Iris Scans Required for Vietnam’s New ID Cards; Hanoi Dismisses UN Report on Human Rights Situation

Iris Scans Required for Vietnam’s New ID Cards; Hanoi Dismisses UN Report on Human Rights Situation

Police to Integrate Residents’ Iris Scans into New ID Cards 

Iris scans will become a required biometric data, along with fingerprints and facial images, to be collected for the registration of Vietnamese identity cards, according to the 2023 Law on Identification, which comes into effect on July 1. These biometric specifics will be integrated into the national population database under the management of the Ministry of Public Security (MPS), the national police force.

According to the new law, the police will begin the voluntary collection of DNA information and voice samples of citizens above the age of 14. The registration of Vietnam’s current identity cards only requires that the police collect facial images and fingerprints. According to the MPS, such information will be encrypted and stored in the chip-based identity cards, which the authorities began to issue to all citizens in 2022.

The new law also states that any relevant criminal investigation agency has the authority to collect the biometric data of people under criminal investigations when resolving a specific case. Such information will be sent to the bureau in charge of identity card issuance and added to the national database.

Many lawmakers in the National Assembly and human rights lawyers expressed concerns over privacy and potential data breach risks when the Vietnamese police announced their plan to collect citizens' sensitive personal data. Since each person's iris scan and DNA sample is unique, it could be exploited and manipulated by the police force for potential surveillance purposes. The national database on population, which stores such data, is exclusively developed and centrally managed by the MPS.

The authorities will collect other kinds of information, including a citizen’s full name, personal identification number, date of birth, gender, place of birth, hometown, ethnicity, religion, and blood type, among other identification details.

Read more: Vietnam’s Surveillance State: Following China’s Model of Digital Authoritarianism?

Trinh Ba Phuong Reveals Substandard Conditions in An Diem Prison and Hoang Binh Was on Solitary Confinement 

Do Thi Thu, the wife of political prisoner Trinh Ba Phuong, revealed on her Facebook about the mistreatment her husband suffered in prison when she visited Phuong on April 21.

Trinh Ba Phuong is held at An Diem Prison, Quang Nam Province. According to Thu, An Diem Prison had shut the doors of all cells that hold inmates since April 8, and these prisoners had to receive letters, food, or boiling water through the small doors. The disciplinary authorities did not give any explanation for this closure. Phuong said that this situation was no different from solitary confinement.

The An Diem Prison also confiscated the inmates' belongings and returned them to their families. Do Thi Thu also said that Hoang Binh, a pro-democracy activist, was currently held in solitary confinement because he argued with the correctional officers over this confiscation. On the first day of the confinement, Binh’s legs were shackled. He had developed back pain and sinus pain and lost his sense of smell. He also had a non-threatening heart condition. Binh asked the correctional authorities for medicine to treat his condition, but they refused.

Trinh Ba Phuong told his wife that he sent her a letter on April 8, informing her about An Diem Prison's violation of human rights and calling for international intervention and support. On that same day, four prisoners, including Phuong, began a hunger strike for more than three days to demonstrate their protest against these violations. However, Thu said she had not received the letter from her husband.

Meanwhile, Phuong stated that he refused his food in prison because it was unhygienic. He once had acute diarrhea, stomach pain, and frequent bowel movements and had to ask for medicine after consuming prison food. Phuong told his wife that the water given by the prison center was also polluted, and he developed dermatitis as a result.

Assistance Program for Republic of Vietnam Veterans Suspended Due to Possible Government Pressure

Ky Dong Church, a church organized by the priests of Vietnam's Redemptorist order and organizer of Assistance for War Invalids and Veterans of the Republic of Vietnam, which provides financial relief and psychological support to former South Vietnamese soldiers, has announced its suspension of this project, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported.

Father Joseph Truong Hoang Vu, a priest at Can Gio Parish in Ho Chi Minh City, who has been in charge of the program since 2019, announced the decision on April 7. The priest said the church “temporarily suspends this charity to work on a new mission.” From now on, this church will not accept donations and other support for the project, Father Vu said. Several people who have participated in the program questioned that the decision might have resulted from the constant pressure of the Vietnamese government.

