Communist Party Chief Nguyen Phu Trong Appears in Public; Vietnam Holds Trial for Suspects in Dak Lak Attack

Communist Party Chief Nguyen Phu Trong Appears in Public; Vietnam Holds Trial for Suspects in Dak Lak Attack

Editorial Note: Starting this week, The Vietnamese Magazine will have two news briefings every week, on Monday and Thursday morning, to bring more updates on Vietnam to our readers. Thank you for your support and solidarity for our work.

Communist Party Chief Nguyen Phu Trong Appears in National Assembly Sessions Amid Health Concerns

Vietnamese Communist Party Chief Nguyen Phu Trong, who holds the country’s top seat, made a public appearance as he attended an anomalous session of the National Assembly on Jan. 15 following widespread speculations about his health conditions.

Previously, Reuters reported that Trong, 79, had missed several major diplomatic events, raising concerns about the Party chief’s well-being. Meanwhile, Bloomberg reported that Trong had been hospitalized for an unspecified illness.

State media in Vietnam gave prominence to Trong’s public presence and published photos of him walking alongside other top Vietnamese leaders during the opening ceremony of the parliament session. Yet, they gave no further information regarding his health despite immense public inquiries about whether or not Trong could still be in charge of the country’s top decision-making position.

Vietnam’s 15th National Assembly convened last week to discuss urgent and practical issues, according to the opening speech of the legislative chairperson, Vuong Dinh Hue. The issues included discussions on land and banking reforms, budgetary issues, and the promotion of specific mechanisms and policies for the country’s national programs.

Vietnam Tries 100 Suspects Accused of Launching Coordinated Attacks in Central Highlands

The People’s Court of Dak Lak Province opened a mobile trial in Buon Ma Thuot City on Jan. 16 for 100 people accused of launching coordinated gun attacks on two local government offices in Cu Kuin District, which left nine people dead, including four police officers, two local officials, and three civilians. Vietnam’s state media reported that the trial will take ten days.

Among those suspected of involvement in the armed attacks, 53 people were criminally charged with “conducting terrorism aimed against the people’s government,” 39 were charged with “conducting terrorism,” one person was accused of “organizing illegal immigration,” and another was charged with “concealing a criminal.” Six of the defendants charged with “conducting terrorism” were tried in absentia and are under arrest warrants.

Those charged with carrying out terrorist attacks could face the death penalty if convicted.

The attack occurred in the Central Highlands of Vietnam, which is home to diverse indigenous populations. Vietnamese state media quoted information from the police’s prosecutors claiming that the alleged suspects conducted such terrorist attacks with the aim of “overthrowing the state to establish the so-called Dega state.” The Dega are a Christian ethnic minority living mainly in the Central Highlands, some seeking autonomy from Vietnam.

However, according to several indigenous activists living in exile, the brazen shootings in Dak Lak could be retribution for the Vietnamese government’s persistent suppression of religious freedoms and land seizures of ethnic communities in the region.

Human Rights Watch: Vietnam’s Trade Partners Avoid Mentioning the Country’s Worsening Rights Record

Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Jan. 11 released its annual report, World Report 2024, documenting and reviewing human rights practices in more than 100 countries. In the Vietnam chapter, the New York-based rights advocate writes that the one-party country still systematically suppresses fundamental rights, including freedom of expression, association, assembly, movement, and religion. 

The report also raises concerns over Hanoi’s continued repression of NGO leaders in 2023, with the arrests and convictions of several influential individuals, including environmental activist Hoang Thi Minh Hong. Political prisoners in Vietnam have reportedly faced abuses and endured illnesses without receiving any timely medical assistance. At the same time, the authorities in Vietnam exert their control over foreign social media platforms and punish anyone who criticizes the one-party regime on social media.

Despite noticeable progress in the promotion of the rights of children, women, and the LGBTQ+ community, issues such as domestic violence, child abuse, and sexual harassment against women and girls still persist in Vietnam.

Regarding international relations, HRW writes that although the United States elevated its relations to a “Comprehensive Strategic Partnership” last year, Washington “said little about Vietnam’s worsening rights record.” On the other hand, the EU urged Vietnam to respect its obligations under the EVFTA, which should involve civil society participation. An important aid donor, Japan refrained from publicly addressing Vietnam’s human rights issues.

Police Arrest Former Editors of Major Vietnamese Newspaper Thanh Nien

Ho Chi Minh City Police on Jan. 16 raided the homes and offices of two former editors-in-chief of Thanh Nien (The Young People) Newspaper, Nguyen Cong Khe and Nguyen Quang Thong. The police issued arrest warrants on charges of violating regulations on the management and use of state assets in connection with the construction of a high-rise building, according to the Ministry of Public Security.

According to state media, these former editors allegedly sold a plot of land in Ho Chi Minh City for the newspaper’s headquarters. The land use right was the newspaper’s contribution to the high-rise project. After signing a cooperative agreement between Thanh Nien Media Corporation Joint Stock Co. and Vinpearl Tourism and Services Joint Stock Co. to build the headquarters, Khe allegedly terminated the contract, and the land plot was transferred to a private owner, causing losses to the state.

Nguyen Cong Khe co-founded Thanh Nien and was editor-in-chief from 1988 to 2008. Nguyen Quang Thong was editor-in-chief of Thanh Nien from 2009 to 2021. On social media, the public suspected that Khe and Thong could be the latest figures implicated in the anti-corruption campaign initiated by Vietnam Communist Party Secretary General Nguyen Phu Trong, as their alleged illegal conduct happened ten years ago.

Vietnam Insight: Learn more about Vietnam

Is Vietnam Entering Uncharted Waters?

The Diplomat/ Carl Thayer/ Jan. 15

“A compressed decision-making cycle is likely to put stress on Vietnam’s consensual style of decision-making and intensify competition between the party and government wings because of the absence of a paramount leader. General Secretary Trong’s network of supporters in the party wing would want to move quickly to see that their interests and expectations are not overridden. Party officials who are members of the government wing will want to take this unexpected opportunity to advance their interests.

While Trong’s absence threatened to push Vietnam into uncharted political waters, the country is unlikely to experience a political crisis or a power struggle because the prevailing political culture affecting leadership selection and generational transition favors stability and sectoral balance.”

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