Vietnam Among Countries at Bottom RSF 2023 Press Freedom Index
Vietnam’s press freedom is considered in “very serious condition” as the country ranks 178 out of 180 measured countries in the World Press Freedom Index. Vietnam fell four places from its 174th position in 2022. The index was released by the press freedom advocacy group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) on May 3, which marked the 30th anniversary of World Press Freedom Day. Vietnam’s ranking this year is only above that of China and North Korea.
According to RSF, the development of the fake content industry and disinformation and the increased aggressiveness of authoritarian countries have wreaked havoc and weakened the quality of journalism and press freedom worldwide. The weaponization of propaganda utilized by the Kremlin to justify its invasion of Ukraine has contributed to this downward trend. Meanwhile, RSF notes that the Asia-Pacific region has some of the world's worst jailers of journalists.
Vietnam currently imprisons 42 journalists, according to the RSF barometer. Many imprisoned journalists had taken enormous risks covering many pressing issues in modern Vietnam, including the environment and corruption. They were prosecuted using contentious charges, such as “distributing anti-State propaganda” and “abusing democratic freedoms.” Members of independent journalist groups in Vietnam, including Báo Sạch (Clean Newspaper) and the Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam (IJAVN), have been arrested and received heavy sentences due to their work.
Sixteen members of the Media Freedom Coalition in Vietnam, including the embassies of the European Union, Ukraine, Canada, and the United States, on May 3 issued a joint statement in honor of journalists and media employees while calling on the autocratic government not to arbitrarily arrest journalists and interfere with their work. “[A free press] plays an important role in raising social issues, ensuring accountability, transparency, and helping citizens and governments make informed decisions,” the statement said.
Pen America: Vietnamese Government Continues To Quash Dissent
Vietnam currently jails 16 writers, while another 27 are at risk, according to the figures published by PEN America in their latest report, “Freedom to Write Index 2022,” on April 27. The report classifies Vietnam in the top 10 countries in terms of “Writers in Custody” and “Writers at Risk.” The one-Party Communist country ranks at the 6th and 10th position, respectively.
The report further notes that the Vietnamese government “continues to quash dissent,” focusing on “controlling the public’s access to social media and expanding the government’s ability to obtain access to personal data.” These control efforts were highlighted with the passing of the Cyber Security Law in 2018, which requires foreign social media platforms to store users' data locally while increasing government access to the personal data of its citizens. The government monopolizes all traditional media and other forms of publication. At the same time, it utilizes a 10,000-unit cyber force to counter government criticisms and spread propaganda on multiple digital platforms.
According to PEN America, the writers criticizing the Vietnamese government on human rights, corruption, environmental issues, and its COVID-19 policies are “often harassed, arrested, or imprisoned.” These include blogger Bui Van Thuan, online commentator Tran Hoang Huan, and independent journalist Le Manh Ha. They were imprisoned under contentious Article 117 of Vietnam’s 2015 Penal Code.
In the recommendations section, PEN America calls on Vietnam to repeal Article 117 of its penal code. The advocacy group also urges the U.S. government to “reintroduce and pass the bipartisan Vietnam Human Rights Act,” “reinforce the need for the Vietnamese government to adhere to human rights and free expression principles,” and work with its ASEAN partners for the release of imprisoned writers and provide support for exiled writers regarding asylum.
Vietnamese Scholar Nguyen Quang A Barred From Leaving The Country
Nguyen Quang A, a Vietnamese scholar and social activist, reportedly learned he was banned from leaving Vietnam on May 2 as he boarded a plane to Thailand at Hanoi’s Noi Bai International Airport.
A, the former director of the now defunct civil society organization Institute of Development Studies, told Radio Free Asia (RFA) in an interview that he was stopped at the immigration checkpoint at Noi Bai International Airport, where police officers told him that he was prohibited from travelling abroad due to “security issues.” The police incident report regarding A’s travel ban did not name the type of “security issue.” The 77-year-old social activist added that he had planned to fly to Thailand and then continue to travel to the European Union.
In 2018, Nguyen Quang A was banned from travelling to Australia. In October of the same year, the Vietnamese authorities stopped him from going on a planned trip to Brussels to attend a conference on human rights. In September 2020, A was detained by the Hanoi police when he was going to meet then-U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam Daniel Kritenbrink at the ambassador’s invitation. And most recently, in July 2021, he was summoned by the police regarding his alleged involvement in a criminal case under Article 117 of Vietnam’s 2015 Penal Code, which criminalizes activities related to “distributing anti-State propaganda.”
