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Vietnam Concludes Its Investigation Into Repatriation Flights Corruption, 54 Officials Prosecuted

Amnesty Human Rights Report: Intolerance Of Dissent Continued Throughout 2022 In Vietnam

In an annual report released on March 27, Amnesty International documented and analyzed the 2022 human rights situation in 156 countries around the world, including Vietnam. The human rights organization raised alarms in the introduction reporting that authorities worldwide “continued their heavy-handed repression of universal freedoms.” Vulnerable groups, including women, girls, and LGBTI people, still faced violence and discrimination.

In the Vietnam section, Amnesty noted that the one-Party regime’s crackdown on registered environmental NGOs signalled the increasing repression of the country’s civil society. At the same time, independent journalists, activists, religious practitioners, and government critics were subject to harassment and intimidation. Some were even arrested in politically motivated prosecution. And despite the Vietnamese government’s pledges to uphold high human rights standards following its election to the UN Human Rights Council, human rights defenders continued to be persecuted in the country.

The report also outlined significant violations of human rights in Vietnam. They included restrictions on freedom of expression and association, torture and ill-treatment methods applied against prisoners and detainees, and the denial of prisoners’ right to healthcare. Furthermore, the Vietnamese government restricted the internet freedom of its citizens with the publication of Decree 53, which orders tech companies to store users’ data and share it with investigating authorities.


Vietnam’s Prominent Activist Nguyen Lan Thang To Be Tried In Closed Trial

Vietnam will try the prominent activist Nguyen Lan Thang in a closed trial on April 12, according to Le Bich Vuong, Thang’s wife, in an interview with VOA News. Vuong received a court notification about her husband's trial on April 4, but she had been earlier informed of the trial date by Thang’s defense lawyers.

Nguyen Lan Thang is a Hanoi-born activist and independent blogger, whose activism centers on human rights, civil society development, and Vietnam’s maritime disputes with China. Thang was arrested in July 2022 for “distributing anti-State propaganda” under Article 117 of Vietnam’s Penal Code.

On Feb. 24, the People’s Procuracy of Hanoi issued an indictment against Thang on the same charges under Article 117, according to a Facebook posting of attorney Pham Le Quyen, one of Thang’s lawyers. The Vietnamese activist was only allowed to see his lawyers on Feb. 16 after being held incommunicado since his arrest. From his attorneys' social media account, Thang refused to be tried in a closed trial, demanding his trial be public.


Human Rights Situation in Vietnam: What happened last week?

Front Line Defenders Report Names Journalist Do Cong Duong as One Of The Human Rights Defenders Killed In 2022

The Dublin-based human rights advocate Front Line Defenders (FLD) named Vietnamese journalist Do Cong Duong one of the 401 human rights defenders who were killed in 2022 due to their activism.

The report, titled “Global Analysis 2022,” which was released on April 14, documented and analyzed the global situation of human rights and freedoms in the previous year while underscoring the progress in the policy environment made by international institutions to advance the protection of human rights defenders.

Journalist Do Cong Duong died in Vietnam’s Nghe An Prison No. 6 last August while serving eight years on charges of “disturbing public order” and “abusing democratic freedoms.” Prior to his death, Duong had reportedly suffered from multiple illnesses in prison, including cardiovascular and respiratory diseases. Duong received no medical treatment from the prison authorities despite his weakening health.

Other human rights defenders mentioned in the FLD report included Vietnamese blogger and entrepreneur Tran Huynh Duy Thuc, who received a 16-year sentence on “subversion” convictions, and Vietnamese activist Nguyen Lan Thang, who could face a 20-year sentence on “distributing anti-State propaganda” charges in a trial on April 12.

Vietnam Police Harassed Former Prisoner Of Conscience Nguyen Thi Ngoc Suong After Her Release

Vietnamese police in Dong Nai Province have reportedly harassed Nguyen Thi Ngoc Suong, a former prisoner of conscience, who got released from prison in December 2022 after serving most of her five-year sentence on charges of “distributing anti-State propaganda” under Article 117 of the Penal Code, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported.

Suong had several illnesses in prison, including inflammation of the liver and kidney, high liver enzymes, and stomach infections, among other diseases. She said the only treatment she received was the same medicine that correctional officers gave all inmates to treat various diseases.

Suong, 55, told RFA on March 31 that the harassment began after she attended the appeals trial of Vietnamese blogger Nguyen Thai Hung and his fiancee, Vu Thi Kim Hoang, at the Dong Nai People’s Court on March 29. But it was reported that the authorities asked her to leave the courtroom after she arrived. Two days later, on March 31, the police in Dinh Quan District, Dong Nai Province, summoned Suong and warned her not to attend similar trials. They added that police officers would frequently check on her.

“Recently, the police have watched me very closely,” Suong told RFA after she met with the police. “They came to see me right after I returned home [from the trial]. They said I was not allowed to do this.” “I’ll visit you every few days,” a policeman told her.


