Public Outcry Over Ha Long Bay Construction; UN Special Rapporteur Visits Vietnam

Public Outcry Over Ha Long Bay Construction; UN Special Rapporteur Visits Vietnam

Construction in Vietnam’s Ha Long Bay Prompts Public Outcry

Over the past week, an extensive residential construction project built on the borders of Vietnam’s Ha Long Bay in Quang Ninh Province, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, has triggered a massive public outcry. Many Vietnamese citizens and architecture experts have raised concerns about the project's impact amid fears that it could degrade the heritage site.

Photos of the construction site were first published in Tien Phong newspaper. This state media agency showed an enormous building of roads and ground for a residential and hotel complex on the bay’s waters. According to Tien Phong via Agence France-Presse (AFP), the complex will consist of 451 villas and houses, multiple seven-story hotels, and service and trade areas once complete. The People’s Committee of Quang Ninh Province approved the building project in 2021.

AFP reported that Ha Long Bay, famous for its turquoise waters and towering rainforest area, topped with limestone islands, is one of Vietnam’s most popular tourist destinations, drawing more than seven million visitors last year.

Do Gia Capital, a construction firm in Cam Pha City, Quang Ninh, is the project owner. Tien Phong further questioned the legitimacy of this firm, given that it promptly won an auction and was given permission to develop this valuable plot of land following its establishment only 42 days before. Based on recent inspection results by local authorities, Do Gia Capital has not adequately complied with the environmental protection requirements stipulated in the initial impact assessment.

Following the news reports and public concerns over the construction site, the Quang Ninh Provincial Department of Natural Resources and Environment fined Do Gia Capital 125 million dong ($5,133) for failing to publicize its construction project's environmental impact assessment report.

On Nov. 9, Quang Ninh Provincial People’s Committee Chairman Nguyen Xuan Ky reportedly directed local agencies to improve preservation management of Ha Long Bay and Bai Tu Long Bay ecosystems and biodiversity, Bloomberg reported, according to a posting on the provincial government’s website. Ky added that Quang Ninh won’t “attract investment at all costs” or trade environmental protections for economic growth.

UN Special Rapporteur Surya Deva's Visit to Vietnam: A Call for Focus on Human Rights and Development

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Development, Surya Deva, is set to visit Vietnam from November 6-15, 2023. The visit comes amid growing concerns over the government's tightening control over public space, especially online, where recent legal and technological changes have facilitated increased repression.

Deva conducted a few consultations with a broad range of stakeholders, including families of prisoners of conscience in Vietnam. Some international human rights organizations, such as ARTICLE 19, also asked Deva to pay attention to Vietnam's current human rights violations.

ARTICLE 19 urges Deva to use his visit to highlight the issues of Vietnam's Internet freedom and advocate for adherence to international human rights standards, particularly in the Information and Communication Technology sector. The organization calls on Deva to push for the protection of freedom of expression, the abandonment of restrictive decrees, the amendment or repeal of the Cybersecurity Law, and the release of those unjustly imprisoned for their advocacy, including Pham Doan Trang and Dang Dinh Bach. This visit is seen as a critical step towards promoting inclusive and sustainable development in Vietnam that respects and upholds human rights.

Reporters Without Borders Condemns Vietnam’s Sentencing of Social Media Commentator

The Paris-based press freedom advocate Reporters Without Borders (RSF) on Nov. 8 released a statement condemning Vietnam’s sentencing of Le Thach Giang, a local political commentator, to three and a half years in prison for allegedly “abusing democratic freedoms.”

Giang, 66, a native of Phan Rang City in Ninh Thuan Province, was convicted and sentenced to three and a half years of imprisonment under Article 331, a legal code unfairly used to silence voices critical of the Vietnamese government. The Ninh Thuan man allegedly owned a Facebook account named “The Despots,” where he often streamed videos that criticized the regime. He was arrested on June 28 in Phan Rang.

