Vietnam Holds Trial for Government Officials Implicated in COVID-19 Rescue Flights

Vietnam Holds Trial for Government Officials Implicated in COVID-19 Rescue Flights

Trial Opens For Vietnam Officials Involved in Covid-19 Rescue Flights Bribery

On July 11, the Hanoi People’s Court opened a trial for 54 government officials and directors of tourism companies accused of receiving and giving bribes in organizing repatriation flights for Vietnamese citizens overseas during the COVID-19 pandemic. This is part of an anti-corruption campaign that is believed to have resulted in the dismissal of two deputy ministers, Vu Duc Dam, and Pham Binh Minh, and the resignation of former President Nguyen Xuan Phuc last year. The trial is expected to last 30 days.

According to the indictment, the defendants face different charges, including “giving bribes,” “receiving bribes,” “brokering bribery,” “embezzlement,” and “abusing authoritative powers while performing official duties.” Vietnam’s state media reported that 10 out of 54 defendants have been released on bail.

More than 100 lawyers have registered to defend the suspects, many of whom are former high-ranking officials. To Anh Dung, former foreign affairs deputy minister, reportedly hired three lawyers, and Nguyen Quang Linh, the former assistant to deputy prime minister Pham Binh Minh, has two lawyers.

Dung and Linh were charged with “receiving bribes,” which carries a maximum death penalty sentence.

Hanoi’s former Deputy Mayor Chu Xuan Dung and former Vietnamese ambassador to Japan, Vu Hong Nam, are on trial. Pham Trung Kien, ex-secretary of Deputy Health Minister Do Xuan Tuyen, allegedly received enormous bribes. Kien was accused of accepting a whopping 253 bribes, amounting to 42.6 billion dong ($1.8 million). According to the investigations, 24 Vietnamese officials have received 515 bribes worth 165 billion dong.

Several officials implicated in the “rescue flight” trial have reportedly returned a portion of the alleged bribe money to have their sentences mitigated.

The former secretary of Deputy Prime Minister Pham Binh Minh, Nguyen Quang Linh, and his family have paid 4.47 billion dong to the state. Meanwhile, former Foreign Affairs Deputy Minister To Anh Dung returned 16.2 billion dong that he allegedly took as bribes. Tran Van Tan, former vice chairman of the People's Committee of Quang Nam Province, repaid four out of the five billion dong he was accused of accepting. Chu Xuan Dung, former vice chairman of the Hanoi People's Committee, reportedly paid back 1.75 billion dong out of the 2.05 billion dong he allegedly received. Vu Hong Nam, an ex-Vietnamese ambassador to Japan, also returned 1.84 billion dong, the amount of the bribe he purportedly accepted.

Nguyen Anh Tuan, former deputy director of Hanoi Public Security, was prosecuted for receiving $2.65 million from Le Hong Son and Nguyen Thi Thanh Hang, respective general director and deputy general director of Blue Sky, a tourism company. After receiving the bribe, Tuan allegedly bribed Hoang Van Hung, an investigator at the Investigative Security Agency of the Ministry of Public Security, to help Hang and Son evade the prosecution.

Vietnam Police: The Dak Lak Attack Was Directed From Overseas

At a National Assembly standing committee session on July 12, Vietnam’s public security Deputy Minister Le Quoc Hung claimed that the attacks on two communal offices in Dak Lak Province last month were directed from overseas, state media reported. Hung, deputy minister of Public Security, said the attacks were “terrorist acts that aimed at the people’s authorities” that had the “instruction and support of hostile parties abroad.”

However, Hung did not specifically name the organizations and individuals that allegedly orchestrated the shooting or provide concrete evidence to support his claims.

According to Vietnamese police, 90 people have been arrested for their alleged involvement in the deadly incidents. They are reportedly being investigated for multiple charges, including terrorism. The political situation in Dak Lak and the Central Highlands “has stabilized,” and people’s lives “have returned to normal,” the public security ministry said.

