged against Ukraine.

Serkhio Kuan, a Russian national interviewed by VOA News, said he had been forcefully repatriated to Moscow after emailing Russia’s consulate in Da Nang to express his anger at the war that Moscow launched in Ukraine. Kuan was forcibly put on a plane to Moscow from Hanoi but escaped while transiting in Dubai.

Meanwhile, Sergey Kuropov, another Russian teaching English at a kindergarten in Nha Trang, said he was fired from his job following his repeated criticisms of Russia’s aggression and President Putin. Kuropov added that he had been summoned by local police several times before he lost his job, as they warned him against publicly criticizing Russia on social media. Also, according to Kuropov, a policeman in Nha Trang told him in private that Russia is Vietnam’s elder brother and that “opposing Russia also means opposing Vietnam.”

The Russian critic applied for refugee status at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, worried he could be imprisoned upon arrival in Russia. Kuropiv has been resettled and is now living in Canada. Sergey Pavlov, another Russian critic, relocated to Florida with his family after being deported from Vietnam due to his criticisms of the war and Vladimir Putin.

VOA News pointed out in the special reports that Vietnam had violated its laws, Constitution, and international commitment to human rights to harass and illegally repatriate Russian nationals at the Kremlin’s request. At the same time, the reported deportation of war critics undermined Hanoi’s official stance of neutrality regarding Moscow's unlawful invasion of Ukraine.

Le Quoc Quan, a Vietnamese human rights lawyer, told VOA News that Vietnam’s compliance with Moscow’s orders shows that “Vietnam has ‘implicitly’ sided with Russia, despite claiming that they are ‘not taking sides.’”

​​Freedom of Religion in Vietnam: What happened last week?

Cao Bang Authorities Forced Followers Of Duong Van Minh To Abandon Their Religion

RFA reported that Vietnamese authorities in Nam Quang Commune, Bao Lam District, Cao Bang Province, have made the local Hmong people sign a document to renounce the Duong Van Minh religion, a belief local authorities consider to be a “false religion” that needs to be removed.

A Hmong resident told Radio Free Asia (RFA) on condition of anonymity that a group of around 15 provincial officials and police came to his brother’s house to force him to sign a commitment to abandon the Duong Van Minh religion. The Hmong interviewee added that the officials and police also forced him and others to sign the papers, but they disagreed.

The religion was founded in 1989 by Duong Van Minh, a local Hmong ethnic minority. He established this sect to help the Hmong communities eliminate outdated and costly funeral services. Duong Van Minh said he was the one God sent to help people abandon the custom of worshipping ghosts, a Hmong tradition.

On April 5, a group of commune officials also reportedly entered Na Heng Village, Cao Bang Province, destroyed the Duong Van Minh altars where the Hmong adherents worshipped, and forced the followers to sign a pledge to abandon their religion. When the residents refused to sign, the Cao Bang officials reportedly took their hands and forced them to press their fingerprints on the papers. The victims involved in the altercation included Ly Van Chi, Hoang Van Cha, Ma Van Chau, Ma Van Sung, Dao Van Su, and Dao Thi Pe.

One resident told RFA that when his family was away, the commune authorities broke into their house and replaced the Duong Van Minh altar with a picture of Communist leader Ho Chi Minh.

The campaign to abolish the Duong Van Minh religion is being carried out by the Ministry of Public Security (MPS) police. In July 2022, an article published in the People’s Police newspaper, a mouthpiece of the MPS, revealed that the Vietnamese government had issued Proposal No. 78 on “fighting, preventing, and moving towards eradicating the illegal Duong Van Minh organization.” The government accused these Hmong followers of “separatism” and of plotting to “establish a Hmong state” in Vietnam’s territory.

U.S. Secretary Of State Antony Blinken Visits Vietnam, Discusses The Possible Leverage Of Diplomatic Relationship

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken began his three-day visit to Vietnam on April 14 to celebrate the two countries’ 10th anniversary of “comprehensive partnership” before heading to Japan to attend the G7 foreign ministers meeting, Reuters reported.

According to the State Department press release, Blinken was to meet with senior Vietnamese officials, including Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh and Communist Party chief Nguyen Phu Trong, to discuss their shared vision of “a connected, prosperous, peaceful, and resilient Indo-Pacific region.”

During his Vietnam trip, Blinken was expected to discuss the possibility of leveraging bilateral relationships between the United States and Vietnam into a “comprehensive strategic partnership.” Experts in Vietnam told Reuters that Hanoi had to tread a narrow path in upgrading its diplomatic partnership with the United States, given the regime’s close ideological and economic ties with Beijing.

Meanwhile, Carl Thayer, a specialist on Vietnamese defense issues, told the South China Morning Post that he believed the time “is ripe” for a U.S.-Vietnam relationship upgrade and that this would be “laying the groundwork” for a likely visit by the U.S. President Joe Biden in May to coincide with his trips to the G7 Summit in Hiroshima and a Quad meeting in Sydney.

During a meeting on April 15, Secretary Blinken and Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh pledged to “boost relations to new levels,” the Associated Press reported. Blinken also broke ground on the construction of a new $1.2 billion U.S. embassy compound in Hanoi, which was regarded as “a demonstration of the enduring commitment to the United States–Vietnam relationship during the 10th anniversary of the Comprehensive Partnership,” according to a State Department announcement of the project.