The program, which has been running for twelve years, has pursued its mission to “ease the pain of war victims and contribute to the promotion of the dignity of the Republic of Vietnam war veterans who made contributions to the country [South Vietnam].” The announcement was made just before the 49th anniversary of the fall of Saigon on April 30 this year.

After the North Vietnamese takeover of southern Vietnam in 1975, the Communist government punished and discriminated against soldiers and officers of the former republic, jailing them in “reeducation camps” where they lived under extreme conditions and were subjected to hard labor.

Another priest in charge of the program asked for anonymity. He told RFA that the main reason for the suspension was partly due to the lack of human resources and venues to run the program, especially "concerns" about security. Other priests who are the primary organizers of the program, including Le Ngoc Thanh, Dinh Huu Thoai, and Truong Hoang Vu, have also been subject to a travel ban due to their role in the advocacy for democracy and human rights in Vietnam.

Vietnam and United Kingdom Signs New Agreement on Illegal Migration

Vietnam and the United Kingdom have signed an agreement to promote cooperation in tackling human trafficking and illegal migration as the number of Vietnamese people who crossed the English Channel has surged in recent years. Colonel Vu Van Hung, deputy director of the Immigration Department of the Ministry of Public Security, and Michael Tomlinson, the U.K. Minister for Countering Illegal Migration, signed the joint statement of cooperation in London on April 17.

According to the agreement, both countries committed to strengthening collaboration on deterrence communication campaigns to stop people from making dangerous journeys in small boats. The two sides also agreed to increase intelligence-sharing to tackle visa abuse, to continue to facilitate the process for the return of those with no right to remain in the U.K., and to develop a joint action plan to tackle human trafficking to protect vulnerable people as well as disrupt people trafficking. The agreement also encourages the promotion of legal routes for migration from Vietnam.

State media reported that Hanoi and London reached an agreement after Public Security Minister To Lam spoke with Home Secretary James Cleverly on April 15. According to the U.K. government, the number of Vietnamese migrants who arrived via small boats this year has significantly increased. From 2018 to the end of 2023, 3,356 small boats arrived in the U.K. from Vietnam, putting the country in the top 10 countries with the highest number of arrivals.

Hanoi Dismisses UN Working Group Report on Human Rights Situation Ahead Universal Periodic Review

The Vietnamese deputy spokesman of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Doan Khac Viet, on April 11 dismissed a recent report on the country’s human rights situation prepared by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, saying it “contained false, unjustified information and an unfair assessment.”

The UN report, dated Feb. 2, 2024, presents an overview of Vietnam’s human rights performance before the fourth Universal Periodic Review cycle this May and detailed recommendations for Hanoi to improve its rights record under international standards.

Spokesperson Viet said the report “included false and unjustified information and many lies and unfair assessments that do not accurately and fully reflect the real situation, efforts and achievements of Vietnam in regards to human rights, and its protection and promotion.” He added that “the construction of Vietnam's national report per the 4th UPR cycle mechanism was done seriously and comprehensively, with the full participation of relevant parties and U.N. agencies in Vietnam.”

The UN recommendations for Vietnam involved multiple issues. They encouraged Hanoi to promote the rights of vulnerable groups such as women, children, people with disabilities, and indigenous peoples, to respect fundamental freedoms and political participation of its citizens, and to reduce the number of offenses punishable by the death penalty. People found guilty of drug trafficking and economic crimes may receive capital punishment.

The report also noted that at least 150 independent journalists, human rights defenders, and pro-democracy land and religious activists have been imprisoned for peacefully exercising their fundamental rights on issues related to environmental protection, minority rights, and democratic development.

Meanwhile, many government-issued decrees and articles in the Penal Code contain vague terms such as “national interest,” “diverging political views,” or “reactionary ideologies,” which could be used to establish criminality against Vietnamese citizens and further restrict their freedom of expression. 

