U.S. State Department Report Shows Sluggish Human Rights Improvement in Vietnam

On April 22, the U.S. State Department released the 2023 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Vietnam, which states that the country had “no significant changes in the human rights situation” in the past year.

The 59-page report, consisting of nine sections, highlights notable human rights violations in the one-party Communist state. They include restrictions on freedom of speech and freedom of assembly and association, religious freedom issues, torture and other cruel treatment by government agents, unjustified arrests or prosecutions of journalists, the enforcement of criminal libel laws, and greater government control over the operation of nongovernmental and civil society organizations.

The State Department also mentioned the abduction of Duong Van Thai, a dissident blogger who fled to Thailand in 2019. It emphasized his arrest as an example of Hanoi’s “transnational repression” of critical voices. Thai was forcibly returned to Vietnam, where he awaited his trial on the charge of “distribution of anti-state propaganda.” Also, according to the report, as of October 31, 2023, Vietnam imprisoned at least 187 citizens due to their political or human rights activities, including 162 who have been convicted and sentenced and 25 who are in pretrial detention.

Regarding freedom of religion and the rights of ethnic minorities, there were allegations that the Vietnamese authorities continued to monitor, harass, and intimidate members of ethnic minority groups, especially in areas with high numbers of religious adherents. Meanwhile, the authorities frequently use national security laws to sentence members of ethnic minorities to lengthy prison terms.

Arbitrary arrest and detention of political activists and protestors remains a severe problem in Vietnam, according to the State Department. For example, the authorities in Ho Chi Minh City detained Phan Tat Thanh, administrator of a dissident Facebook fan page, and held him between July 5 and 12 without a warrant.

Le Xuan Dieu, another social media user, was also detained by the Ho Chi Minh City Police Department on July 31 and assaulted during the interrogation, resulting in multiple injuries. The police forced Dieu to admit his ownership of two Facebook accounts and forced him to sign a pledge not to disclose information about the assault or questioning.

Police Arrest Assistant to Chairman of the National Assembly 

Police have arrested Pham Thai Ha, an assistant to Vuong Dinh Hue, chairman of the National Assembly, on the charge of “abusing power to seek personal gain,” the Ministry of Public Security said in a statement. Ha, 48, also the deputy chairman of the National Assembly Office, was investigated due to his alleged involvement in a bribery case related to the Thuan An Group, a construction company established in 2004.

The police investigative bureau is now “focusing on expanding the investigation and clarifying the alleged violations of the accused and alleged violations at Thuan An Group and other related organizations.”

Vietnam’s anti-corruption campaign, “Blazing Furnace,” targeted numerous senior state officials and business executives who were prosecuted or forced to step down. Last week, police arrested six people at Thuan An Group for alleged violations of bidding laws. The detention of Ha, a close associate of Vuong Dinh Hue, suggests that the National Assembly chairman could be implicated in the case.

Last month, President Vo Van Thuong was forced to resign and removed from the Politburo after the Ministry of Public Security detained and prosecuted several individuals at the Phuc Son Group for alleged bidding violations. The Phuc Son Group is a construction company investing in projects in Quang Ngai Province. Thuong’s resignation as a former party chief in the province between 2011 and 2014 led to speculation that he was dismissed due to his connection to the alleged violations of the Phuc Son Group.

10 Followers of U.S.-based Organization Imprisoned on ‘Subversion’ Charges

A court in Gia Lai Province on April 23 sentenced 10 people to between four and 13 years in prison on allegations of “conducting activities aimed at overthrowing the people’s government,” under Article 109 of the Penal Code. These individuals were convicted of joining the U.S.-based Provisional Government of Vietnam, which the Ministry of Public Security designated as a “terrorist” organization.

The court sentenced Phan Thi Thao, 67, and Ta Van Trieu, 50, to 13 years in prison. Three other defendants, Tran Thien, 52, Vu Dinh Lan, 51, and Huynh Thi Khanh Trang, 37, were each sentenced to 12 years. Cao Thi Ngoc Diem, 55, and Tran Hue Chan Vuong, 53, received a nine-year sentence. Other defendants, Tran Thi Kim Loan, 62, and Tran Tho, 68, were each sentenced to eight years, and Cao Cuong, 52, received four years of imprisonment.

State media reported that these individuals had disseminated the “Constitution of the Third Republic of Vietnam,” a document of the Provisional Government of Vietnam, and called on others to register as members of this organization through Facebook and YouTube. The police arrested Thao in Gia Lai in June 2022 and then started to arrest others who lived in different provinces and cities.

The police alleged that the followers of the “Provisional Government of Vietnam” had used social media and other communication applications “to propagate and distort the economic, political and social situation” in Vietnam. They were also accused of “slandering the [Communist] Party’s policies, guidelines, and laws of the state” and “plotting to develop domestic opposition forces to sabotage the Party and state.”

Duong Tuan Ngoc, a Teacher in Lam Dong Province, Sentenced Under Article 117

A court in Lam Dong Province on April 24 sentenced Duong Tuan Ngoc, a macrobiotic teacher with tens of thousands of followers on social networks, to seven years in prison and three years of probation. Ngoc was charged with “distribution of anti-state propaganda,” a violation of Article 117 of the Penal Code.

