Vietnamese Dissident Bui Tuan Lam Allowed To Meet His Lawyers For The First Time Since Arrest
In a Facebook update published on May 9 by attorney Le Dinh Viet, one of the defense lawyers of Bui Tuan Lam, a Vietnamese dissident known as “Green Onion Bae,” the lawyer said that he was allowed to meet Lam on May 8 for the first time since his arrest last September. Ngo Anh Tuan, another defense lawyer of Lam, was also present during the visitation.
Viet said the meeting was “strictly monitored” by the Danang People’s Court representatives, Danang’s Police’s Security Investigation Agency, and the detention center. Bui Tuan Lam was arrested on September 7 last year for “distributing anti-State propaganda” under Article 117 of Vietnam’s Penal Code.
Regarding Lam’s health, Viet wrote that although he had a history of heart disease and high blood pressure, the detention center did not provide adequate medical treatment and medicine. He said that Lam tried to maintain good health by exercising regularly. Lam has lost 11 pounds since he was arrested. Lam said further that Lam was being held with three other people in a small room. Previously, the room’s sewage system was broken and caused an unpleasant smell, but he petitioned the center and was provided with tools to repair the problem himself.
Bui Tuan Lam, a beef noodle vendor in Danang, became famous in Vietnamese social media after imitating the signature salt sprinkling move of Nusret Gökçe, a Turkish chef nicknamed Salt Bae.
Lam’s videos showing him sprinkling green onion over a bowl of beef noodles went viral following the circulation of a video showing Public Security Minister To Lam being hand-fed a piece of gold-encrusted steak at Salt Bae’s restaurant in London. The Vietnamese public questioned the cost of To Lam’s meals compared to his meager monthly salary, while pointing out the irony of his enjoying beef steak while attending the United Nations COP26, a climate summit. The production of beef is considered one of the significant contributors to greenhouse gas emissions.
Activist And War Veteran Tran Bang Convicted Of “Distributing Anti-State Propaganda”
A court in Ho Chi Minh City on May 12 held a trial for anti-China activist, and war veteran, Tran Bang, 62, on allegations of “distributing anti-State propaganda” under Article 117 of the Penal Code. Bang was convicted and sentenced to an eight-year imprisonment and three-year probation. The trial reportedly concluded around 11.50 a.m. on the same day.
According to social media postings of several Vietnamese activists, Bang’s mother and his sister were allowed inside the courtroom. Last year, Bang’s family was allowed to visit him in custody in November, where they were informed about his declining health. The activist told his family that he had a tumor in the abdomen, which the doctor said needed to be surgically removed soon; however, he has not been operated on yet.
According to the indictment of Ho Chi Minh City’s Procuracy via State media, Tran Bang had used three Facebook accounts “to publish 39 articles that contained propaganda, distortions, defamatory content to slander the people’s administration, spread misinformation, and sow confusion among the people.”
It added that Bang “also possessed four books containing propaganda against the State, undermining the great national unity bloc, inciting wars and hatred among the people of different countries, provoking violence, distorting historical facts, and denying the revolutionary achievements.” The indictment said that Bang received these books from Le Chi Thanh, a former police captain, and journalist Pham Doan Trang.
In a press release announced before the trial of Tran Bang on May 11, rights advocate Human Rights Watch urged the Vietnamese authorities to “immediately drop all charges and release rights activist Tran Van Bang.” HRW said that Vietnam had used Article 117 to imprison at least 60 bloggers and activists.
“Vietnam’s leaders show their weakness, not their strength, by arresting, detaining, and prosecuting anyone who expresses critical views about the government on the internet,” said Phil Robertson, Asia deputy director at HRW, in a press statement. “Tran Bang should not face punishment simply for exercising the basic right to freedom of expression.”
Public Security Ministry To Conclude Investigation Into Viet A Test Kits Scandal This Year
Vietnam’s State media reported on May 5 that Lieutenant General To An Xo, a spokesman for Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security, said that the ministry is expected to announce the investigation results of the Viet A COVID-19 test kits scandal in the second quarter of 2023. The MPS Central Steering Committee on Anti-corruption and Negativity is directing the investigation.