Vietnam, in recent years, has increased its crackdown on civil and political rights with the arrests of numerous civil society leaders and prominent scholars. In 2022, the Vietnamese government arrested two scholars, Hoang Ngoc Giao and Nguyen Son Lo, who were directors of two development nonprofit organizations, on charges of alleged “tax evasion” and “abusing democratic freedom.”. At the same time, Hanoi has systematically restricted activists' freedom of movement, confiscating their passports and preventing them from travelling abroad.
UN Working Group Says Detention Of Vietnamese Political Prisoner Do Nam Trung “Arbitrary”
RFA reported that the UN Human Rights Council Working Group on Arbitrary Detention had issued an opinion on the case of a Vietnamese activist Do Nam Trung, who was arrested in 2021 and sentenced to 10 years in prison on “anti-State propaganda” charges. The group’s letter said that his detention was arbitrary.
According to the 11-page report, dated March 9, and just released publicly, the Council’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention opined that Trung’s detention was arbitrary because his “conduct falls within the right to freedom of opinion and expression protected under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.” The group also noted that Article 117 in Vietnam’s Penal Code, which Trung was tried under, “did not appear to comply with the principles of legal certainty, necessity, and proportionality.”
The letter also set out other violations committed by the Vietnamese government regarding Trung’s prolonged incommunicado detention and denial of family visitations.
The working group requested that the government immediately remedy Trung’s situation and conform it with relevant international norms, including those in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It also urged Hanoi to ensure a full and independent investigation of the arbitrary deprivation of Trung’s liberty and to take appropriate measures against those responsible for violating his rights.
USCIRF Suggests The State Department Include Vietnam In “Countries Of Particular Concerns” Regarding Religious Freedom
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has recommended the Department of State categorize Vietnam as “a country of particular concerns” (CPC) in terms of freedom of religion, according to an annual report assessing the international state of religious freedom released on May 1. The State Department designated Vietnam as a CPC in 2004 and 2005 due to the Hanoi regime’s severe abuses of religious freedom. On November 30, it placed Vietnam on the Special Watch List due to the regime’s intolerance of spiritual practice.
The USCIRF 2023 report says that religious freedom in Vietnam “worsened” last year, with the government’s “systematic, ongoing, and egregious” violations of the people’s rights to practice religion. The report notes that Vietnam is a “religiously diverse” country, and the freedom to practice beliefs is enshrined in the country’s Constitution.
But in reality, the Vietnamese government systematically suppresses and persecutes the practitioners of independent and ethnic minority religious groups, including Montagnard and Hmong Protestants, Cao Dai followers, Hoa Hao Buddhists, Unified Buddhists, as well as other sects such as Duong Van Minh and Falun Gong. There were reports that local authorities continued to harass members of these groups, disrupt their peaceful religious activities, interrogate and threaten them with imprisonment, impose heavy fines, and force these practitioners to renounce their beliefs and join State-controlled organizations.
Leaders of different religious sects in Vietnam were subjected to lengthy detention and imprisonment. Phan Van Thu, the founder of An Dan Dai Dao, a Buddhist sect established in Phu Yen Province, died in prison last year due to the precarious imprisonment conditions. He received a life sentence on a charge of “attempting to overthrow the people’s administration.”
The report also urged the U.S. government to “encourage amendments”
to Vietnam’s 2018 Law on Belief and Religion and the two 2022 drafts implementing decrees governing the registration of new religious groups, “hold Vietnam accountable” for its religious freedom violations as a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) and “press Vietnam to allow relevant United Nations (UN) Special Procedures unfettered access” to investigate allegations of religious freedom abuses; and highlight the cases of religious prisoners of conscience and advocate for their release.
Hanoi Asks Australia To Halt The Circulation Of A Coin Bearing South Vietnamese Flag
Vietnam has recently requested Australia to halt the circulation of commemorative coins issued to mark the end of Australian troops’ involvement in the Vietnam War 50 years ago. The commemorative AUD$2 silver coin, which features the portrait of Queen Elizabeth II on one side with a UH-1 helicopter on the other side, was released by the Royal Australian Mint on April 6. The coin also features the national flag of the defeated Saigon government, embedded with three red stripes on a yellow background.
Around 50,000 Australian troops served in the Vietnam War and fought alongside the South Vietnamese military, an ally of Canberra. More than 500 Australian soldiers lost their lives.
