Vietnam Runs for Human Rights Council Reelection Despite Numerous Rights Violations and Restricted Civic Space Minister of Foreign Affairs Bui
Vietnam’s Security Agents Allegedly Abduct Political Blogger Duong Van Thai
Vietnamese Blogger Allegedly Abducted By Security Agents While Taking Refuge In Thailand
Vietnamese dissident blogger Duong Van Thai, also known by his pen name Thai Van Duong, has allegedly been abducted by Vietnamese security agents while living in exile in Thailand, according to multiple reports from Radio Free Asia (RFA), BBC News Vietnamese, and his close friends. Thai, 41, was reported missing on April 13; he was last seen on camera when he left his home at around 11 a.m.
The 41-year-old political dissident fled Vietnam in 2018, fearing his criticisms of the Communist Party and government leaders on social media could draw the authorities’ attention and persecution. He had been granted refugee status by the UN High Commissioner of Refugees (UNHCR) office in Bangkok. According to those close to Thai, he had an interview with the UNHCR officials recently regarding his resettlement, in which Thai said he wanted to relocate to the United States, where his girlfriend lived. Thai’s Youtube channel, “Thái Văn Đường,” has around 119,000 subscribers as of this writing.
On April 16, three days after Duong Van Thai was reported missing, Vietnamese State-run media quoted information from the Ha Tinh Provincial Police that they found a man named Duong Van Thai who “illegally crossed the border to enter Vietnam” from Laos on April 14. Col. Nguyen Hong Phong, director of Ha Tinh Police, said they had detained the man to “further investigate in accordance with the law.”
Vietnamese activists and dissidents believe that Thai has been kidnapped by Vietnam’s security agents in Bangkok and brought back to Vietnam. Grace Bui, a Vietnamese-American human rights activist living in Thailand, told RFA that she believed Thai “never intended to return to Vietnam” and that he would unlikely return after having an immigration interview with the UNHCR. The announcement of Duong Van Thai’s detention by Vietnamese police coincided with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken's arrival in Hanoi on the same day, the beginning of his three-day visit to Vietnam.
The allegedly forced repatriation of Duong Van Thai, a political asylum seeker recognized by the UNHRC, has exacerbated the situation of similar Vietnamese political dissidents living in exile in Thailand. His reported abduction, which Hanoi’s secret agents may have carried out, also sparked concerns about the practice of transnational repression targeting foreign-based Vietnamese dissidents and regime critics.
In January 2019, Vietnamese journalist Truong Duy Nhat, who fled to Thailand to seek political asylum, was allegedly kidnapped by security agents. Nhat was brought back to Vietnam and sentenced to 10 years for “abusing authoritative powers while performing official duties.” In 2017, Vietnamese agents kidnapped Trinh Xuan Thanh, former director of State-owned oil and gas company PetroVietnam, in Berlin. They transported him to Vietnam, where he later appeared on State television and confessed to committing “corruption” while working at PetroVietnam.
International press freedom and human rights advocates have issued statements condemning Vietnam’s arrest of Duong Van Thai and pressing for his release. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) on April 18 urged Vietnamese authorities to “immediately release journalist Duong Van Thai and stop all efforts to harass and detain members of the press living in exile.”
Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said that the Thai government must “immediately investigate and make their findings public” regarding the disappearance of the Vietnamese dissent blogger since he is a recognized political refugee.
Vietnam’s State Media: Officials Suspected Of Receiving Bribes In Organizing Repatriation Flights Could Face Death Penalty
The Supreme People’s Procuracy on April 18 officially indicted 54 suspects who were allegedly involved in giving, receiving, and brokering bribes regarding the repatriation flights for Vietnamese nationals during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Vietnamese government’s official website. Among the indicted suspects, 18 defendants prosecuted for “receiving bribes” could receive sentences up to 20 years of imprisonment, life sentences, and even the death penalty.
The procuracy’s decision was issued two weeks after the Ministry of Public Security (MPS) presented its proposal to prosecute the 54 defendants. The MPS investigation concluded that these government officials had allegedly accepted bribes totalling more than VND 180 billion (US$7.7 million). They included former Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs To Anh Dung, former General Director of the Consular Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Nguyen Thi Huong Lan, and former Vice Chairman of the Hanoi People's Committee Chu Xuan Dung.
Vietnam Rejects VOA Report Saying Hanoi Forcibly Repatriated Russian Anti-war Critics
Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry Deputy Spokeswoman Pham Thu Hang has rejected the latest reports from VOA News saying that Hanoi secretly complied with Moscow’s orders to repatriate anti-war Russian nationals living in the country arbitrarily. “This is untrue, baseless, unverified information,” Deputy Spokeswoman Hang said in an email responding to a previous VOA request for comment.