The Police in Ea Sup District, Dak Lak Province, on July 15, announced that they had arrested another three people, including Y Ju Nie, 55, Nay Yen, 53, and Nay Tam, 49. These three people are alleged to be members of a group of six who directly participated in the attack on two government headquarters in Dak Lak. They had previously been placed on a special wanted list for allegedly “conducting terrorism aimed at people's administration” under Article 113 of the Penal Code.

Vietnamese Online News Site Zing News Declared a Temporary Suspension Of Service

Zing News, one of Vietnam’s largest online news sites, has temporarily suspended its publications for three months from July 14 after it reportedly received an administrative fine from the Ministry of Information and Communications, according to the official announcement on the Zing News’ website.

The suspension of service notice said that the organization “will focus on overcoming and thoroughly correcting the shortcomings” to implement Decision No. 362/QD-TTg, introduced by Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc in April 2019, which lays out the national master plan in press development and management until 2025. Zing News is a news service introduced by VNG, a private technology company. VNG also owns Zalo, Vietnam’s most popular messaging app.

Zing News’ official name is “Tạp chí điện tử Tri thức trực tuyến” (“E-Knowledge Online Magazine.”) Therefore, the news site is legally regarded as a magazine, not a newspaper. Vietnamese government-issued Decision No. 362/QD-TTg is seeking to separate the operations of magazines and newspapers. According to the decision, “E-magazines must represent the true function of a magazine, and must not use its e-magazine publishing license to publish as a digital newspaper.”

An unnamed source told BBC News Vietnamese that the suspension of Zing News “is a prime example of the state intervention to avoid privatization of the media.” The source also said Vietnamese reporters and journalists would benefit from the privatization process because private newspapers pay higher salaries than state-owned ones. “For those journalists who live by writing, they hope to have a generous income to do their job without worrying about doing other things to make money," the source said.

Vietnam Releases Australian Political Prisoner Chau Van Kham

Chau Van Kham, a Vietnamese Australian activist convicted on “terrorism” charges, has returned to his home in Sydney after being released from prison on July 11. Kham, 74, a member of Viet Tan, a pro-democracy political party, was arrested in 2019 after he met a local democracy activist. Later in November, Vietnamese authorities sentenced Kham to 12 years for being a member of Viet Tan, which the government deems a “terrorist group.” However, Viet Tan says it’s committed to the “peaceful, nonviolent struggle” for democracy and that the political party operates legally in the United States and Australia.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese raised the case of Kham, a retired baker, with Vietnam’s Communist leaders during his trip to Vietnam last month to mark the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries. Albanese described Kham’s release as an “example of how engagement in a constructive way achieves results in Australia’s national interest.” “Australia very much welcomes the release of Chau Van Kham. This is an issue that I raised during my visit to Vietnam, which was a very constructive visit,” Albanese told reporters in Berlin.

In an interview with Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC News), Kham said “he had no regrets” about his activism and that he would “continue his advocacy for democratic reform in Vietnam.” "I never fear because I'm sure I'm doing the right thing. So I always believe people [in] Australia, my community [...] my family always supported me," he said. The retired baker added that he was not subjected to hard labor in Vietnam’s prison system due to his old age.

Amnesty International Australia released a statement the day Chau Van Kham was freed, declaring that it’s “a momentous day for the movement to free wrongly imprisoned people around the world, and serves as a reminder that Australians in their tens of thousands will take action to defend human rights.” Amnesty wrote that it considered Kham a prisoner of conscience who got “detained solely for his peaceful political beliefs.”

Vietnam Court Rejects Appeal Of Activist Truong Van Dung

An appeals court in Hanoi on July 13 rejected Vietnamese activist Truong Van Dung’s appeal against his six-year prison sentence, Nghiem Thi Hop, his wife, told RFA.

On March 28, the Hanoi People’s Court found Dung, 65, guilty of “distributing anti-State propaganda,” an alleged violation of former Article 88 of Vietnam’s 1999 Penal Code. According to the indictment, Dung gave interviews to the U.S.-based Saigon Dallas Radio between 2015 and 2022 that “distorted and smeared the Vietnamese government, propagated fabricated information, and caused confusion among the people.” The alleged interviews and video clips were published on his social media.

