Activist Nguyen Lan Thang Faces Perpetual Harassment in Prison; The 88 Project Publishes Report on Vietnam's Human Rights

Activist Nguyen Lan Thang Faces Perpetual Harassment in Prison; The 88 Project Publishes Report on Vietnam's Human Rights

The Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP) Expelled Former Parliamentary Official Luu Binh Nhuong 

Luu Binh Nhuong, a former parliamentary official, has been expelled from the VCP due to his alleged “violation of the party's regulations and state laws” and “taking advantage of position and powers for personal gain,” according to state media. The decision to deprive Nhuong of party membership was announced during the 34th meeting session of the VCP Central Inspection Committee in Hanoi, held between Dec. 18 and 20.

Nhuong was a head deputy of the People’s Aspirations Committee of the National Assembly, which handled petitions from citizens claiming they were the victims of miscarriages of justice. The inspection committee claimed that Nhuong’s “political ideology had degraded” and he was on the path of “self-evolving” and “self-transforming,” terms used by the Communist Party to describe party members who get entangled in corruption cases.

On Nov. 14, the Thai Binh Provincial Police’s Investigation Agency issued a decision to prosecute and arrest Luu Binh Nhuong and a warrant to search his home and office on the charges of “extortion” under Article 170 of the Penal Code. According to the website of the Thai Binh Provincial Police, Nhuong allegedly interfered in responsible agencies’ work to help Pham Minh Cuong, a gang member who runs an illegal sand mining business, carry out extortion activities.

However, many Vietnamese citizens believed that Nhuong’s arrest was politically motivated since he is an outspoken official who regularly criticizes the Ministry of Public Security, Vietnam’s national police force, for its wrongdoing and abuse of power. He is also an outspoken critic who raised concerns over the wrongful convictions of death-row prisoners Nguyen Van Chuong and Le Van Manh. 

Police Reportedly Monitor Dissident Homes with Surveillance Cameras

Vietnam’s former political prisoners and their relatives are expressing privacy concerns about the police practice of using surveillance cameras pointed directly at their homes to monitor their movements, RFA reported

Le Thi Ha, wife of imprisoned music lecturer Dang Dang Phuoc, claims the local police of Buon Ma Thuot City, Dak Lak Province, had secretly installed a surveillance camera on her neighbor's porch aimed explicitly at her house. Nguyen Thi Chau, the wife of political prisoner Nguyen Ngoc Anh, has similarly faced the same issue for years, with two cameras targeting her residence. Chau lives in Binh Dai District, Ben Tre Province.

Le Quy Loc, a Vietnamese prisoner of conscience released in early September after serving a five-year prison sentence for “disrupting security,” encountered the same problem. Loc is serving two years of probation in Truong Quang Trong Ward, Quang Ngai City. Loc told RFA that a camera was installed on his neighbor's house shortly after he was released. His neighbor is a police officer, and the camera is pointing toward the gate of Loc's house. When Loc asked the neighbor about the camera, he was told it was installed to prevent theft, not to monitor former political prisoners.

The installation of surveillance cameras is believed to be part of a larger national project overseen by the Ministry of Public Security, which is seeking to tighten security across the country. The project is reportedly similar to the surveillance tactics utilized in China.

On Dec. 13, the Dak Lak Electronic Newspaper reported that the Buon Ma Thuot City People’s Committee chairman, Vu Van Hung, had announced plans to install over 100 security cameras in the city, including some with facial recognition capability, for security reasons. Buon Ma Thuot City has already installed 454 cameras in wards and communes. These cameras will be connected to the surveillance center of the ward and commune police, the city police, and the Provincial Smart Urban Operation Monitoring Center.

Vietnamese Activist Nguyen Lan Thang Faces Perpetual Harassment in Prison

Nguyen Lan Thang, a prominent Vietnamese blogger, has become a target of frequent harassment from his fellow inmates at Prison No. 5 in Thanh Hoa Province, according to his family. Thang, 48, received a six-year prison sentence in a closed trial in April 2023 on the charge of “distributing anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 of the Penal Code. His conviction has prompted concerns and condemnation from human rights organizations, who called the charges arbitrary and politically motivated.

Le Bich Vuong, Thang’s wife, told Radio Free Asia (RFA) that her husband is held in cell block K1 of Prison No. 5, where he has to share the cell with two or sometimes three inmates, some of whom show signs of mental illness. “They keep swearing, and they often scold him and insult him,” Vuong said, adding that such behavior is seriously affecting Thang’s mental health. She reported the harassment to prison officials, but they reportedly denied the claims and said Thang was treated according to prison regulations.

According to several former political prisoners, the K1 cell block of Prison No. 5 is dedicated to newly arrived male prisoners, and these inmates will usually be transferred to other divisions after a few days or weeks. Male political prisoners are usually held in cell block K3, while female prisoners are kept in cell block K4. Vuong told RFA she did not understand why her husband had been held in K1 for the past six months. In the K1 cell block, Thang is also not allowed to go out for physical exercises.