According to information provided by MPS, Viet A, a medical company founded by Le Quoc Viet, had supplied COVID-19 test kits to CDC centers and other medical facilities in 62 cities and provinces nationwide, earning nearly 4,000 billion dong in profit ($170,500). Viet A claimed that its employees and researchers from Vietnam’s military medical school researched and produced its test kits. But it was later revealed that none of these test kits were made by Viet A. The MPS did not disclose the origins of these medical supplies.
Viet A’s COVID-19 test kit manipulation was one of the two major scandals that sent the Vietnamese public abuzz. The other incident involved corruption in repatriation flights organized for Vietnamese stranded abroad during the pandemic. More than 54 government officials have been prosecuted for allegedly receiving bribes from travel companies to assign these firms as operators of the rescue flights.
The police have arrested and prosecuted more than 100 people in connection with the purchase and distribution of Viet A test kits, blocking about 1,700 billion dong of the company’s assets. Among those arrested and prosecuted are high-level government officials, including Vietnam’s former Health Minister Nguyen Thanh Long, former Deputy Minister of Science and Technology Pham Cong Tac, and former Chairman of the Hanoi City People’s Committee Chu Ngoc Anh.
VOA News: Vietnamese Environmental Activist Nguy Thi Khanh Released From Prison
VOA News on May 13 reported that environmental leader Nguy Thi Khanh, director of the nonprofit organization Green Innovation Development Center (Green ID), was released from prison on May 12, earlier than her expected release date. A former coworker of Khanh confirmed the release with VOA News.
In February last year, Khanh, 46, was arrested by the authorities on “tax evasion” charges. A court in Hanoi in June convicted Khanh of “committing tax evasion” and sentenced her to 24 months. The civil society leader, who won the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize in 2018, was accused of not paying the required tax for the monetary prize she received. Many human rights organizations have condemned the conviction of Khanh, claiming that the charge of “tax evasion” has been utilized to justify Hanoi’s crackdown on civil society. The human rights organizations called for her immediate release.
Khanh’s sentence was slightly reduced in an appeal hearing last November to 21 months of imprisonment. The government last year also imprisoned Dang Dinh Bach, another civil society leader, for five years on the same charge of tax evasion.
On May 13, an announcement was published on Nguy Thi Khanh’s Facebook account, KhanhGreenid Vietnam, saying: “Endless happiness to be back in the midst of family love, to meet and hug loved ones after 16 months of being isolated.” The posting went on to say: “Sincere thanks to everyone who has cared, shared and helped me personally and my family during the past year and a half.”.
Vietnam To Try Media Influencer Nguyen Phuong Hang On Charge Of “Abusing Democratic Freedoms”
Vietnam’s State media reported that a court in Ho Chi Minh City on June 1 would try Nguyen Phuong Hang, a businesswoman and media influencer, on a charge of “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe on the State and individuals’ legitimate rights and interests” under Article 331 of the Penal Code. Another four defendants will also be tried, along with Hang, on the exact same charges.
Sixteen lawyers were expected to represent the defendants in court. Hang, 52, has hired six lawyers. The court also announced it had summoned 12 people, including Huynh Uy Dung, Hang's husband, and another 10 people who claimed that they were insulted by Hang, including journalist Dang Thi Han Ni, who was imprisoned on the exact same charges.
The indictment said that Hang had used social media accounts to live stream and comment on the private lives of multiple singers and artists in Vietnam. The live streams were said to infringe on privacy and affect the reputation and honor of these people. The businesswoman also allegedly invited Dang Anh Quan, a lawyer, to participate in her talks as a legal advisor to increase the credibility of her statements. Quan was also later arrested under Article 331.
Article 331 has been viewed as a catch-all offense to suppress the freedom of expression in Vietnam. The article contains vaguely defined terms and has been used to target civil communities and individuals by criminalizing slander, libel, and defamation. Many legal experts claim that although this law is redundant and abusive, it is seen as an essential tool to protect the exclusive power of the Vietnamese government and the Communist regime.
Vietnam to inspect TikTok in mid-May
“TikTok Vietnam will undergo extensive operation checks by multiple ministries from May 15 to the end of the month, the information ministry said Friday.
Le Quang Tu Do, head of the Authority of Broadcasting and Electronic Information, said the Ministry of Information and Communication would cooperate with the Ministry of Industry and Trade, the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, the Ministry of Public Security and the General Department of Taxation to perform extensive checks on TikTok’s operations in Vietnam.
Issues like content distribution, taxation, e-commerce and advertisements are expected to be investigated.”