The prosecutors also accused Dung of storing copies of two books, “Politics for the Masses” written by journalist Pham Doan Trang and “Life of the People Behind Bars” written by former prisoner of conscience Pham Thanh Nghien. These books were allegedly printed and distributed illegally.

Dung’s lawyers argued that these activities did not constitute a crime. Hop said that the lawyers challenged prosecutors to re-examine the “evidence,” but they refused. Hop added that the appeal was just a “show trial” as the judge ordered Dung’s lawyers to “speak less and be quick,” while the judge’s comments were barely audible because there was no microphone. She said her husband was escorted out of the courtroom twice for arguing with the judge and shouting “down with the Communist Party.”

The previous day before Dung’s trial, international human rights groups condemned his earlier conviction and urged Hanoi to free him immediately. Phil Robertson, Asia deputy director of Human Rights Watch, said that Dung had been imprisoned for exercising his rights to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly. Dung also took part in numerous protests against Vietnam’s policies towards China, land rights, and government corruption.

“[By arresting] one dissident at the time, the Vietnamese government is pursuing a campaign to systematically eliminate what’s left of the country’s human rights and democracy movement,” Robertson added.

“The Vietnamese authorities are yet again misusing the criminal justice system to suppress dissent,”  Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director of Campaigns Ming Yu Hah said in a public statement on July 12. “Arrested for giving interviews to foreign media, Truong Van Dung should have never been put in prison in the first place,” Hah continued: “[Vietnam’s] ratification of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment (CAT), along with their seat on the UN Human Rights Council, appears to be no more than empty gestures.”

Quang Ngai Provincial Police Arrest Local Facebook User On “Anti-State” Charges

State media reported that the Investigation Security Agency of Quang Ngai Provincial Police issued an arrest and house search warrant for P.V.L., a 21-year-old social media user living in Song Ve Town, Tu Nghia District, Quang Ngai Province, on the charge of “making, storing, and distributing anti-State propaganda,”  potentially a violation of Article 117 of the Penal Code.

According to the initial police investigation, P.V.L. used his personal Facebook account to publish, share, and comment on articles that “distort, defame, oppose and deny the leadership role of the Communist Party of Vietnam and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.”

The Quang Ngai Facebook user was accused of “slandering national leaders” and “supporting exiled reactionary and terrorist organizations, such as Viet Tan and Degar.” The police alleged that he took advantage of the Dak Lak shooting on June 11 to publish information on social networks that “praised reactionary organizations and exiled terrorists.” According to the police, the Security Agency is investigating the case.

Google Says It Will Fix The Vietnam Flag Issue Following Hanoi's Request

Google said it is working to replace a satellite image on its mapping software in which a rendering of the Vietnamese flag on the rooftop of a building in the Spratly Islands appeared to be deleted or altered, Bloomberg reported. The company’s move occurred following a complaint by Vietnam’s government about the missing flag design on the building’s roof in a recent image.

Vietnam’s Department of Radio-Television and Electronic Information has met with Google about the issue. On July 11, Google responded that it did not blur or alter the satellite image, which a third-party company supplies. Google said the Vietnamese flag was not clearly shown in its mapping application because of poor satellite image, and the company is taking the necessary steps to replace it with a higher-quality photo.

On July 9, Vietnamese authorities also requested that Netflix and FPT Telecom, a Vietnamese internet company, remove the Chinese-made drama series “Flight to You” after many Vietnamese audiences discovered that several scenes contained a map of the Beijing-invented “nine-dash line.”

Deputy director of the Vietnam Cinema Department, Do Quoc Viet, signed and issued two official documents to Netflix and FPT Telecom requesting these streaming services remove the alleged series. State media reported that Netflix on July 10 removed the Chinese television series from its platform in Vietnam.

Vietnam Insight: Learn more about Vietnam

Is Vietnam’s Economic Blip a Blessing in Disguise?