Human rights experts expect Blinken to publicly and privately raise Vietnam’s serious deterioration of human rights in his talks with the Vietnamese government and State officials. Phil Robertson, Asia deputy director at HRW, in a press release published on April 12, urged Blinken to request Vietnam “to end its systemic abuse of freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly, and release the more than 160 political prisoners  imprisoned for exercising their rights.”

Robertson also called on Bliken to “make a special appeal for the immediate and unconditional release” of Vietnamese journalist Pham Doan Trang, who was handed  a nine-year sentence for her alleged “anti-State activities.” He also raised the regime’s crackdown on registered civil society leaders in Vietnam, most recently the imprisonment of two academics, Hoang Ngoc Giao and Nguyen Son Lo.

Samsung knowingly exposed workers to highly toxic chemicals, whistleblower claims

Rest of World:

“A whistleblower claims that Samsung Electronics flouted safety and environmental guidelines in Vietnam, exposing workers to toxic chemicals.

It’s the latest in a set of similar reported claims around the powerful conglomerate, responsible for an estimated 15% of South Korea’s economy.

Kang’s whistleblowing is not the first time Samsung’s safety and environment practices have come under scrutiny. This past June, a state probe in Austin, Texas found that equipment failure at Samsung’s U.S. semiconductor plant caused the dumping of roughly 763,000 gallons of sulfuric acid waste into local waterways. In South Korea, media have reported tens of Samsung workers dying of blood-related illnesses, for which the company finally compensated their families in 2014. In Vietnam, a local newspaper’s attempt to report on the labor abuse claims of overwork and chemical exposure were quickly dismissed by the company.”

Tilleke & Gibbins:

“Decree 10 provides for the first time the land reclamation procedures in case of termination of investment projects. It also regulates certain critical matters such as the procedures for registering and issuing the certificate of land use rights and ownership of houses and other assets attached to land for the recipients of land use rights transfer and the purchasers of houses or buildings in residential development projects and non-residential real estate business projects. Procedures for land allocation or land lease in cases where investors are approved in accordance with Article 29.3 of the 2020 Investment Law are also provided.”

Vietnam’s Ties to Russia Tested by China’s Moves in South China Sea

VOA News:

“The conflicting interests facing Hanoi — navigating a historically fraught relationship with China, bilateral ties with like-minded Russia, and warming relations with the U.S., an enemy defeated less than 50 years ago — may test Vietnam’s “three NO's” foreign policy — no alignment with any countries against a third country, no military alliance with any country, no foreign military base in its territory.

Russia's state-controlled oil company Zarubezhneft and gas giant Gazprom, working with a subsidiary of PetroVietnam, the country's state-owned fossil fuel company, operate a gas field in Vietnam's South China Sea exclusive economic zone (EEZ), according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a think tank in Washington.”

Vietnam Insight: Learn more about Vietnam

Vietnam ‘needs to change’ its reliance on Russian arms. Will the US step in to help upgrade its military?

South China Morning Post/ Govi Snell/ April 15

“Attempts at military modernisation since the late 1990s have seen Hanoi import a further 36 multirole aircraft, six submarines, a brace of coastal defence missile systems and four frigates from Russia.

But delivery of the last of those frigates was delayed following Moscow’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 as the engines were made in Ukraine – causing Hanoi to rethink, and ultimately cancel, its planned purchase of two more Russian warships.

Now Vietnam is stuck with “ancient equipment”, according to Carl Thayer, a political scientist and professor at the Australian Defence Force Academy, including a fleet of fighter jets that are still operating 10 to 20 years past their intended service life.”

Unveiling the engines behind e-government in Vietnam

East Asia Forum/ Pham Thi Thuy Duong, Truong Thuy Quynh/ April 15

“The Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) has political incentives driving its ambitious e-government project. The government treats e-government as a crucial step towards reforming its chunky bureaucratic system, as the digitisation of public services provision is predicted to cut the administrative budget by VND 8.5 billion (around US$360,000) per year.

The CPV also considers e-government critical for improving surveillance. This is evident in its nationwide campaign to replace the old ID card with a chip-based one, which has resulted in a national population database. Beyond a more efficient surveillance structure, e-government represents the CPV’s deeper desire to reinforce its legitimacy and mobilise greater public support.

Corruption is not just an economic matter for party leaders but also a legitimacy crisis that taints the image of the CPV in the public’s eyes. To effectively tackle corruption, restoring confidence in the system is essential. E-government development is designed as a moral antidote that portrays the regime as a righteous vanguard of bureaucratic ethics.”

Conflict in a Crowded Sea: Risks of Escalation in the South China Sea

The Diplomat/ Alexander C. Tan, Neel Vanvari/ April 11

“These confrontations have intensified since Xi Jinping took office in late 2012, and China’s foreign policy took a more assertive turn. In 2014, Chinese and Vietnamese coast guard vessels collided after China tried to set up an oil rig in contested waters near the Paracel Islands. A further dispute took place between China and Vietnam in 2019 when China blocked Vietnamese support vessels from accessing a drilling platform in Vietnam’s sovereign waters. China has also undertaken similar actions that have prevented Malaysia from accessing its oil rigs in the South China Sea. There is an existing pattern of skirmishes and confrontations in the region, and based on these past experiences, a bigger escalation in the future cannot be discounted.”

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