Human rights lawyer Dang Dinh Manh, one of Thang’s defense lawyers, called the harassment a “retaliation for his political activity.” “There are no legal provisions that allow holding normal inmates with mentally ill inmates,” Manh said. “Banning prisoners who don't violate rules and regulations from coming out of their cells to do physical exercises and plant trees is also illegal.” 

According to Vuong, the family plans to petition authorities for an investigation of the harassment and his transfer to a different cell block that allows prisoners to do outdoor exercises and plant trees. At the same time, Vuong said Thang told her he had sent some letters in July and August, but the family had yet to receive them. His family also sent him letters and books, but Thang has not received them due to the prison's time-consuming censorship regulations.

Vietnamese Dissident Nguyen Tien Trung Reveals Perilous Journey Before Seeking Asylum in Germany

Vietnamese democracy activist Nguyen Tien Trung, his wife, and their two children finally arrived in Cologne, Germany, on Dec. 14, 2023, and they began to settle into their new home following years of political persecution in Vietnam. Before arriving in Germany, Trung and his family fled Vietnam for Bangkok, Thailand, in early August 2023 due to increased surveillance and harassment by the authorities. From Bangkok, they departed to Germany with the help of the German Embassy.

In an interview with RFA, Trung said he was followed by Vietnam-sponsored security agents while in Bangkok despite his vigilance, prompting the German authorities to grant him and his family an emergency visa so they could come to Germany quickly. Trung added that “Vietnamese agents are ubiquitous in Bangkok” and “they successfully abducted Truong Duy Nhat and Duong Van Thai,” other Vietnamese political asylum seekers in Thailand.

Trung has been a vocal advocate for democracy in Vietnam for over a decade, resulting in his arrest in 2009 and a seven-year prison sentence in 2010. After being discharged from prison in 2014, he continued his pro-democracy activities in various forms, including documenting the Vietnamese government’s human rights violations and sharing them with the international community.

The 88 Project Releases Annual Report on Vietnam’s Human Rights Situation

The 88 Project, a Vietnam free speech advocacy group, on Dec. 19 published an annual report highlighting notable human rights violations by the Hanoi regime between January 2022 and June 2023.

According to The 88 Project, this year’s report underscores various tactics utilized by the government to silence dissent in Vietnam, including arbitrary detention, surveillance, intimidation, and restricted movement. Meanwhile, environmental activists and NGO leaders face false charges of “tax evasion” and lengthy prison sentences.

The Vietnamese government has also denied press freedom and criminalized independent journalists. The report also points out the use of pre-trial incommunicado detention, the lack of independent investigations in criminal cases, and the forced psychiatric treatment of political prisoners without their families’ knowledge.

This report emerged days after Vietnam announced its Resource Mobilization Plan for its $15.5 billion Just Energy Transition Partnership (JETP) at COP28. However, Vietnam's ongoing imprisonment of prominent climate defenders raised suspicions over the country’s commitment to combating climate change.

Besides bringing attention to Vietnam’s perpetual crackdown on dissent, the report showcases evidence of novel persecution methods against dissidents in the country. This tendency suggests a worrying trend of intensified repression within Vietnam, even as the number of formal arrests appears to be in decline.

Vietnam Military Court to Try Officers Involved in Viet A’s Test Kits Case 

The Hanoi Military Court on Dec. 27 will try four former military officers at Vietnam’s Military Medical Academy and general director of Viet A Co., Phan Quoc Viet, for their alleged involvement in the production and auctioning of COVID-19 test kits.

Ho Anh Son, a former lieutenant colonel and deputy director of the Medical and Pharmaceutical Research Institute of the Military Medical Academy, was prosecuted for “abusing authoritative power while performing official duties.” Other officers, including Col. Nguyen Van Hieu, head of the Department of Equipment and Supplies, Maj. Ngo Anh Tuan, head of the Finance Department, and Maj. Le Truong Minh, head of the Pharmaceutical Chemistry Department, was charged with “violating bidding regulations and causing serious consequences.”

The Ministry of Defense also accused Phan Quoc Viet of giving these military officials kickbacks worth more than 7.1 billion dong ($288,000) for their purchases of Viet A Co.’s medical supplies and of distributing them in the provinces of Bac Giang and Bac Ninh and Ho Chi Minh City.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Military Medical Academy was assigned to cooperate with Viet A Co. to produce antiviral test kits to help Vietnam effectively control the disease. However, later investigations found that Viet A Co. had not produced these test kits by itself, while the origins of these medical supplies remained unclear.

According to the indictment, Lt. Col. Son authorized Viet A Co. to manufacture 20,000 COVID-19 test kits, even though they were not produced following the Military Medical Academy's research procedures. After that, Son allegedly submitted these test kits to Vietnam’s Central Institute of Hygiene and Epidemiology to gain official recognition for the research project.

Viet A’s director, Phan Quoc Viet, then purportedly used this fraudulent result as a document to get a distribution license from the Ministry of Health for their medical products, pocketing more than 1,200 billion dong ($49.5 million). Son’s misconduct allegedly caused a loss of 18.5 billion dong for the state budget. Meanwhile, Viet was prosecuted for “abusing authoritative power while performing official duties” and “violating bidding regulations and causing serious consequences.”

