Vietnamese Officials Sentenced to Life Over Scandalous Rescue Flights Bribery

Vietnamese Officials Sentenced to Life Over Scandalous Rescue Flights Bribery

Vietnam Jails 54 Officials Involved in Covid-19 Bribery

After more than two weeks of trial, a Vietnamese court in Hanoi on July 28 announced lengthy prison terms for 54 government officials and businesspeople charged with bribery and corruption in organizing rescue flights for Vietnamese citizens stranded overseas during the COVID-19 pandemic. The corruption involved in these rescue flights is considered one of Vietnam’s largest scandals.

The 54 defendants were found guilty of receiving, giving, or acting as brokers for bribes, carrying out fraud, and abusing positions of power, the judges said in a verdict. Four former officials at the ministries of foreign affairs, health, and public security received life sentences. Ten businesspeople and civilians received suspended sentences.

To Anh Dung, former deputy minister of foreign affairs, got 16 years of imprisonment. Nguyen Anh Tuan, former Deputy Director of Hanoi City Police Department, who was convicted of brokering a bribery scheme to help several business people clear their criminal charges, received a five-year sentence. Pham Trung Kien, assistant to a deputy minister of health, alleged to have received the most in monetary bribes, received a life sentence.

Human Rights Measurement Initiative Releases Annual Report, Highlighting Vietnam’s Abysmal Human Rights Situation

In an annual report published on July 26, the New Zealand-based Human Rights Measurement Initiative (HRMI) said that Vietnam’s human rights situation has deteriorated compared to the previous year and that the country is performing worse than average in different measuring indicators.

According to the latest report of HRMI, in 2022, Vietnam scored 4.9 out of 10 in Safety from the State segment, which suggested that “many people are not safe from one or more of the following: arbitrary arrest, torture, and ill-treatment, forced disappearance, execution or extrajudicial killing.” The country only scored 2.7 in Empowerment on a 10-point scale, a decrease from three in 2021.

In the “Safety from the State” section, the situation in Vietnam is considered “very bad” regarding “arbitrary arrest” and “torture and ill-treatment,” scoring only 3.5 and 3.6 out of 10, respectively. Regarding “Empowerment,” the Vietnamese government effectively restricts its citizens’ rights to government participation, freedom of opinion and expression, religious freedom, and assembly and association. The country received the lowest score regarding “participate in government,” with a score of only 2.5 out of 10.

On the other hand, the country is “performing better than average” compared to other countries in East Asia regarding the Quality of Life assessment. Vietnam is viewed as doing well in providing its citizens with work, housing, and healthcare compared to its current income level.

Former Administrator Of A Pro-Democracy Fan Page Arrested For “Distributing Anti-State Propaganda”

Phan Tat Thanh, who is believed to be a former administrator of a renowned Facebook page named “Nhật Ký Yêu Nước” (Diary of Patriotism), which regularly published content promoting democratic and liberal values, was arrested by Ho Chi Minh City Police Department on charges of “distributing anti-State propaganda” under Article 117 of the Penal Code. A relative of Thanh confirmed the arrest to Radio Free Asia (RFA) on July 23. According to the source, he is being held at Chi Hoa Detention Center in Ho Chi Minh City.

Thanh, 37, has been detained since July 5 after the Security Investigation Agency of Ho Chi Minh City summoned him. His family has not received any notice about the decision to prosecute or detain him. According to an unnamed relative of Thanh, local police first summoned him to the police station because he was “involved in a traffic accident in Da Nang.” Thanh refused because he thought he was not involved in such an incident.

Despite the refusal, the police still forced him and his younger brother, Phan Tat Cong, to go to a police station in Ward 14, District 3. The police sent Thanh’s brother home that same night but continued to keep him in the police interrogation room. On July 12, Thanh managed to escape when the police were unaware. He then called his mother and brother and asked them to meet him secretly. After meeting his mother and brother, Thanh went to an acquaintance's house in Go Cong, Tien Giang Province.

After meeting Thanh, both his mother and brother were summoned to the headquarters of the Security Investigation Agency for questioning about their encounter with him. Both of them were beaten, while Thanh’s mother was allegedly pushed to the floor by two police officers. They were released after the police announced that they had recaptured Thanh one day later, on July 13.