Human Rights Watch Urges Australia To Put Human Rights Issues On Agenda During Vietnam Visit

In an announcement published on April 3, Daniela Gavson, Australia director of Human Rights Watch, urged Australian Governor-General David Hurley to “publicly and privately raise a number of serious human rights concerns with the Vietnamese leadership” during his visit to Hanoi last week.

Hurley arrived in Hanoi on April 3 to begin his four-day state visit to Vietnam to mark the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two countries. He traveled to Vietnam at the invitation of the newly inaugurated President Vo Van Thuong. State-run VnExpress reported that Australia is Vietnam’s seventh-largest trading partner and 20th-largest foreign investor.

Gavshon said that the Australian governor-general “should urge the Vietnamese government to release all political prisoners,” and “to make a special appeal for the immediate and unconditional release” of 73-year-old Australian citizen Chau Van Kham and other prominent activists in Vietnam. The family of Kham, who was imprisoned for 12 years on “terrorism” charges in 2019, called on Hurley to raise the case with Vietnamese leaders during his visit.

At the same time, the announcement requested Hurley to urge Hanoi to end its restrictions on the right to freedom of movement imposed against local activists and human rights defenders, in addition to allowing religious organizations to freely conduct their activities without harassment or interference from the authorities.

During a meeting on April 4, President Thuong and Governor-General Hurley agreed to discuss leveraging the diplomatic relationship between Vietnam and Australia into a “comprehensive strategic partnership” from the current “strategic partnership.”

During their discussions, Thuong was quoted by State media as asking Canberra to “control and handle terrorist individuals and organizations that could use Australian territory to conduct anti-Vietnam activities.” Thuong’s remarks potentially refer to Australian-based political parties and organizations that often criticize Hanoi for suppressing human rights.


Freedom of Religion in Vietnam: What happened last week?

VOA News reported that police in Soc Trang Province  interrogated a group of indigenous Khmer Buddhists after they attended a ceremony that celebrated International Women’s Day on March 8 in neighboring Tra Vinh Province. More than a dozen Khmer Buddhists from the Cambodia’s Khmer Krom, an independent Buddhist group, have been questioned for hours by authorities in Soc Trang for wearing T-shirts with their group's flag printed on them as they attended a celebration of International Women's Day on March 8 in Tra Vinh.

Thach Muol, one of the Khmer participants, was summoned by the police of Tran De District, Soc Trang, “to discuss some issues” regarding his earlier participation in the ceremony in Tra Vinh. Muol was then escorted to a police station in Tra Cu District, Soc Trang province and interrogated for many hours on March 27, he told VOA.

“From 9 am to 8.30 pm, they [the police] asked about the March 8 activity, [which they said was] against Vietnamese law,”said Muol. “They added that the Cambodia Khmer Krom Federation was an invalid organization. They said if I join again, they will arrest me.”

More worrying, Muol said plainclothes security officers beat him during the questioning.

Danh Minh Quang, a Buddhist Khmer from My Xuyen District in Soc Trang, was also questioned by the authorities on March 16. “March 8 is International Women’s Day. But the Vietnamese authorities here oppress the Khmer people, and they do not want us Khmers to contact each other and [seek to] divide our race.”

“The Vietnamese government here does not recognize us as indigenous Khmer Krom,” Quang added. “But this has been our homeland from birth for 400 to 500 years.” . I don't know what else the Vietnamese government is thinking about. Right now, we Khmer Krom only ask for freedom and nothing else,"Quang said.


Vietnam Concludes Investigation Into Corruption Regarding Covid-19 Repatriation Flights

The Vietnamese government’s official web site announced on April 4 that the Ministry of Public Security (MPS) has concluded its investigation into the bribery and abuse of authoritative powers regarding the government-managed repatriation flights for Vietnamese citizens during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Security Investigation Agency of the MPS has suggested prosecuting 54 individuals involved in the corruption scandal, including high-ranking officials and cadres in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the MPS, and the Communist Party.

According to the results of the investigation, 21 individuals are being charged with “receiving bribes;” four people are being prosecuted for “abusing authoritative powers while performing public duty;” 23 directors of multiple tourism companies are being charged with “giving bribes;” four people are being prosecuted for acting as bribery brokers; two people are being charged with “committing fraud;” and a suspect is wanted in connection with her role in brokering bribery.  

In March 2022, Vietnam organized the first flights to bring citizens stranded abroad home due to COVID-19 border restrictions. The government hailed them as repatriation flights. As of the middle of 2021, Vietnam approved around 1,000 repatriation flights, bringing more than 200,000 people home during the pandemic.

However, these rescue flights were rife with corruption and favoritism. It was later revealed that passengers had to pay for overpriced tickets in order to board these homebound flights. Local tourism firms have been prosecuted for greasing the palms of government and foreign affairs officials, bribing them with more than 170 billion dong (US$7,250 million) to select their companies as the contractors for such flights.