“Le Thach Giang was only serving the public interest by reporting on abuse of power by the Vietnamese authorities and should never be detained, not to mention sentenced to a harsh prison term,” said Cédric Alviani, RSF Asia-Pacific Bureau Director. “We call on the international community to step up pressure on the regime to obtain his release alongside all other journalists and press freedom defenders detained.”

Detained Vietnamese Blogger Duong Van Thai Allowed to Send a Letter to Family

Duong Van Thai, a Vietnamese blogger whom Vietnam-sponsored security agents allegedly abducted in Thailand, was allowed to send a letter to his mother following months of incommunicado detention. Duong Thi Lu, Thai’s mother, received a letter from him inquiring about her health. He said he told her he was well-fed in the temporary detention facility, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported.

Lu, 75, told RFA that the detention center summoned her to receive a letter from her son on Nov. 3.

Thai, who fled to Thailand in 2019, fearing government persecution for his online criticism, went missing on April 13, 2023. It is widely believed that the Vietnamese exiled activist was abducted and brought back to Vietnam. Vietnam’s state media later reported that Thai appeared in Vietnam and got arrested for “illegally crossing the border.” But the police subsequently charged him with “distributing anti-state propaganda against the state.”

Lu said she doubted the letter's authenticity because she could not bring it home or see her son. She also said the family has not yet hired a defense lawyer because the investigation is still underway. The Investigation Agency refused to respond to RFA'’s questions regarding Thai’s health.

According to Vietnam’s Law on Temporary Detention and Custody, in very serious cases, temporary detention can last four months and be extended twice, with no more than four months each. Since his disappearance, hundreds of videos featuring Thai's talks have vanished on his YouTube and Facebook accounts. 

Supreme Court Chief Justice Nguyen Hoa Binh Claims Vietnam Has No Wrongful Conviction

Chief Justice of the Vietnamese Supreme People’s Court Nguyen Hoa Binh made a controversial statement before the National Assembly on Nov. 6 that no one was wrongfully convicted in Vietnam and that all the criminal sentences were justly handed down. 

Binh stated that in Vietnam, the criminal courts would “maintain its authoritativeness in punishing the right perpetrators,” according to the Vietnam News Agency. The head of the judiciary added that there have been “no recorded cases of wrongful conviction of innocent people.”

Binh’s claims occurred amid hundreds of people calling on Vietnamese leaders to review the death sentences that are believed to have been unjustly handed down to the three death row inmates, Ho Duy Hai, Nguyen Van Chuong, and Le Van Manh. 

Vietnamese authorities executed Manh on Sept. 22 after detaining him for more than 18 years despite domestic and international opposition. Meanwhile, Hai and Chuong are awaiting execution, with both having been detained for more than 10 years, respectively.

Attorney Le Van Hoa, the legal consultant for the family of Nguyen Van Chuong, on Oct. 30, drafted a public petition requesting the reinvestigation of the cases of Nguyen Van Chuong, Ho Duy Hai, and Le Van Manh. Hoa said he would submit the petition to Vietnamese Communist Party Chief Nguyen Phu Trong, State President Vo Van Thuong, and various government departments once it gathers more than 500 signatures. As of Nov. 7, more than 550 people signed the petition, according to RFA.

Freedom of Religion in Vietnam: What happened last week?

Vietnam Releases Four Independent Protestants after Temporary Detention

RFA reported that four independent Protestants living in Vietnam’s Central Highlands region, who were detained for five days after inviting President Vo Van Thuong to observe one of their religious services, were recently released on Nov. 4. The detainees were Y Nuer Buon Dap, Y Thinh Nie, Y Cung Nie, and his son Y Salemon Eban. They were arrested on Oct. 31.

According to one of the independent Protestants, during their detention, the police did not beat them but forced them “to work all day, from 7:30 a.m. until 11:00 p.m.” Local police also questioned the Protestants about their views on religious freedom and civil society organizations (CSOs), urging them not to practice religion independently or learn about the CSOs. The police said that the aim of learning about civil society was “to oppose the government.”

