Tra Vinh Court Rejects Appeals of Two Khmer Krom Religious Activists

Tra Vinh Court Rejects Appeals of Two Khmer Krom Religious Activists
Graphic: The Vietnamese Magazine.

Notable events:

  • Appellate Court Rejects Appeals of Two Khmer Krom Religious Activists
  • Former Vice Chairman of Real Estate Group Wanted for ‘Abusing Democratic Freedoms’
  • Vietnam Opposes China’s Dispatch of a Hospital Ship in the South China Sea
  • 14 Killed in Another Apartment Fire in Hanoi

Appellate Court Rejects Appeals of Two Khmer Krom Religious Activists

An appellate court in Tra Vinh Province on May 23 rejected the appeals of Thach Cuong, 37, and To Hoang Chuong, 38, two activists who have campaigned for the rights to freedom of religion of the indigenous Khmer Krom population living in the southwestern part of Vietnam.

In a first-instance trial on March 20, Cuong was sentenced to four years, and Chuong received three years and six months in prison. Both were charged with violating Article 331 of the Penal Code, which forbids “abusing democratic freedom to infringe on the state and other individuals' interests.”

The People’s Police Newspaper, a mouthpiece of the Ministry of Public Security, reported that Thach Cuong was arrested because he “had regular interactions with overseas reactionary organizations and individuals through social networking platforms from 2021 until he was detained on July 31, 2023.”

At the same time, it added, Cuong had “posted, live streamed, and published 14 videos that reflect false facts and affect national and religious solidarity in Vietnam.” Meanwhile, Chuong was accused of sharing the information published by Thach Cuong and several foreign websites that “distorted” the religious situation in Vietnam.

According to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), Thach Cuong and To Hoang Chuong became targets of the government’s persecution because of their advocacy for the Khmer Krom religious adherents to practice their religion and beliefs without state interference. The USCIRF noted that the police had temporarily detained and assaulted Chuong when he visited another Khmer Krom activist in Soc Trang Province in June 2023.

Former Vice Chairman of Real Estate Group Wanted for ‘Abusing Democratic Freedoms’

Dang Tat Thang, former vice chairman of the real estate group FLC and former general director of the air carrier Bamboo Airways, is wanted for alleged violation of Article 331 of the Penal Code, which forbids the “abusing of democratic freedoms to infringe on the interests of the state and other individuals.” The Security Investigation Agency of the Ministry of Public Security made a public announcement regarding the search for Thang on May 23.

The Security Investigation Agency alleged that Thang, 43, had used his personal Facebook account, “Thang Dang,” to criticize and publish false information about Duong Cong Minh, general director of Sai Gon Thuong Tin Commercial Joint-stock Bank (Sacombank), and of Sacombank itself. Last April, Sacombank filed a complaint to the Ministry of Public Security and the Ministry of Information and Communications that accused the former FLC vice chairman of posting fabricated information to slander the company’s leaders.

That same month, Thang wrote on Facebook that immigration authorities had imposed a travel ban on Duong Cong Minh because he allegedly assisted Truong My Lan, the former chairwoman of Van Thinh Phat Group, with money laundering. Lan recently received a death sentence on April 12 on fraud charges. The published information caused a stir on social media and plunged Sacombank’s stock prices. The immigration authorities later announced that Minh was not under a travel ban.

The investigation agency issued an official search order for Thang because his whereabouts were unknown. This bureau urged those with information about the former FLC vice chairman to immediately report him to the Office of the Security Investigation Agency of the Ministry of Public Security.

Vietnam Opposes China’s Hospital Ship Dispatch in South China Sea

At a regular press conference on May 23, Deputy Spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Doan Khac Viet said Hanoi “objects to any action that hinders or impinges on its sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction” in response to the recent dispatch of a Chinese Navy hospital ship to the Paracel Archipelago, known as Hoang Sa in Vietnamese. 

Chinese state media reported on May 22 that the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), in affiliation with the PLA Southern Theater Command, had deployed the Youai hospital ship on a seven-day voyage to provide health examinations, medical care, and well-being lectures for Chinese troops stationed in different islands and reefs in the Paracels. The news report added that the hospital ship also conducted training for emergency circumstances and rescuing damaged vessels.

The Vietnamese foreign affairs spokesperson said that “Vietnam has ample historical evidence and full legal basis to assert its sovereignty over the Hoang Sa (Paracel) and Truong Sa (Spratly) Islands in line with international law and sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction of the oceans as stipulated in accordance with the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).”

Meanwhile, the Vietnamese government has not opposed China’s recent regulation that allows its coast guard to detain foreigners found illegally trespassing into its territorial waters for up to 30 days without trial or up to 60 days in more severe cases. Instead, foreign ministry spokesperson Doan Khac Viet ambiguously responded that “Vietnam always maintains its resoluteness and consistency in protecting its sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction over the country’s waters, and the legitimate rights of Vietnamese citizens in accordance with the 1982 UNCLOS and Vietnamese law.”

14 Killed in Apartment Fire in Hanoi

Police have confirmed at least 14 people were killed and three others injured after a fire broke out in a three-story apartment complex in Hanoi’s Cau Giay District in the early morning of May 24. According to the fire department, the blaze started around 12:30 a.m. and quickly engulfed the complex, filling it with smoke and toxic gas.

Rescue efforts intensified as firefighters broke the building’s main gate and windows to rescue those trapped inside. The fire was completely extinguished by 1:26 a.m., state media reported. While the cause of the fire is still under investigation, many survivors said they heard explosions that sounded like firecrackers and sprinted out of the building as black smoke filled the complex. The accident occurred in an apartment complex in a narrow alleyway that had 12 rooms for rent.

Vietnam has witnessed several deadly blazes in recent years in which bribes from inspection authorities and lax fire prevention standards are widely believed to be the main reason for the fires. Last September, a similar apartment fire in Hanoi left 56 people dead, including three children. In 2022, a fire broke out in a karaoke bar in southern Binh Duong City, killing 33 people.

Vietnam Insight: Learn more about Vietnam

Vietnam’s renewable surge shouldn’t distract from chronic environmental policy failures

East Asia Forum/ Sasha Lee/ May 24

“Despite the noticeable progress in local renewables deployment, Vietnam continues to grapple with implementing regulations against one longstanding environmental problem: industrial wastewater. According to one study examining wastewater discharge within Vietnam’s industrial zones, around 30 per cent of all industrial effluents released in 2019 were not sufficiently treated before entering nearby waterways. This occurred in spite of regulations enforced since 2009 stipulating the collection and treatment of all industrial wastewater through a central wastewater facility.”

Opinion: Vietnam arrested a trade reformer. Why this is worrisome.

The Washington Post/ May 20/ The Editorial Board

“In the latest cause for concern, police in Hanoi have arrested a reformist labor ministry official, Nguyen Van Binh, 51, and charged him with disclosure of state secrets. Mr. Binh had advocated labor reform as director general of the legal department at the ministry, especially ratification of International Labor Organization Convention 87, which would guarantee Vietnamese workers the right to form independent trade unions. A trade unionist, Mr. Binh was a key force behind Vietnam’s 2019 labor law, which provided a legal basis for Vietnam to ratify International Labor Organization conventions.

His arrest was the first of a government reformer in recent years, according to human rights group Project 88. And it came amid a wider wave of repression. The government has detained hundreds of officials ostensibly as a crackdown on corruption; the arrests also serve to silence dissent.”

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