The Diplomat/ David Hutt/ July 12

“Yet your columnist had an interesting conversation with a diplomat recently. Make of it what you will, but it was their opinion that this economic downturn will turn out to be a blessing in disguise. The Politburo has grown arrogant. Hubristically, it has intervened too much in the economy, either by instilling a moralistic fear of making mistakes or by purging experienced economic hands. Perhaps giddy from the ‘doi moi myth’ that it was the CPV that has driven Vietnam’s economic growth, they forgot that the economy has typically performed best when the government has taken a hands-off approach and trusted economic experts on reforms and legislation.

Maybe this is the wake-up call the Communist Party needs, as my diplomat source suggested. The anti-corruption campaign shows signs of dying down. Chinh, the prime minister, has opened new streams of investment. If Hue becomes the uncontested frontrunner to succeed Trong as the next party general secretary, he would presumably try to return a degree of economic knowledge to proceedings.”

Clashing with humans, Vietnam’s wild elephants make a last stand

Southeast Asia Globe/ Govi Snell, Anton L. Delgado/ July 12

“Asian elephants are listed as critically endangered on the Vietnam Red Book of rare and endangered species, while the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List categorises the species as endangered at the global level.

A tourist draws a rescued elephant during a tour hosted by non-governmental organisation Animals Asia in Yok Don National Park, which is estimated to be home to 28 to 60 wild elephants. Photo by Anton L. Delgado for Southeast Asia Globe.

Vietnam’s wild elephant population has been in sharp decline for decades. Huge swathes of forest were destroyed during the country’s 20-year-long war, and the animals’ habitat has continued to shrink as the country has developed.

Hunted for ivory and the elephant skin trade, and captured from the wild for use in logging and tourism, Vietnam’s wild elephants have fallen from approximately 2,000 individuals in 1980 to between just 91 to 129 last year, according to the national Forestry Administration.”

How the Nine-Dash Line Undermines China’s Economic Interests in Vietnam

Fulcrum/ Le Hong Hiep/ July 11

“More importantly, China’s repeated aggressive actions to enforce its nine-dash line claim have given rise to anti-Chinese sentiments in Vietnam. In 2014, for instance, China planted a massive oil rig in Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone. A violent confrontation between the two countries ensued, and several anti-Chinese riots targeting Chinese factories erupted in different locations in Vietnam. This caused extensive damage to factories thought to be Chinese-owned.

These examples show that China’s assertiveness in the South China Sea and its nine-dash line claim have had a detrimental impact on Chinese companies in foreign markets. This has caused Chinese investors to be wary of investing in Vietnam, which could partly explain China’s relatively low investment in the country. By March 2023, despite the close proximity of the two countries and Vietnam’s increasing appeal to foreign investors, China ranked only sixth out of all foreign direct investors in Vietnam in terms of cumulative registered capital, with 3,651 projects worth US$23.85 billion. South Korea, which does not have any territorial or maritime dispute with Vietnam, ranked first, with US$81.5 billion of investment.

Vietnam’s communists are constrained domestically in choice between the US and China

RFA/ David Hutt/ July 8

“That remains a concern. If the party takes a strong stance against China, that risks setting off nationwide nationalist protests that the party cannot control and which might quickly be whipped up into anti-communist agitation. Between June 9 and 11, 2018, more than 100,000 protesters demonstrated across Vietnam, arguably the largest nationwide protest seen in decades, as the National Assembly debated a bill to create three special economic zones (SEZs) along Vietnam’s coastline. The investment minister said publicly that “there is no word that mentions China” in the SEZ plan. But this did little to dispel opinions that Beijing would be the main beneficiary of the deal. Although mainly peaceful, violence was seen in Binh Thuan province where demonstrators burnt down a government building. By November 2018, five months after the events, more than 120 protesters had been imprisoned. But given the scale of public opprobrium the National Assembly postponed discussing the SEZ law, whilst the government said it would withdraw the bill “for further study” before silently dropping it altogether (another sign of people power).”

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