USCIRF Raises Concerns over Thailand’s Arrest of Hmong Activist Lu A Da

VOA Vietnamese reported that the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has expressed concern over the Thai police’s recent arrest of Rev. Lu A Da, a Hmong pastor who fled from Vietnam to Thailand to escape persecution by the government.

“USCIRF is concerned about Lu A Da, a Hmong activist and minister who fled religious persecution in Vietnam. He is currently detained by Thai Royal Police and is facing potential deportation back to Vietnam due to his activism,” USCIRF Vice President Frederick Davie wrote on X, formerly Twitter, on Dec. 15.

Lu A Da, a leader of the ethnic minority rights advocacy group Hmong Human Rights Coalition, was arrested by Thai police on Dec. 7. He and his family have sought religious and political asylum in Thailand since 2020. Giang Thi A, Lu’s wife, told VOA News that their family had just received political refugee status from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Thailand on Dec. 14, but she was still concerned that her husband was likely to be deported back to Vietnam.

“I am very worried and afraid that the police will deport Lu A Da to Vietnam. This is dangerous to his life,” Giang Thi A said.

USCIRF also called on the U.S. government to urge the Thai government to protect Vietnamese refugees in Thailand.

Polish Archbishop Marek Zalewski Appointed Resident Papal Representative in Vietnam

Pope Francis has appointed Archbishop Marek Zalewski from Poland as the first resident papal representative to Vietnam. This decision came after an agreement was reached in July between the Holy See and the Vietnamese government on July 27 on the status of the Resident Papal Representative and the Office of the Resident Papal Representative of the Holy See in Vietnam, according to the Vatican News.

Zalewski is expected to arrive in Vietnam at the end of January 2024.

The agreement, made during a visit by Vietnamese President Vo Van Thuong to the Vatican earlier this year, marked the culmination of years of diplomatic engagement by the Vietnam-Holy See Joint Working Group. This move also signifies a new chapter in the relationship between the Holy See and Vietnam, which faced strained relations after 1975.

A joint communique between the Vietnamese President and Pope Francis stated that “the two sides had expressed great appreciation for the significant progress in bilateral relations and the positive contributions made so far by the country's Catholic community.” There are more than 7.2 million Catholic followers in the country, accounting for nearly 8% of the population, the highest among the religious adherents in Vietnam.

Vietnam Insight: Learn more about Vietnam

Vietnamese Response to Xi Jinping Visit Muted Amid Activism Crackdown

VOA News/ Dec. 18

“Anti-China protests have been a cornerstone of Vietnamese activism, but the response to Chinese President Xi Jinping's December 12-13 visit to Vietnam has been muted as Hanoi has jailed critics, and activists and experts cite an atmosphere of fear among those still free.

During last week’s visit, Vietnam agreed to join Beijing’s “community with a shared future,” described by China’s state news agency Xinhua as a step up from the previous “comprehensive strategic partnership.” The countries signed 36 agreements centered on increased cooperation, including security and joint efforts for the development of railways and telecommunications.”

Vietnam's economic shine starting to fade

Asia Times/ David Dapice/ Dec. 18

“The visit of US President Joe Biden and the upgrading of US-Vietnam relations to a level equal to that with China encouraged ‘friend shoring’ of FDI and technology transfers.

But the decision of Intel not to expand its already significant chip assembly and testing facilities suggests that though political skill is necessary, it is not sufficient to attract the higher-quality investments Vietnam wants. The government’s emphasis on computer chip production, while understandable, may result in slower progress in cybersecurity and artificial intelligence.

A bigger problem for both FDI and overall economic growth is the relatively weak state of the formal private sector and the lack of skilled labor needed to replace simple factory assembly jobs, which are migrating to countries with lower-cost labor.”

Xi Jinping in Hanoi: Courting for a Common Destiny?

Fulcrum/ Nguyen Khac Giang/ Dec. 18

“Hanoi is receptive to Chinese offers due to several reasons. First, Vietnam wants a strong relationship with China as much as Beijing does. China is Vietnam’s most important economic partner, not just because it is the country’s biggest trade partner and the second biggest export market after the U.S. Vietnam is hugely dependent on Chinese imports for its manufacturing industry, while half of its agricultural exports goes to China. Second, as both countries share the ideological alignment, there are good reasons for Vietnam to forge strong political ties with China for the common goal of ensuring regime security. Third, Hanoi knows well that its balanced approach in the great power competition is essential for retaining its geopolitical leverage as a “swing state” in Asia. Having a warm relationship with Beijing is vital toward that objective.”

China Railway Plans to Test Vietnam’s Foreign Policy Equilibrium

The Diplomat/ Brandon Tran/ Dec. 18

“The Nui Phao mine in particular, holds value that cannot be understated. In addition to being one of the world’s largest tungsten mines, with estimated reserves of 66 million metric tons, it is a polymetallic deposit, capable also of yielding significant quantities of fluorspar, copper, and bismuth. Such a mine is rare, and promises profits that could enable Vietnam to rival China’s dominance in the mining sector. Naturally, it would be in China’s favor to coordinate with Vietnam to take advantage of this opportunity, and the proposed railway is a way of China’s government to facilitate these plans.”

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