On July 15, about 20 police officers and local officials searched his house but only confiscated a USB drive belonging to Cong. The police recorded the house search and forced Thanh’s family to sign a statement, which it did not give to them. The police also orally informed his family that Thanh had been arrested on charges of “distributing anti-State propaganda,” according to Article 117.

However, Thanh's family had never received the formal documentation for his arrest and detention. Therefore, almost a week after the police search on July 15, Phan Van Chi, Thanh’s father, came to the headquarters of the Security Investigation Agency on July 21, demanding the police provide more information about Thanh’s arrest. On that day, the police formally informed Chi about Thanh’s arrest and showed him the detention order. Ironically, the police detention order was signed on July 13, even though Thanh was arbitrarily held since July 5.

Nguyen Son Lo, Former Director Of Independent Think Tank, Imprisoned For Five Years

A court in Hanoi on July 26 held a trial for Nguyen Son Lo, former director of the Institute of Technology Research and Development (SENA), sentencing him to five years in prison on the combined charges of “abusing democratic freedoms” under Article 331 and “abusing authoritative position and power while on official duty” under Article 356. Vietnam’s state media released the news on the same day of his arrest.

Lo, 75, who ran the independent think tank SENA, received three years of imprisonment for allegedly violating Article 331 and another two years under Article 356. He was arrested on February 2 this year, six months after the police investigation agency charged him under Article 331.

State media reported that SENA was formerly named the Institute of Engineering Research and Urban Development under the management of the Vietnam Union of Science and Technology Associations (VUSTA). Lo has been the director of this think tank since it was first established in 1992.

According to state media, the Vietnam People’s Procuracy accused the SENA director of having distributed five documents, consisting of more than 1,000 pages, and three complaints containing content that “infringes upon the interests of the state and the legitimate rights of other organizations and individuals.” Lo is alleged to have composed the documents, designed their cover pages, and then emailed them to the staff of SENA to be printed and sent by post to 529 people. The court did not declare the content of these documents.

The judging panel also announced that the SENA Institute had rented a state-owned building for its headquarters. But since 2005, the Institute has allegedly not paid the rent and not declared the usage of this facility to the government. The panel deemed Lo’s rental of this building illegal. It alleged that the rent “violated the administrative management regulation on housing and land, thus obstructing the state’s right to manage, arrange, and lease this facility.” Nguyen Son Lo’s purported illegal rental of this building led to the alleged violation of the law on “abusing authoritative position and power while on official duty.”

It was reported that in the court, Lo admitted to the alleged activities but said that he did not consider it a violation of the law. Other employees of the SENA Institute were not prosecuted because they “did not know that the documents assigned to them contained illegal content,” according to the investigation agency.

Ho Chi Minh Police To Prosecute A Journalist And A Lawyer For “Abusing Democratic Freedoms”

Vietnam’s state media reported that Ho Chi Minh City Police on July 25 proposed the prosecution of Dang Thi Han Ni, a state journalist, and attorney Tran Van Sy, former chairman of Vinh Long Bar Association, for insulting Nguyen Phuong Hang, a businesswoman, and social media influencer, and her husband, Huynh Uy Dung.

Han Ni and Tran Van Sy were charged with “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the state and the legitimate rights and interests of organizations and individuals,” according to Article 331 of the 2015 Penal Code. The Ho Chi Minh City Police concluded that from September 2021 to February 2022, Han Ni used her Facebook and YouTube accounts, named “Journalist Han Ni,” while Sy used his YouTube account, “LS Tran Van Sy,” for publication and broadcasting.

The information published on these social media platforms was considered “false” by the police, which “insulted the dignity, honor, and reputation of Nguyen Phuong Hang and her husband, Huynh Uy Dung” and “infringed upon the legitimate interests” of Dai Nam Joint Stock Company, Hang’s company, and her charity fund Hang Huu. Nguyen Phuong Hang first reported these alleged defamatory insults to the Ho Chi Minh City Police in 2021.

More specifically, the investigation agency said Han Ni violated Article 17 of Vietnam’s Cybersecurity Law in a video published on September 3, 2021, on her social media accounts. According to the investigation conclusions, Ni made four statements that revealed personal secrets, family secrets, and the private life of Nguyen Phuong Hang.

Han Ni, 46, was arrested on February 24, 2023. Tran Van Sy was detained two days later, on February 25.

Previously, Nguyen Phuong Hang was arrested on March 24, 2022, on the same exact charges as Ni and Sy. The police agency alleged that Hang published and live-streamed many live broadcasts through her 12 social networking accounts that infringed on privacy and offended the reputation and honor of eight individuals, including journalist Han Ni.

