Police Confirm Arrest of Labor Reformist Nguyen Vu Binh

Notable events:

  • Police Confirm Arrest of Labor Reformist Nguyen Vu Binh
  • Human Rights Watch: Vietnam Provides False Labor Claims to Gain Preferential Trade Status
  • Hanoi Delays EU Sanctions Envoy Ahead of Possible Putin Visit
  • Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Dismisses USCIRF Report on Freedom of Religion
  • U.S. Lawmakers Issue Resolution to Condemn Vietnam’s Human Rights Violations

Labor Reformist Nguyen Vu Binh Arrested

State media on May 9 confirmed the arrest of Nguyen Van Binh, 51, a legal affairs director at the Ministry of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs, citing police sources. Binh has worked to enhance the protection of labor rights in Vietnam. From Vietnam’s state media, the Hanoi Police Department confirmed that its Security Investigation Bureau had prosecuted Binh for “intentionally revealing state secrets” under Article 337 of the Penal Code.

The police didn’t provide specific details about Binh’s alleged wrongdoings but said they had expanded the investigation to search for others who may have been involved. He could face between two and 15 years of imprisonment if convicted under this law.

Previously, on May 6, The 88 Project, an advocacy group advocating for freedom of speech in Vietnam, released a report in which multiple sources confirmed Binh’s detention under Article 337. The report noted that the arrest of the labor official is particularly alarming because Binh is perceived to be a trade reformer who has pushed the government to ratify ILO Convention 87, which could enable Vietnamese workers to form independent labor unions without prior state authorization.

The rights advocacy group Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a May 8 statement that Vietnam is falsifying reports and information about its labor law standards to secure or maintain preferential trade preferences with the United States and other economic partners. On the same day, the U.S. Department of Commerce began a public hearing regarding Vietnam’s trade status to determine whether or not Vietnam qualifies for classification as a “market economy” under the U.S. Tariff Law.

To seek the “market economy” reclassification, the Vietnamese government has claimed that the country’s labor law standards align with international standards and are applicable under U.S. standards since workers’ wages in Vietnam are “determined by free bargaining between labor and management.” However, John Sifton, Asia advocacy director at HRW, affirmed that independent unions are nonexistent in Vietnam and that the country still lacks a legal framework to enforce labor rights.

Vietnam’s laws, including the Labor Code and the Trade Union Law, allow for forming and representing “enterprise-level worker organizations” and “trade unions.” Still, in practice, they only allow state-controlled unions to operate. This falls short of the requirements for Hanoi to be recognized as a “market economy.” At the same time, Directive 24, a leaked Politburo-approved document, provides directions for the authorities to enhance state control over labor regulations and prohibit independent unions.

Reuters reported that the groups that opposed the upgrading of Vietnam’s trading status from its current non-market designation, including U.S. steelmakers, shrimpers, and honey farmers, claimed that the country’s industries are highly dependent on investment and imported materials from China, the majority of which are subject to U.S. anti-dumping duties.

In February, a group of eight left-leaning senators, led by Elizabeth Warren, co-wrote a letter urging the Bident administration not to grant Vietnam market economy status, given its reported labor abuses and close ties with China.

At a press conference on May 9, Pham Thu Hang, spokesperson for the foreign affairs ministry, claimed that Vietnam “completely meets the criteria of a market economy” and that “the Vietnamese economy does better than many countries that have earned the status of the market economy.” Hang added that Washington’s recognition will contribute to “further strengthen the Vietnam-US Comprehensive Strategic Partnership,” announced during President Joe Biden’s visit to Hanoi last September.

Reuters reported that Vietnam had delayed a meeting with the EU’s top official on Russian sanctions ahead of a potential visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin to Hanoi.

David O’Sullivan, a special envoy for implementing EU sanctions, is scheduled to meet Vietnamese officials during his Southeast Asia trip between May 13 and 14. However, according to one diplomat with direct knowledge of the situation, Hanoi asked to postpone the meeting because its “leaders were too busy to meet with him.”

Three other diplomats confirmed the postponement with Reuters. One of them said Vietnam had proposed July as an alternative date for the visit. Two other diplomats and another person familiar with the matter said they believed that Hanoi delayed the EU envoy visit to prepare for a possible visit by Putin to Vietnam. One source added that the Russian leader’s visit could be “spoiled” by any talks with the EU envoy.