However, she did not clearly say which information was “untrue” or provide concrete and objective evidence to support her claims.
“Vietnam's position on the Russia-Ukraine conflict has been reiterated many times,” Hang added in the email. “As an active and responsible member of the international community, Vietnam is willing to contribute to advancing dialogues and finding solutions to stabilize the situation, maintaining peace and stability in the region and the world.” The Russian embassy and consulates in Vietnam did not respond to a VOA request for comment.
According to a VOA News special report published on April 9, antiwar Russian nationals living in Vietnam said in interviews that they had been summoned by the police several times before being forcibly deported from the country due to their repeated criticism of Russian President Vladimir Putin and his war waged against Ukraine. VOA said that the arbitrary deportation and harassment of Russian antiwar critics also undermined Hanoi’s official stance of “neutrality” and its announcement of “not taking sides” regarding the Russian invasion.
The 88 Project Report: Vietnam Weaponizes Law To Prosecute Activists
On April 21, The 88 Project released its latest report, “Vietnam: Law Weaponized to Prosecute Climate Activists,” which documents the Vietnamese government’s utilization of laws to prosecute environmental activists.
The 88-page report elaborates on the prosecutions of four NGO leaders, Nguy Thi Khanh, Dang Dinh Bach, Mai Phan Loi, and Bach Hung Duong. The report underscores how their effort to establish influential nonprofit organizations and powerful advocacy coalitions brought them into conflict with the one-party state. According to The 88 Project’s press release, they also examined nearly 90 court verdicts of individuals convicted of tax evasion between 2017 and 2022. They then compared the criminal procedures and sentences applied to these individuals to those used against the four activists.
The report can be found here.
Dak Lak Police Conclude Investigation Into Music Teacher Dang Dang Phuoc
RFA reported that Dak Lak Provincial Police had completed their investigation into music teacher Dang Dang Phuoc after seven months, accusing him of “distributing anti-State propaganda aimed at opposing the State” according to Article 117 of the Penal Code. The police had transferred Phuoc’s case profile to the Dak Lak Provincial Procuracy to indict him officially.
Phuoc, 60, a music teacher at Dak Lak Pedagogical College, was arrested in September last year for publishing information on social media urging Vietnamese authorities to respect human rights and informing the public of many social issues in Vietnam. Phuoc’s wife, Le Thi Ha, told Radio Free Asia (RFA) that the family had hired two lawyers, Nguyen Van Mieng and Le Xuan Anh Phu, to defend her husband. However, until now, only attorney Phu was allowed to visit Phuoc in custody.
Attorney Phu told RFA in a text message that Phuoc wished to change his charge from Article 117 to Article 331, which criminalizes “abusing democratic freedoms.” But Phu said the prosecution would not do it. According to Vietnam’s Penal Code, those convicted of violating Article 331 may face up to seven years in prison. Meanwhile, Article 117 carries a maximum sentence of 20 years.
Human Rights Watch: Australia Should Press Vietnam To End Systemic Human Rights Violations
Human Rights Watch (HRW), in a statement published on April 20, said the Australian government should urge Vietnam’s leadership to “end its systemic human rights violations” during the two countries’ 18th bilateral human rights dialogue scheduled for April 24 and 25 in Hanoi.
The statement called on Australia to press Hanoi to release political prisoners and detainees, especially Australian citizen Chau Van Kham, arbitrarily imprisoned on “terrorism” charges, to end restrictions on Vietnamese citizens’ freedom of movement, and halt its repression of the freedom of religion and belief. HRW also called on Canberra to urge Hanoi to “amend or repeal the penal code articles 109, 116, 117, 118, and 331, which the authorities frequently use to repress dissenting voices.”
Meanwhile, Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh has invited his Australian counterpart, Anthony Albanese, to pay an official visit to Vietnam. According to the Vietnamese government's official website, Chinh announced the invitation during a meeting with the Australian Minister of Trade and Tourism Don Farrell in Hanoi on April 17.
Freedom of Religion in Vietnam: What happened last week?
Vietnam Prosecutes Exiled Pastor A Ga, Arrests Independent Missionary
VOA News reported that Dak Lak Provincial Police had prosecuted Protestant pastor A Ga, an ethnic minority currently living in exile in North Carolina, on charges of “undermining the great unity policy” under Article 116 of the Penal Code. The police also arrested Protestant missionary Y Krec Bya, affiliated with the independent Central Highlands Evangelical Church of Christ, under the same charges.