A Military Court Sentenced The Administrator Of A Facebook Page To Noncustodial Correction For Publishing Fake News

A military court of Military Zone 7 on July 26 sentenced Nguyen Le Tan Tai, the administrator of a Facebook page called UFH Confession, to 12 months of non-custodial correction for allegedly “posting false information about the female HUFLIT student who was allegedly raped while attending military education” in January 2023.

According to the People’s Army newspaper, a Ministry of National Defense mouthpiece, Tan Tai was charged with “illegally uploading information on computer networks.”

In early 2023, Vietnam’s social media went abuzz after two videos recording the screams of female students in a military school dormitory circulated on social media. The attached description said that this was a case of sexual abuse against two female students of the University of Foreign Languages ​​and Information Technology in Ho Chi Minh City (HUFLIT), who attended a national defense course at the Military School of Military Zone 7. The perpetrators were said to be male conscripts stationed at a nearby military camp.

UFH Confession, the fan page that Tai managed, published an article written by an unnamed witness of the event who confirmed that there was indeed an alleged rape in the military school. The posting gained tens of thousands of interactions before being deleted shortly after. The military school consequently issued an official statement declaring the above information was fabricated and suggested punishment for those who spread the news. However, the school did not present any reliable proof to prove its nor disclose the identity of the alleged victims.

According to the military indictment, at around 12:30 am on January 11, 2023, Nguyen Le Tan Tai used his laptop to receive, edit and publish articles sent by unknown people on the UFH Confession fan page. However, “he did not know the specifics of the case and did not conduct verification” of the information he received. The court concluded that the crime committed by Tai had “violated the regulations on cyber management” and “diminished the reputation of the Military School of Military Region 7.”

The military also confiscated the MacBook Pro that Tai used to publish the alleged articles and submitted that laptop to the state. At the same time, the mouthpiece of the Ministry of National Defense reported that Tai had voluntarily compensated the government for around 27 million dong for the damage he caused to the Military School of Military Region 7. He was also banned from acting as an administrator of websites and social networking pages for three years from the date his sentence concludes.

RSF Condemns Vietnamese Abduction Of Blogger Duong Van Thai

Press freedom advocate Reporters Without Borders (RSF), in a statement released on July 26, condemned Vietnam’s prosecution of exiled Duong Van Thai on “anti-State” charges, calling it an “absurdity,” RSF also urged Hanoi to release him immediately. Thai was believed to be kidnapped by Hanoi-sponsored agents on April 13 and forcibly brought back to Vietnam. He could face a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison if convicted.

"Cross-border kidnapping, blatant disrespect for the criminal code, and indictment on absurd grounds: the Duong Van Thai case illustrates the Vietnamese regime's abysmal contempt for press freedom,” said Cédric Alviani, RSF Asia-Pacific Bureau director. “We call upon Hanoi's major economic partners, namely the United States, South Korea, the European Union, and Japan, to impose targeted sanctions to obtain the release of this journalist and the 42 other press freedom defenders detained in the country.”

RSF also raised the case of Truong Duy Nhat, a Vietnamese contributor to RFA Vietnamese. Nhat was allegedly abducted in Bangkok in January 2019 and transported back to Vietnam, where he was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

This year, Vietnam ranks 178th out of 180 countries and territories in the 2023 RSF World Press Freedom Index, only above China and North Korea. The country is also among the world’s worst jailers of journalists.

U.S. Ambassador To Vietnam Condemns The Dak Lak Attack, Vietnam State Media Reported

Vietnam’s State media reported that the U.S. ambassador to Vietnam, Marc Knapper, said at a press event in Hanoi that the United States “in no way condoned what happened.” It opposes violence in any shape or form and condemns using violence to achieve goals.

Knapper also offered condolences to the families of the deceased victims and condemned “in the strongest possible terms what happened.”

Last month, brazen shootings occurred at two People’s Committee headquarters and police stations in the Central Highlands province of Dak Lak, leading to nine deaths. The Ministry of Public Security called the attacks “reckless and barbaric” while claiming, without providing further proof, that one person among the suspects “was a member of an organization based in the U.S. who received instructions to infiltrate Vietnam and perform the attacks.”