Many Montagnard families in Dak Lak and some provinces in the Central Highlands follow Protestantism but are not in a state-approved religious organization. They have no leaders and no organizational structure, and everyone in the group has equal rights. Pastors are just trusted representatives of their group.

U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam Pledges to Find a Way to Restore Bien Hoa Cemetery

U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam Marc Knapper said the Bien Hoa Military Cemetery, the final resting place of soldiers of the former Republic of Vietnam, needs significant restoration. Previously, Knapper received a letter from U.S. Congresswoman Michelle Steel, who raised concerns over the cemetery’s deteriorating state. The ambassador also told Voice of America (VOA) that he noticed the cemetery’s dilapidation during his visit to Bien Hoa Cemetery on Oct. 13.

In a letter dated Sept. 29, Congresswoman Steel expressed deep concern about the alarming decay of the graves in the national military cemetery of the former South Vietnamese government, which the North Vietnamese government took over following the fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975. According to the U.S. congresswoman, this is the last remaining South Vietnamese national military cemetery after the North Vietnamese Communist government destroyed all other cemeteries for South Vietnamese soldiers after 1975.

“I visited the Bien Hoa (now officially named Binh An People’s Cemetery) on Oct. 13 with the U.S.-based non-governmental organization Vietnam American Foundation (VAF) based in the United States,” Ambassador Knapper said in an email response to VOA. “I personally saw that the cemetery needed major restoration.”

VOA reported that VAF and other civil organizations have helped restore Bien Hoa Cemetery. Kevin Dang, vice president of external affairs of the association, who accompanied Ambassador Knapper to visit the cemetery on Oct. 13, said that the condition of the tombs in Bien Hoa Cemetery is “severely degraded.”

Vietnam Insight: Learn more about Vietnam

Vietnam rapidly builds up South China Sea reef

RFA/ Nov. 6

“The Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) think tank at the Center for Strategic and International Studies said Vietnam has accelerated reclamation work in the South China Sea, bringing the total of new land in the last 10 years to 540 acres by the end of 2022.

Apart from Barque Canada Reef, works are also being carried out on several other features such as Pearson Reef, Namyit Reef, Tennent Reef and Sand Cay.

Even with the new reclamation in 2023 it is still far less than the 3,200 acres of land created by China between 2013 and 2016.”

Hot “Furnace” at Home, Cool Relationships Abroad

Fulcrum/ Nguyen Khac Giang/ Oct. 18

“The CPV wants to make sure that opening its doors to the West does not invite unwanted influence – similar to what Deng Xiaoping once said about China’s reforms. Moreover, Hanoi has little to worry about the repercussions for its domestic actions. As Vietnam becomes more important geopolitically, the European Union (EU) and the U.S., two of the most critical voices on issues of democratic freedoms and human rights, have been largely muted in their responses to its recent civil society crackdowns.”

Pension reform a potential powder keg in Vietnam

Asia Times/ Tu Nguyen/ Oct. 18

“As the draft law is scheduled for discussion in the upcoming session of the National Assembly, the number of lodgements for early withdrawals continues to rise. There have been reports of many workers resigning from their jobs so that they can claim the lump sum in 2024 before the new law comes into effect in 2025.

Potential changes that will likely restrict early withdrawals have created a sense of uncertainty among workers, pushing them to claim the money while it is still allowed.”

China-Vietnam Party-to-Party Ties: A Tie that Binds

Fulcrum/ Lye Liang Fook/ Sept. 25

“China and Vietnam have a vested interest in ensuring that their ruling communist parties remain in power and retain dominance. To this end, they have stressed the importance of strengthening experience-sharing and mutual learning. They have established a high-level party platform, co-chaired by a Political Bureau member from each side, to learn from the experience of each other. Since the early 2000s, they have held 17 workshops on a range of issues such as party strengthening and building; fighting corruption; guiding mass opinion; managing agriculture, rural areas and farmers’ issues; tackling the 2008 financial crisis; to improving social governance in the information age. By learning from each other, the CCP and CPV seek to strengthen party institutions and enhance ideological legitimacy.”

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