Ngoc, 39, who resides in Lam Ha District, Lam Dong Province, often publishes articles and broadcasts live talks on social networks such as Facebook and YouTube. He discusses education, health, and other topics, including corruption and mismanagement within Vietnam’s state sector. He was arrested on July 15, 2023.

A relative of Ngoc, who requested anonymity for security reasons, told Radio Free Asia (RFA) that the police tightened security around the court perimeter on Wednesday morning. The relative said that the trial only lasted for about two hours. This person added that Ngoc had no intention of appealing the sentence, and he hoped to finish his sentence as soon as possible to return home.

Vietnam Imposes Travel Ban on Wife of Independent Journalist Nguyen Tuong Thuy

Pham Thi Lan, wife of independent journalist Nguyen Tuong Thuy,  was banned from leaving the country on April 18 when she arrived at the Moc Bai Border Gate in Tay Ninh Province to travel to Cambodia with her family. Lan confirmed the travel ban with the Voice of America (VOA) Vietnamese language service after she returned to Hanoi on April 19.

During livestreaming on her Facebook account, Lan said that the Vietnamese Border Police had said she received a travel ban due to “national security” reasons. “I’m an old woman who only cares for my grandchildren and does housework all day long. Does that have an impact on national security?” she asked.

VOA said Vietnam’s Immigration Department of the Ministry of Public Security and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not respond to their request for comment. Journalist Nguyen Tuong Thuy, a member of the Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam (IJAVN), is serving an 11-year prison sentence on the charge of “distributing anti-state propaganda.” He is held at An Phuoc Prison, Binh Duong Province, more than 1,500 kilometers (932 miles) from his home in Hanoi.

The travel ban imposed on Pham Thi Lan occurred before Vietnam began its fourth cycle of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), a universal human rights assessment process of the United Nations Human Rights Council, in early May in Geneva, Switzerland. In this process, various stakeholders will discuss and propose recommendations for Hanoi to improve its human rights record and uphold other international commitments regarding civil liberties, including the freedom of movement of its citizens.

Human Rights Watch Urges Vietnam to Adopt Urgent Reform

The New York-based advocacy group Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a statement on April 22 urging United Nations member countries to press the Vietnamese government to improve its human rights record and end its crackdown on dissent and other fundamental rights. HRW released the statement before Vietnam’s fourth cycle Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process, slated for May 7, 2024, in Geneva, Switzerland.

The statement shows that between January 2019 and August 2023, the Vietnamese authorities prosecuted and convicted at least 139 people due to their alleged criticisms of the government or participation in pro-democracy groups. They included the prominent blogger Pham Doan Trang, who on May 16 will receive the 2024 PEN America’s Barbey Freedom to Write Award. During the first four months of 2024, the police also arrested at least 11 people on politically motivated charges, including activists Nguyen Chi Tuyen and Nguyen Vu Binh and Khmer monks and religious advocates Thach Chanh Da Ra and Kim Khiem.

Despite its abysmal rights record, according to Human Rights Watch, the Vietnamese government’s submission to the UN Human Rights Council contained numerous falsehoods about the rights to freedom of speech and media freedom in the country. Vietnam is the world’s third largest jailer of journalists, and the Communist Party controls all media in the country. The authorities also surveil its citizens’ online activities, and those posting or sharing criticism of the government online can receive a lengthy prison sentence.

“Case after case of abuse is why concerned countries should speak out about Hanoi’s terrible human rights record,” said Elaine Pearson, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “UN member countries should not only press Vietnam at its UN review for real change but follow up to ensure that reforms are being undertaken.”

Why a Domestic War Movie Failed to Win Over Vietnam’s Communist Youth

Fulcrum/ Nguyen Thanh Giang/ April 24

“If the short-lived online popularity of the film tells us anything, it is that “Peach Blossom…” was a missed opportunity for Vietnamese cinematography. The film told a compelling story but its production – in this author’s view – was rather poor. A Facebook reviewer complained that the film “looks like a war drama on Chinese provincial television depicting Chinese Nationalist soldiers fighting Japanese troops. Even the uniforms don’t look Vietnamese.” Heroism was pushed to the point of absurdity: in one scene, the female lead flew five metres in the air from a rooftop while carrying a heavy lunge mine onto a French tank in a kamikaze-style attack against the enemy.”

With Landmark Corruption Trial, Vietnam’s Communist Party Flexes Its Muscles

The Diplomat/ Mai Truong/ April 23

“The escalation of the anti-corruption campaign further underscores the fact that corruption is systematic in nature. Corruption on such a massive scale as the Van Thinh Phat incident further highlights that corruption is not anomalous but is rather a symptom of deeper weaknesses in the political system. Addressing this requires institutional reforms rather than sporadic interventions involving the punishment of specific corrupt businesses or officials. However, the lack of serious consideration and adoption of such reforms raises suspicions that the anti-corruption campaign has been, and may continue to be, exploited for political gain. It is not surprising that some argue that revealing the Van Thinh Phat case may, indeed, reduce trust in the CPV as it could be interpreted as yet another instance of internal conflict among officials.”


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