“We stand ready to cooperate and however necessary to work with the Vietnamese government on trying to know more about what happened, who's behind it,” Knapper said. The ambassador added that Vietnam and the United States are now closely cooperating on multiple transnational issues, including narcotics, human trafficking, and wildlife trafficking.

Vietnam To Have Its First Post-War Resident Papal Representative

Reuters reported that the Vatican and Vietnam have agreed to have a Resident Papal Representative in Hanoi. This is a step towards full diplomatic relations between the two countries and could provide a model for relations with China. The Vatican has also asked China to allow a permanent papal representative in Beijing.

Vietnam broke off relations with the Vatican after the Communists took over the country in 1975. The Catholic Church in Vietnam was considered too close to the former colonial power, France.

Vietnam is home to nearly 7 million Catholics, about 6.6% of the population. The government allows freedom of religion, but some Catholic activities are restricted.

The current papal representative to Vietnam, Archbishop Marek Zalewski, is based in Singapore. It was not clear who would be the new Hanoi-based representative.

Vietnam Insight: Learn more about Vietnam

Vietnam’s Crackdown on Dissent

The Diplomat/ Elaine Pearson/ July 27

“Democratic governments are on a charm offensive right now with Vietnam. They regard it as an attractive economic market, and an alternative place for Western companies to place factories given the desire to reduce their reliance on China. Vietnam is becoming a significant player in the geopolitical strategic competition with China. And so democratic governments that condemn rights violations in China, refrain from criticizing Hanoi for similar violations to keep the authorities on-side against Beijing.

Democratic governments should not let Vietnam off the hook. Doing so does a disservice to the Vietnamese people who are suffering because their government does not tolerate their criticism. As Pham Doan Trang bravely said when she was sentenced, “the Socialist Republic of Vietnam… chooses to respond in a more vile, foolish, and heinous manner, imprisoning its citizens simply because they write works or respond to interviews with foreign journalists… The longer the prison sentence, the more demonstrable the authoritarian, undemocratic, and antidemocratic nature of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.”

Vietnam’s Suspension of Online Magazine: When Even the Compliant Are Not Safe

Fulcrum/ Dien Nguyen An Luong/ July 21

“This suspension of Zing News appears to be a stern warning to other media outlets. Indeed, the same justification for targeting Zing News – that it must adhere strictly to the objectives and mandates of the state entities that it is affiliated with — could potentially be extended to nearly half of over 800 press organisations that are also licensed under state entities in Vietnam. For instance, a news outlet under the Communist Youth Union would be allowed to cover only news related to the young. Similarly, an outlet affiliated with the Ministry of Science and Technology would be expected to devote its coverage to the eponymous field.

The suspension of Zing News is poised to heighten uncertainty and suspense in newsrooms across the country, inevitably inducing further self-censorship. It also presents a daunting question for the mainstream media: Moving forward, how compliant should they be?”

Economic concerns underpin political sensitivity in Vietnam

RFA/ Zachary Abuza/ July 19

“There’s hope that the economy will pick up steam in the second half of 2023, but the growth targets seem too optimistic, and the country is more vulnerable to downturns in the global economy, which it has no control over. If the global recession continues, more layoffs and economic contraction are inevitable.

So while all the normal things that make the government in Hanoi paranoid are still going on, the fragility of the economy is exacerbating those fears. More people will be asking questions about government leadership and policy, which will only result in more crackdowns.”

Middle-Power Diplomacy: Decoding Vietnam’s Recent Diplomatic Endeavours

Fulcrum/ Nguyen Khac Giang/ July 14

“Vietnam’s recent move to strengthen ties with regional middle powers could indicate concern about Russia’s reliability on key strategic issues. After its invasion of Ukraine, Moscow has been trying to woo Vietnam to its side. However, despite visits by high-ranking Russian officials, including Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, first vice-chairman of the State Duma Ivan Melnikov, and chairman of the United Russia Party Dmitry Medvedev in the past year, there has been a notable absence of reciprocal visits by senior Vietnamese officials to Russia in the same period. While Russia continues to be Vietnam’s largest arms supplier for the foreseeable future, payment difficulties and the risk of sanctions have made importing weapons from Russia increasingly challenging. Moreover, Russia’s lacklustre performance in Ukraine raises further doubts on the effectiveness of Russian weapon systems. Vietnam has kept a relatively neutral position on the war in Ukraine, and has abstained from United Nations General Assembly resolutions condemning the Russian invasion of the country.”

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