Quang Ngai Province: Social Media Users Punished for Defamation of Authorities

The Internal Security Bureau of the Quang Ngai Provincial Police on April 12 detained Le Quoc Hung, 57, a local citizen, for allegedly promoting political pluralism and defaming Communist leader Ho Chi Minh. Hung violated Clause 1, Article 117 of the Penal Code, which forbids  “distributing anti-state propaganda.” 

State media reported that Hung had used Facebook to livestream and distribute content that opposed the Socialist Republic of Vietnam and encouraged the establishment of a multi-party governance model. The police also accused the Quang Ngai man of receiving money from “anti-Vietnam individuals living abroad” and letting these people participate in his livestream to “speak ill of the [Communist] Party and the state.”

In a separate case, on April 14, the Cybersecurity and High-Tech Crime Prevention Department of Quang Ngai Provincial Police imposed a 7.5 million dong ($295) fine on a local social media user for posting content that insults the reputation and honor of the police force. 

The Quang Ngai Provincial Cybersecurity Bureau accused this social media user of using a Facebook account to live-stream two videos that include curse words and comments insulting the police, claiming that the user violated Clause 1, Article 101 of Decree No. 15/2020, which regulates the distribution of information on the internet and via postal services.

Read more: Restricted Cyberspace: Vietnam Uses Cybersecurity Laws to Muzzle Online Speech

Tinh That Bong Lai Case: Long An Provincial Police Charge Head Monk Le Tung Van with ‘Committing Incest’

On April 19, the Security Investigation Agency of the Long An Provincial Police issued a decision to prosecute Le Tung Van, 92, a resident of Duc Hoa District, Long An Province, on charges of “committing incest,” state media reported. Van is the head monk of Tinh That Bong Lai, an independent Buddhist temple and orphanage that provides shelter for orphans and unfortunate people in the province.

According to the police, the investigation into the alleged incest comes from public sources who reported the crime. The head monk is being released on bail due to health reasons.

In November 2022, the People's Court of Long An Province sentenced Le Tung Van to five years for “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe on the interests of the state, organizations, and individuals” under Clause 2, Article 331 of the Penal Code. The other defendants, monks and nuns in the temple, received sentences between three and four years.

The convictions of Tinh That Bong Lai’s monks and nuns have attracted significant public attention because the authorities used the repressive Article 331 to imprison these religious practitioners. Meanwhile, the police investigators also forced a collection of DNA samples of the temple’s orphans without proper judicial process. They used the illegally obtained samples as evidence of the alleged crime of “incest,” 

Some observers believe that the authorities use the conviction to restrict the freedom of religion in Vietnam because Tinh That Bong Lai has not joined the state-owned Buddhist church - the Vietnam Buddhist Sangha.

Read more: The Case Of Tinh That Bong Lai Temple: What You Need To Know

Vietnam Insight: Learn more about Vietnam

How deep is Vietnam's financial rot?

Asia Times/ Buu Nguyen/ April 19

“The scale of the alleged corruption in the Van Thinh Phat case has sent shockwaves through Vietnam’s already fragile financial system, prompting the State Bank of Vietnam to funnel nearly $24 billion in “special loans” into SCB as of early April, according to news reports.

The losses to SCB, estimated at 498,000 billion dong ($20.1 billion), has raised the specter of bank runs, similar to the panic that gripped depositors at Asia Commercial Bank (ACB) in 2012 after the arrest of tycoon Nguyen Duc Kien for corrupt practices.

Memories of that chaotic episode underscore the enduring vulnerability of Vietnam’s financial system, confidence in which can be rocked by rumors true or false.”

Is Vietnam's corruption fight going too far?

DW/ David Hutt/ April 16

“However, the sentencing of Truong My Lan to death is a "double-edged sword," said a senior member of the European business community in Vietnam, who requested anonymity.

"On the one hand, it shows that Vietnam is serious about tackling corruption and that is to be welcomed," they said. "But, from a European sentiment point of view, the death penalty is not something that could be condoned."

Brussels "strongly opposes the death penalty at all times and in all circumstances," EU spokesperson Peter Stano told DW.”

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