The issuance of this commemorative coin has outraged Hanoi. Vietnam’s deputy spokeswoman of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Pham Thu Hang, said on May 4 that the government “resolutely opposes the fact that the Royal Australia Mint and the Australia Post have issued products with the images of ‘yellow flag,’ which [belongs to] a regime that no longer exists.” Hang added that the distribution of the coin “was completely inappropriate” and that she “had discussed with the Australian side to request stopping the [coins] circulation.” Hang warned Australian authorities that she hoped “no similar situation would happen again.”
After Vietnam was reunified in 1975 under Communist domination, South Vietnamese people became subjects of the Hanoi regime’s systemic discrimination and punishment. The victor, North Vietnam, also ramped up a cancel culture project in the south, where the defeated South Vietnam's national symbols, culture, history, and language were demolished and vilified. Its national flag was not exempted from this mass cultural annihilation. Discussions regarding the former Saigon regime remain taboo in modern Vietnam.
Vietnam to more than double power generation by 2030, lower offshore wind target
“Vietnam aims to more than double its power generation capacity by 2030, but has slightly lowered its target for offshore wind and will heavily rely on coal until the end of the decade, according to a government document seen by Reuters.
Total installed power generation capacity in the Southeast Asian country is projected to reach 158 gigawatts (GW) by 2030, more than previously estimated and up from 69 GW in 2020, according to the document detailed government's plans discussed with foreign investors and diplomats on Thursday.”
Vietnam Insight: Learn more about Vietnam
Vietnam seeks safer maritime security partnerships
East Asia Forum/ Minh Phuong Vu/ May 5
“Vietnam’s lack of political trust in the United States could further limit cooperation. Washington’s continuing promotion of democracy in its Indo-Pacific strategy could irritate Hanoi. Its distrust has deepened since the Trump administration withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and accused Vietnam of currency manipulation. Vietnam has avoided major US weapon purchases and US aircraft carriers have not been allowed to dock near Vietnam’s main naval base at Cam Ranh Bay.
Compared to its hesitancy over maritime cooperation with the United States, Hanoi appears more comfortable with India and Japan. Like the US, India and Japan are concerned about China’s activities in the SCS but do not seek to unduly antagonise Beijing. Maritime cooperation with Tokyo and New Delhi allows Vietnam to keep enough distance from the United States to avoid upsetting Beijing while still maintaining its maritime security.”
China’s defence ties with Cambodia raise red flags for Vietnam
East Asia Forum/ Abdul Rahman Yaacob/ May 3
“The presence of Chinese military facilities in the South China Sea further impairs Vietnam’s ability to access resources within its EEZ. These facilities enable Chinese naval assets to maintain a consistent presence throughout the South China Sea, disrupting the activities of regional states, including Vietnam.
Cambodia’s growing defence relations with China have affected Vietnam’s strategic calculus. Since Cambodia’s defence relations with the United States went awry in 2010, China has stepped in to fill the void. In that same year, Beijing supplied trucks and uniforms to Cambodia.”
Vietnam and China: Conflicting neighbors stuck in nationalism and memory
Harvard International Review/ Nghia L. Nguyen/ May 3
“The Vietnamese government, conscious of the benefits and problems posed by nationalism, has thus adopted a dual approach towards nationalism and the South China Sea. On the one hand, the state has allowed the ongoing nationalistic discourse on social media and criticism of China’s naval actions in official news outlets. On the other hand, the Vietnamese official reaction to more and more Chinese encroachments has been limited since 2014. The Vietnamese Navy has not dared to confront the Chinese forces on the high seas. Rather, Chinese island construction projects, which created massive air and naval bases filled with military infrastructure and hardware, as well as the sinking of Vietnam fishing vessels and capture of its fishermen for ransom have only been met with statements of protest or silence. Vietnam has also not expressly supported freedom-of-navigation operations conducted by Western militaries in the region. No major anti-Chinese protests have happened in Vietnam except for one instance in 2018 against a planned law on special economic zones that would favor Chinese investors.”
Solutions for Vietnam’s water scarce Delta
East Asia Forum/ Thong Anh Tran/ May 2
“To secure water in the VMD, the Vietnamese government needs to actively engage in water diplomacy at the regional scale and translate these efforts into water management policies at the delta scale to better address emerging and future water insecurity. While the delta remains exposed to mounting pressures at multiple scales, both transboundary and in-situ, integrated ‘grey–green’ solutions may be the most viable option to securing water sustainability for the successful implementation of climate-resilient development demanded by Resolution 120.”