Several Social Media Users Arrested for ‘Abusing Democratic Freedoms;’ National Assembly to Discuss Its Personnel Issues

Several Social Media Users Arrested for ‘Abusing Democratic Freedoms;’ National Assembly to Discuss Its Personnel Issues
Graphic: The Vietnamese Magazine.

Notable events:

  • Three Social Media Users Arrested for ‘Abusing Democratic Freedoms’
  • National Assembly to Convene an Extraordinary Session to Discuss Personnel Issues
  • Phan Tat Thanh, Administrator of a Dissident Fan Page, Will be Tried this May
  • Tran Mai Son, a VinFast Critic, Seeks Political Asylum Amid Detention Threat

Three Social Media Users Arrested for ‘Abusing Democratic Freedoms’

The Vietnamese authorities have arrested three social media users living in different provinces and charged them with violating Article 331, which criminalizes the act of “abusing democratic freedoms.” Article 331 is a provision in the Penal Code that many human rights groups deem vague and politically motivated.

On April 26, the Kien Giang Provincial Police Department detained Duong Hong Hieu, 46, under Clause 2, Article 331 of the Penal Code, for criticizing a monk in the state-controlled Vietnam Buddhist Sangha. The police department said that from 2020 until his arrest, Hieu had used different social media accounts, “Duong Hong Hieu,” “Duong Hieu,” and “Phu Dung,” to publish fabricated, slanderous, distorted content that offends the honor and dignity of the Kien Giang Provincial Buddhist Church and its members.

A day later, on April 27, the Dien Bien Provincial Police Department arrested Bui Thi Linh, 35, for her alleged publication of 50 articles and "livestreams" on Facebook and charged her with violating Article 331. The authorities alleged that her postings contained defamatory and fabricated information about the police. State media reported that Pham Van Dung, Linh’s husband, was arrested in early 2023 as part of an investigation into the alleged use and storage of narcotics.

After Dung’s arrest, the Dien Bien social media user allegedly used her social media platform to criticize and slander police officers in the province. According to the reports, the authorities searched Bui Thi Linh's house and confiscated two cell phones, a laptop, and many important documents.

According to state media, on April 28, the Hanoi authorities used the same law to detain Duong Minh Cuong, 28. The police also searched Cuong’s house before his detention. The police announcement and state media did not specifically describe the alleged violations committed by Cuong.

Read more: Article 331 of the Vietnam Penal Code is Completely Redundant

National Assembly to Convene an Extraordinary Session to Discuss Personnel Issues 

Vietnam’s 15th National Assembly will convene its extraordinary session on the afternoon of May 2 to discuss personnel matters, state media reported. During this session, the National Assembly is expected to formalize the dismissal of its chairman, Vuong Dinh Hue.

On April 26, Hue reportedly resigned after the Party Central Committee approved his resignation due to his “violations of the Party and state’s regulations.”

According to the Law on Organization of the Parliament, the National Assembly meets two times a year. This legislative body will hold an extraordinary meeting upon the request of the president, the National Assembly Standing Committee, the prime minister, or at least a third of its lawmakers.

Read more: A Few Things You Should Know About Vietnam’s National Assembly Chairpersonship

Phan Tat Thanh, Administrator of a Dissident Fan Page, is to be Tried this May

The People's Court of Ho Chi Minh City is scheduled to hold a first-instance trial on May 8 for activist Phan Tat Thanh, a former administrator of a dissident fan page, on charges of “distributing anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 of the Penal Code. The Ho Chi Minh City Police Department detained Thanh and held him without a warrant between July 5 and 12, 2023. More than a week after his arrest, on July 13, he was officially arrested.

Thanh, 38, is one of the managers of a Facebook fan page called “Nhật ký yêu nước” (A Patriot’s Diary). The fan page promotes democratic values ​​and criticizes corrupt government officials in Vietnam. It has over 800,000 followers; in 2021, after it was hacked, the name was changed to “Van Toan.”

Phan Tat Chi, Thanh's father, told Radio Free Asia (RFA) on April 26 that the court had sent a summons for Thanh's younger brother, Phan Tat Cong, to appear in the trial as a witness. On July 12 last year, Cong met Thanh when his brother briefly escaped from the police station to inform his family about the detention before he was arrested again.