Most notably, Maj. Gen. Nguyen Anh Tuan, former deputy director of the Hanoi Police, has been accused of receiving bribes worth more than $2.6 million from Nguyen Thi Thanh Hang and Le Hong Son, the respective director and deputy director of a local tourism company, to help them clear the charges. After receiving the money, Tuan allegedly contacted and bribed Hoang Van Hung, then the head of the Security Investigation Agency of the MPS, to help Hang and Son evade criminal prosecutions.

At the same time, the Investigative Security Agency found that accepting bribes allegedly occurred at the Ministry of National Defense, and it later transferred the documents to the Ministry of National Defense for another further investigation.


U.S. Congressional Delegates To Visit Vietnam, Seeking To Leverage The Diplomatic Relationship With Hanoi

A U.S. Congressional Delegation led by Senator Jeff Merkley held a press conference on April 8 during their five-day visit to Vietnam. At the press conference, Merkley said the U.S. Congress supported the plan to leverage the bilateral relations between the two countries to a “comprehensive strategic relationship” from the current “strategic relationship.”

The two countries also sought to cooperate and strengthen U.S.-Vietnam relations based on mutual interests such as trade, investment, and maritime security, and to expand cooperation in new areas, including combating climate change, Vietnam’s State-run news agency Tuoi Tre reported. During the conference, Merkley said that U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken would visit Vietnam this week, before he heads to a meeting of foreign ministers of the Group of Seven (G7) countries in Japan on April 16-18, Reuters reported.

The visiting delegation  also announced that the United States would give Vietnam one more coast guard cutter, in addition to financial assistance worth US$300 million for projects to clean up the defoliant Agent Orange left behind by the Americans at Bien Hoa and Da Nang airports. Merkley told Phap Luat Online that developments in the South China Sea, which Vietnam refers to as the East Sea, are crucial to Vietnam’s security. He used that issue to explain why the United States had transferred coast guard ships to Vietnam over the years, adding that additional assistance would come.


Vietnam to probe TikTok over "toxic" content

Reuters:

“Vietnam will probe TikTok's operations in the country from May, as "toxic" content on the short-video platform "poses a threat to the country's youth, culture and tradition", the Information Ministry said on Thursday.

Moderating content on the popular Chinese-owned application that carries bite-sized videos was "far more difficult" than on other platforms, ministry representative Le Quang Tu Do said at a news conference, without providing details.

"We will need tougher measures to combat that content, removal only is not enough," Do said. He did not elaborate on the measures.”


Vietnam, Israel Conclude Negotiations for Free Trade Pact

The Diplomat:

“Earlier this week, Vietnam announced that it will sign a free trade agreement with Israel after seven years of negotiations, an event that is timed to the 30th anniversary of relations between the two countries. According to a report by Reuters, which cited a Vietnamese government statement, the two nations will officially conclude the economic agreement later this year.

Bilateral trade between Israel and Vietnam rose 18 percent last year to $2.2 billion, the government said in the statement. It added that Vietnam’s largest exports to Israel include smartphones, footwear, and seafood. Its main imports from Israel are electronics and fertilizer.”


Vietnam Insight: Learn more about Vietnam

Too big to fail? Vingroup faces headwinds at home and abroad

Southeast Asia Globe/ Govi Snell/ April 3

“The conglomerate’s projects now mark the country from north to south, where Vietnam’s tallest skyscraper – Vingroup’s Landmark 81 – towers over the rest of Ho Chi Minh City’s skyline.

But on home turf, it’s been a tough couple of years for Vingroup.

The Covid-19 pandemic disrupted the flow of cash into Vingroup’s tourism complexes, Vuving said, and the country’s real estate industry has taken a nosedive starting last year when the government issued a crackdown on bond issuance.

Now, many companies are struggling to repay debts and 235 property firms went out of business in the first two months of 2023.”

Manila, Kuala Lumpur to negotiate with Beijing in South China Sea

Radio Free Asia/ RFA and BenarNews Staff/ April 5

“Vietnam, which saw several oil development projects with foreign partners stopped under China’s pressure, has always maintained that any joint exploration should abide by international law, especially the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).  

As a rule, Hanoi does not publicly criticize other ASEAN members’ policies but Vietnamese scholars said that Beijing-led joint projects in the South China Sea could become “dangerous precedents” if pursued.

China has been offering other countries to “set aside dispute and pursue joint development,” viewing it “as a measure to assert sovereignty in the negotiated area,” wrote a Vietnamese researcher, Bui Sang Minh, in the South China Sea Studies Journal, which usually reflects the Vietnamese government’s stance.”

Vietnam Has a Long Way to Go on Decarbonization

The Diplomat/ Vincenzo Caporale/ March 15

“To reach net zero by 2050, the CPV must attract foreign investment, which requires reforms to its cumbersome regulatory structure. For example, its Power Purchase Agreement puts the majority of the risk on those developing renewable energy projects. It prohibits these developers from directly providing energy to businesses while also lacking a “take or pay” obligation, government guarantee, or procedural recourse. As a positive development, the Ministry of Industry and Trade recently announced a Direct Power Purchase Agreement pilot program that will allow businesses to purchase a limited amount of electricity directly from developers.”

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