The prosecutions of Pastor A Ga and Protestant missionary Y Krec Bya were announced on April 8 on the webpage of Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security. The news was disseminated on its State-owned media. It called Pastor A Ga “an exiled FULRO reactionary figure” while accusing missionary Y Krech Bya of “conducting activities to undermine the solidarity policy” and “causing division between the people and the Vietnamese government, the armed forces, and between people of different religions.”
FULRO is the abbreviation of the United Front for the Liberation of Oppressed Races, an organization established in the 1960s to demand autonomy for the Degar tribe, a Montagnard ethnic minority.
Pastor A Ga, the founder of the Central Highlands Evangelical Church of Christ, who has been a refugee in the United States since 2018, told VOA News that the Vietnamese government is seeking to suppress the Protestant church and divide the people holding different religious beliefs. “The government is scared because the Central Highlands Evangelical Church of Christ is proliferating,” Pastor A Ga said. “We are not conducting any activities that cause division and divide national unity.”
Vietnam Issues Much-awaited Landmark Data Protection Law
“On April 17, 2023, Vietnam issued its long-awaited, first-ever comprehensive data privacy law, Decree No. 13/2023/ND on the Protection of Personal Data (Decree). The Decree will take effect on July 1, 2023, without any transition period. All Vietnamese and foreign businesses located in Vietnam or carrying out data processing activities in Vietnam must comply with the Decree.
The issuance of the Decree follows an extensive and protracted series of public consultations and numerous rounds of review of its proposed text since the release of a first draft in February 2021. The final text of the issued Decree is currently only available in the Vietnamese language.”
Vietnam speeds land reclamation in South China Sea
“Satellite images obtained via Planet Labs, a U.S. Earth imaging company, show that reclamation works have been carried out at many of the 27 maritime features under Vietnam’s control in the Spratly archipelago.
New harbors that could serve as shelters for ships have been developed at five more features, including Tennent Reef, Pearson Reef, Namyit Island, Barque Canada Reef and Sand Cay, bringing the number of such facilities to at least nine.
The Spratly archipelago, with hundreds of atolls and reefs, is located in an area frequently hit by typhoons, and the Vietnamese government has said it is committed to protecting fishermen at sea.”
Vietnam Insight: Learn more about Vietnam
Fulcrum/ Dien Nguyen An Luong, Hoang Thi Ha/ April 20
“Beneath the façade of pomp and circumstance, however, some uncomfortable realities hang over the relationship. A closer look at the Vietnamese media’s coverage of the trip indicates that their narratives remain heavily influenced by China-wary edicts and political reservations by the Party. For example, Blinken’s key agenda during the trip — upgrading bilateral ties to a strategic partnership — did not hog the headlines. Neither did it generate in-depth analysis in the Vietnamese press. There were hints that Vietnamese leaders welcome bringing the relationship to new heights, but the much-desired “strategic partnership” remains off their script. It is not clear whether they have made their minds, or whether they are waiting for a better timing to do so, say, during an official visit by Biden to Hanoi or Trong to Washington.”
Fulcrum/ Nguyen Khac Giang/ April 20
“However, even with the expected benefits, a potential upgrade will not likely shift Vietnam’s hedging approach in the face of intensifying great power rivalry. Beijing possesses significant clout in its relationship with Hanoi, being its largest source of imports and an increasingly important investor. The ideological affinity between the two Communist parties further strengthens their connection. Beijing can exploit Hanoi’s apprehension of regime change to sow discord between Vietnam and the U.S. Due to its proximity to China, the complex bilateral disputes in the South China Sea, and a history of repeated invasions from the north, Hanoi would cautiously avoid any semblance of confrontation with Beijing.”
The Diplomat/ Khang Vu/ April 19
“It is undeniable that Vietnam’s diplomatic partnerships have been vital to raising Hanoi’s international profile, but it is a bit too far to suggest that these partnerships have increased Vietnam’s agency. Instead, Vietnam’s growing number of partnerships is an indicator of the stability of the China-Vietnam relationship since the end of the Cold War. Vietnam does not have to take sides precisely because China has not forced it to, as was the case in 1978. So long as Vietnam cannot make mistakes without grave consequences from its northern neighbor, it does not enjoy much agency – no matter its number of comprehensive or strategic partners.”
The Diplomat/ Thi Gammon/ April 18
“The Vietnamese absorption of this romanticism is notable for a collectivist Communist-led culture, which used to frown upon romantic self-indulgence as a product of the decadent West and the bourgeois. With the growth of the urban middle-class comes a corresponding accelerating interest in self-care products and global media consumption. Self-help books and sentimental Chinese literary novels (truyen ngon tinh) concerned with individualistic pursuits of happiness have been consumed prominently by young people and dominated the Vietnamese bookshelves.”