Vietnam to Introduce Mandatory Identity Verification For Social Media Users
“Vietnam’s government is preparing to make it mandatory for users of Facebook, TikTok, and other social media networks to verify their identities, citing the need to combat online scams and other forms of cybercrime.
In a report published on its website on Monday, the Ministry of Information’s Authority of Broadcasting and Electronic Information stated that an amendment will be made to the Telecommunications Law later this year, making it mandatory for the aforementioned platforms to require individuals and groups to confirm their identities when registering an account.”
Vo Van Thuong Begins Vietnam Presidency With Foreign Trips
“At 52, Thuong is the youngest face in the Politburo, the country's top decision-making body. His career has been as a "party man," noted Nguyen Khac Giang, visiting fellow at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute. Thuong studied Marxist-Leninist philosophy in college and went on to become head of the party’s propaganda department, deputy standing secretary of Ho Chi Minh City's Party Committee, and secretary of the Quang Ngai Provincial Party Committee in the central region.
Although Thuong is one of the few in the running for the party's top position, he has had a low-key career. Without significant achievements, it is difficult for Thuong to advance based on merit, Giang said, and he lacks a strong personality and network.”
Cluster of Chinese vessels spotted near Russian rig off Vietnam - ship monitors
“A Chinese research vessel flanked by coast guard and nearly a dozen boats on Wednesday entered a gas block operated by Russian and Vietnamese state firms, two monitoring groups said, another potential flashpoint in the South China Sea.
It follows a pattern of assertive moves of late by Beijing in its neighbours' exclusive economic zones (EEZ), as it presses its claim to sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea, testing the United States and its allies at a time of heightened regional tension.”
Vietnam and Laos record hottest temperatures ever as heat wave grips Southeast Asia
“Scientists have long warned that heat waves are set to get worse as the impacts of the human-caused climate crisis accelerate.
In Vietnam, temperatures reached 44.2 degrees Celsius (around 111.6 Fahrenheit) on Saturday in the northern district of Tuong Duong – the highest temperature ever recorded in the country, according to weather historian Maximiliano Herrera.”
Vietnam Insight: Learn more about Vietnam
The Shadows Floating Along The Mekong
New Narratif/ Author, photographer, and illustrator Nguyen Thi Thanh Mai, Translator Lêna Bùi/ May 10
“Crossing the red dirt roads of rubber plantations, the cassava and sugarcane fields, dried and withered after the harvest season, we gradually moved towards the border of Chang Riec, where Hen and Tham were renting. In a row of 10 rental units, half were occupied by Vietnamese Cambodian returnees once resettled in Dong Ken 2 and Ta Do hamlets. Most companies only accept workers with national identification cards, so in previous years people borrowed each other’s ID cards to apply for work in the factories. In recent years, companies have scrutinised the paperwork more closely. Due to the fear of getting arrested for using fake documents, people stopped borrowing each other’s IDs. Tham said,
Nobody amongst the hundreds of Vietnamese oversea returnees in Ta Do and Dong Ken 2 hamlets had any sort of paper.”
Biden Hopes for Vietnam Breakthrough
Foreign Policy/ Derek Grossman/ May 9
“Of course, the most important obstacle to a more formalized U.S.-Vietnamese alignment is Beijing’s likely reaction. In its long history, Vietnam has been invaded multiple times by its much larger northern neighbor—most recently in 1979—and is highly reluctant to unnecessarily antagonize Beijing. Although foreign partnerships are certainly important to help Vietnam balance against China, the Vietnamese are mindful of an ancient Chinese saying: “Distant water will not quench the fire nearby.” In other words, Vietnam cannot count on faraway partners to help manage problems with China. In the end, only Vietnam can ensure that bilateral ties preclude trouble.”
ChatGPT and unwritten truths in Southeast Asia’s autocracies
RFA/ David Hutt/ May 9
“These language-learning technologies will allow autocratic regimes to inundate society with their propaganda, swelling the swamp of information that ChatGPT feeds off. After all, the information it processes is mainly that which is published, which in authoritarian states means mostly by state-aligned newspapers or through government social media channels.
The nuance will be lost. Will it know which social media feeds publish rumors that end up being proven true? Will it balance one article from an independent newspaper with one hundred published by a state-run newspaper? How much will a foreign-produced technology understand local sensitivities?”