The EU delegation in Vietnam expressed disappointment over the delay in a statement and said it was in dialogue with the Vietnamese authorities to arrange a new meeting. A spokeswoman for Vietnam’s foreign ministry confirmed in a regular press conference on May 9 that Hanoi was discussing an alternative day for the visit with the EU. The EU has imposed sanctions on Russia, while Vietnam has declared its firm support for a neutral foreign policy principle and has refrained from condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong has extended multiple invitations to the Russian president. A Russian ambassador to Vietnam said that Putin had accepted the invitation and that a date for his visit would be determined after his inauguration as president for a fifth term on May 7. In March 2023, the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for the Russian president for the war atrocities he allegedly committed in Ukraine. Vietnam is not a member of the ICC, so it has no legal duty to arrest him.

Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Dismisses USCIRF Report on Freedom of Religion

A spokesperson for Vietnam’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs on May 9 rejected the recent report by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) on the situation of religious freedom in Vietnam, claiming that it contained “the unobjective, prejudiced and imprecise judgments about the reality in the country.”

State media quoted Pham Thu Hang, the spokesperson, saying that Hanoi “has consistently implemented a policy of respecting and ensuring the people’s right to freedom of religion or belief, and the right to follow or not follow religion.” She added that “no individual is discriminated against on the grounds of religion or belief, and activities of religious organizations are ensured in line with legal regulations.”

The statement was announced after the USCIRF 2024 report urged the State Department to designate Vietnam as a “country of particular concern” due to its “systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom.” The commission, at the same time, proposed its recommendations for Washington to adapt its foreign policy for Hanoi, given its continued and systemic suppression of independent religions and spiritual adherents.

U.S. Lawmakers Issue Resolution to Condemn Vietnam’s Human Rights Violations

Two U.S. lawmakers, Michelle Steel and Lou Correa, who are co-chairs of the Congressional Vietnam Caucus, have issued a resolution condemning the Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP) for its repeated human rights violations, including the imprisonment of journalists, rights defenders, and religious figures. 

The resolution was released a day before Vietnam Human Rights Day. This year marks the 30th anniversary of a U.S. House-Senate Joint Resolution designating May 11 as Vietnam Human Rights Day, which President Clinton subsequently signed into Public Law 103-258 on May 25, 1994.

Congresswoman Michelle Steel and Congressman Lou Correa, who represent parts of Los Angeles County and Orange County’s Little Saigon, which has one of the largest Vietnamese communities in the U.S., mentioned in their resolution that “over 170 Vietnamese political and religious prisoners are currently detained in Vietnam, nearly half of whom were arrested due to expression or activities online.”

They brought to attention the unjust arrest and imprisonment of many journalists and dissidents, including democracy activist Tran Huynh Duy Thuc, environmental activist Le Dinh Luong, journalist Truong Duy Nhat, and members of the Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam (IJAVN).

In a statement, Congresswoman Steel urged the U.S. government to be “resolute” in pressuring the VCP to improve its human rights situation. “That is why I am proud to join with Congressman Correa in this effort to hold the Vietnamese government accountable and stand with innocent Vietnamese citizens and their loved ones in the United States,” she added.

Congressman Correa said he “will never stop fighting to hold the Vietnamese government accountable for its staunch human rights violations – both at home and in the halls of the United States Congress.”

Vietnam’s political turmoil reveals a turn towards China – and away from the West

Chatham House/ Bill Hayton/ May 9

“Whoever wins the race to become the next general secretary of the CPV, the country will have taken a turn towards becoming a literal police state. With the security apparatus in charge of the party (rather than the other way around), the tendency towards repression and ever-greater control will be baked into the system. This will make it harder for democratic countries to work with Vietnam. The CPV leadership will find greater acceptance in Russia and China.”

Vietnam’s War Against Corruption Needs to Address Root Causes

Fulcrum/ Jonathan London/ May 9

“It is clear that corruption in Vietnam is a serious problem, but focusing solely on punishing individual officials will not solve the root causes of the issue. This approach does not address the systemic weaknesses in Vietnam’s institutions, which have been created by specific ways in which the CPV has instituted the economy. Vietnam is a market economy subordinated to Leninist political institutions within which political and economic power is exercised informally, non-transparently and, very often, in an unaccountable manner.”


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