Khmer Krom Activists Convicted of “Abusing Democratic Freedoms;” National Assembly Formalizes Vo Van Thuong's Resignation

Khmer Krom Activists Convicted of “Abusing Democratic Freedoms;” National Assembly Formalizes Vo Van Thuong's Resignation

The Legislature Formalizes Vo Van Thuong’s Resignation, Appoints Acting President

The National Assembly passed a resolution to dismiss Vo Van Thuong from his presidency and appointed current Vice President Vo Thi Anh Xuan as the acting president during an extraordinary meeting on March 21. The legislature members also voted in the majority to strip Thuong of his membership in the assembly, with a nearly 88% approval rate.

Vo Thi Anh Xuan is one of a few women holding senior positions in the country as she steps in to fill the void as president again, just over a year after Thuong’s predecessor, Nguyen Xuan Phuc, was similarly forced to resign. 

On March 20, the Party Central Committee allowed Thuong, the youngest person to serve as president, to step down from his positions in the Politburo, a crucial decision-making body of the Communist Party, and from the Central Committee. Together with the prime minister, the general secretary, and the parliament chairperson, the president makes up the “four pillars” of power in Vietnam’s political system. However, the presidential role is considered largely ceremonial.

Although the official statement ambiguously announced that President Thuong’s downfall resulted from his “violations of party rules,” other experts and analysts believe he was forced to resign due to corruption and bribery allegations against him when he was party chief in the central province of Quang Ngai.

Others believe that Vo Van Thuong’s recent resignation reflected a power struggle between different factions of the Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP) leading up to the National Congress in 2026, where Thuong could have possibly replaced Nguyen Phu Trong to become party general secretary. Corruption allegations often serve as an effective weapon for taking down rivals.

According to Reuters, the National Assembly could announce a new president during its next regular plenary session in May or earlier if a special meeting is convened.

Two Khmer Krom Activists Convicted of ‘Abusing Democratic Freedoms’

A court in Tra Vinh Province on March 20 sentenced two Khmer Krom activists to seven and a half years in prison on charges of “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe on the legitimate interests of the state and individuals” under Article 331. Human rights organizations say this provision of the Penal Code is designed to curtail freedom of expression.

Thach Cuong, 37, who lives in Cau Ngang District, Tra Vinh Province, in the Mekong Delta, received four years in prison, and To Hoang Chuong, 38, another Khmer resident, was sentenced to three and a half years. The prosecutors accused both Khmer Krom activists of posting and sharing many articles on social media that “distort history” and “defame the reputation of the people’s police.”

The Tra Vinh Provincial Police arrested Thach and To in July 2023 and charged them with violating Article 331. Both men were previously fined for publishing information that the authorities deemed “slanderous” and “insulting” of the reputation of the state and the government.

Vietnam has nearly 1.3 million indigenous Khmer Krom residents, most of whom live in the southwest area bordering Cambodia. However, Hanoi has not used the U.N.'s definition of indigenous people; they instead call them “ethnic minorities,” with the Kinh ethnic group as the majority. From Vietnam’s perspective, its classification treats all ethnicities the same. However, Christian Solidarity Worldwide, a religious freedom advocacy group, wrote in a report that indigenous people in Vietnam often face serious restrictions on freedom of expression, assembly, and movement.

Congresswoman Michelle Steel Meets With Family of Imprisoned Journalist Le Huu Minh Tuan

One of the family members of Le Huu Minh Tuan, a member of the Independent Journalist Association of Vietnam, and other human rights advocates met with Congresswoman Michelle Steel on March 18 to urge his immediate release from prison and a proper health examination, VOA News reported.

Tuan, arrested in 2020, is now serving an 11-year sentence on a charge of “distributing anti-state propaganda.” Earlier this year, Tuan informed his family that he suffered from multiple severe diseases in prison and said that he could not withstand further imprisonment. The family tried to send Tuan medications prescribed by doctors, but the correctional officers said he could only take medications provided by the prison.

Steel said in a press statement on March 21 that she was “honored” to meet with Tuan’s family and other advocates who are fighting for the freedoms of those wrongfully imprisoned in Vietnam. Tam Le, Tuan’s sister, who met with Steel, expressed her hope that the congresswoman would campaign for her brother’s release and urge the Vietnamese authorities to let him receive urgent healthcare.

Former Dissident Activist and Blogger Denied Access to Lawyer

Phan Tat Thanh, a former activist and blogger, has been denied access to his lawyer since July 2023 on the charge of “distributing anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 of the Penal Code. Prosecutors say that Thanh used his Facebook accounts to disseminate “distorted” information, instill confusion among the public, and defame the VCP.

After Thanh was detained, his family hired attorney Tran Dinh Dung as a defense lawyer. However, after the police concluded their investigation and transferred the case to the Ho Chi Minh City People’s Procuracy, Thanh was not permitted to meet his legal representation. The Law on Criminal Procedures states that defense lawyers should be allowed to participate in legal proceedings after the investigation has finished.

The blogger told his family that investigators could not find evidence supporting their accusation that he had engaged in anti-state activities. Thanh also reported being physically abused by policemen at the detention center.

Vietnam Insight: Learn more about Vietnam

Vietnam and the Russia-Ukraine War: Hanoi’s ‘Bamboo Diplomacy’ Pays Off but Challenges Remain

Fulcrum/ Ian Storey/ March 22

“But more important than keeping on good terms with Russia has been keeping on better terms with the United States, Europe and Japan, Vietnam’s most important trade and investment partners. As such, so far, Hanoi has not undertaken any actions that could be perceived as undermining Western sanctions, including restoring direct flights with Russia after the COVID-19 pandemic (the Russian airline Aeroflot uses both Boeing and Airbus aircraft). Nor did it agree to the Kremlin’s request to re-export Soviet/Russian-made military hardware, munitions and spare parts to replenish the Russian armed forces’ battlefield losses in Ukraine, as Vietnam’s ASEAN partner Myanmar has.”

Solving Vietnam’s social protection sustainability problem

East Asia Forum/ Suiwah Leung/ Jan. 12

“The social insurance strand is currently comprised almost entirely of compulsory contributions by employers and workers. When doubled up as unemployment insurance, social insurance schemes become unsustainable for longer-term retirement income protection.

Alarmingly, the social insurance scheme covers only workers in the formal sector. In 2018, around 76 per cent of all workers — or between 55–60 per cent of all non-agricultural workers — were in the informal sector with no employment contracts and mostly no social insurance. An estimate from the General Statistics Office of Vietnam shows informality at similarly high levels of 68.5 per cent in 2021.”

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