Chi added that the Ho Chi Minh City court on April 22 approved two lawyers, Tran Dinh Dung and Nguyen Minh Canh, to defend Thanh in his coming trial. However, according to Chi, the two lawyers have been unable to meet his son due to holidays in Vietnam.

Tran Mai Son, a VinFast Critic, Seeks Political Asylum Amid Detention Threat

Tran Mai Son, a social media critic known by his pen name Sonnie Tran, has fled Vietnam and is seeking asylum abroad after the police summoned him multiple times due to his critical writings about the VinFast automobile company and the Vingroup conglomerate. The most recent summons was dated Feb. 26, 2024, in which the Security Investigation Agency of Ho Chi Minh City Police Department requested Son to go to its headquarters to resolve a defamation report filed by Vingroup.

Son, 38, told Voice of America (VOA) News in early April that he had fled abroad but did not disclose his location due to security reasons. The social media critic said that the police threatened to charge him with Article 331 of the Penal Code if he continued to post critical information about Vingroup and VinFast. The authorities have also issued a travel ban for him.

In late December 2023 and early 2024, police in Ho Chi Minh City detained and interrogated Son for days because of his online analysis of VinFast’s business model and criticism of its mother company, Vingroup. Son told VOA News that he underwent a total of six interrogation sessions with police investigators before and after Tet, the New Year holiday in Vietnam. The police also confiscated his laptop and mobile phone but have not yet returned them.

On April 8, the police searched Son’s house but did not seize anything. The 38-year-old online critic had to flee Vietnam under constant pressure from the authorities. They also intimidated his family and pressured him to delete his postings about Vingroup on his Facebook page. “At first, I gave in,” Son told VOA News. “But since I have two Facebook fan pages, I deleted one and kept the other. On the other account, I hid my postings.” 

Previously, in January 2024, the Ho Chi Minh City Police Department sent multiple summons for Ngo Oanh Phuong, another media influencer, for allegedly publishing critical information about Vingroup on Facebook. The authorities also imposed a travel ban on Phuong, who learned about the prohibition when she boarded a flight at Tan Son Nhat Airport in Ho Chi Minh City last October.

State Media Removes Reports of Recent Vinfast Car Crash

A Vietnamese online newspaper has removed a report on a recent VinFast car crash that left a family of four dead in Pleasanton, California, on April 26.

Nguoi Dua Tin (The Messenger), an e-magazine under the management of the Vietnam Lawyers Association, was the first outlet to report on the case on April 27. The article, titled “Initial investigation results of a car carrying 4 people that got in an accident in America,” was removed shortly after that and replaced by a news article about Ukraine.

According to police sources in the Bay Area, California, the crash occurred at about 9 p.m. on Foothill Road near Stoneridge Drive, Pleasanton, last Wednesday. A preliminary investigation showed that the vehicle appeared to lose control before crashing into a large oak tree and bursting into flames. Police said four people, a mother, father, and two children under the age of 15, died at the scene.

CBS News reported that the police had identified three of the victims: Tarun Cherukara George, a 41-year-old father, and two male children, Rowan George, 13, and Aaron George, 9. The Alameda County coroner is working to confirm the identity of the fourth victim. The vehicle in the accident was identified as a VinFast electric car, but the police did not immediately say which model the vehicle was. Speed may have been a factor in the crash.

As of this writing, VinFast has not made any public announcement regarding the accident. Meanwhile, no other Vietnamese news outlets besides Nguoi Dua Tin have reported on the deadly car crash.

Read more: Vietnam's Chaebol Dream With Vingroup

Vietnam Insight: Learn more about Vietnam

Vietnam’s Deepening Leadership Crisis: More Instability on the Horizon?

Fulcrum/ Le Hong Hiep/ April 29

“There is also a more serious problem: the depletion in the ranks of the Politburo. Over the past 15 months, Vietnam has witnessed the dismissal of five out of 18 Politburo members, two presidents, one National Assembly chair, and two deputy prime ministers. However, the Party has not added new members to the Politburo, shrinking the pool of potential candidates for top leadership positions not only for the current term but also for the next term starting in 2026. It is worth noting that if the retirement age of 65 for Politburo members is strictly enforced, 10 out of the remaining 13 Politburo members will have to retire in 2026. This means that Vietnam’s leadership crisis and political instability may continue beyond 2026 unless the Party adds new and younger members to the Politburo.”

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