Vietnam Sentences Indigenous Religious Freedom Activist; Democrats Oppose Vietnam Trade Status Upgrade

Vietnam Sentences An Ethnic Minority Activist for Holding Unsanctioned Religious Activities

A Vietnam court in Phu Yen Province on Jan. 26 sentenced Nay Y Blang, a Rhade religious activist, to four and a half years in prison on charges of “abusing democratic freedoms” for allegedly holding unauthorized spiritual services in his home, state media reported. Blang did not have a lawyer defending him.

Blang, 48, was arrested on May 18, 2023, for his alleged engagement in the Central Highlands Evangelical Church of Christ, an indigenous religious organization that the Vietnamese government has banned. According to the state media, the Rhade religious activist has “admitted his wrongdoing and has asked for leniency.”

The Communist authorities in Vietnam have called this Protestant group a “foreign-based reactionary organization” that purportedly seeks to “incite ethnic minority groups in the Central Highlands and the surrounding areas to erode the national solidarity bloc, trigger secession, and promote the establishment of a separate state.” The indictment of Blang said that from the end of 2019 to 2022, he used his private home in Phu Yen to gather key figures of this religious sect for meetings and prayer sessions and hosted other online Christian fellowships.

Pastor Aga, the North Carolina-based founder of the Protestant sect, told RFA that his group is purely religious and that they do not conduct any anti-state activities nor attempt to establish a separate state. “We just want to express our religious beliefs, our religion, to worship God and follow the religion that suits us while still following the laws of the Vietnamese government,” Pastor Aga said.

RSF: Vietnam’s Trade Partners Should Pressure Hanoi to Release Imprisoned Journalists

Press freedom advocate Reporters Without Border (RSF) said in an interview with The Vietnamese Magazine on Jan. 27 that Vietnam’s major trading partners, such as the United States and the European Union member states, need to make Vietnam uphold its human rights commitments, including press freedom, and must “intensify their pressure on the Vietnamese regime to release the 35 journalists and press freedom activists it is holding.”

“In Vietnam, the regime of Nguyen Phu Trong intends to impose its narrative on all information, and its control involves a stranglehold on all the media,” Arthur Rochereau, a spokesperson for RSF, told The Vietnamese Magazine. “Any independent information is strictly repressed by the authorities, as evidenced by the regular sentencing of journalists on absurd grounds such as ‘anti-state propaganda’ or ‘abusing democratic freedoms.’”

The Vietnamese Magazine previously reported that the Hanoi regime had allegedly forced imprisoned journalists to sign letters of confession admitting their “anti-state activities,” before being allowed to receive medical treatment. “The practice of blackmailing journalists and defenders of press freedom to gain access to medical care illustrates the Vietnamese authorities’ total disregard for fundamental rights,” the RSF spokesperson said.

U.S. Democrat lawmakers in both the House and Senate have sent letters urging the Bident administration not to grant Vietnam market economy status, citing issues such as the use of child labor and its close trade ties with China, Politico reported. The U.S. Department of Commerce aims to wrap up the potential upgrade by the end of July.

A letter signed by a group of eight left-leaning senators, led by Elizabeth Warren,  claimed that it would be a serious mistake to prematurely award Vietnam market economy status, which could allow goods produced with Chinese forced labor to enter the United States freely. The letter also argued that granting market economy status to Vietnam would worsen ongoing trade distortions and threaten American workers and industries.

A similar letter co-written by House Democrats led by Rosa DeLauro backed up these concerns, saying Vietnam does not meet procedural requirements crucial for the potential upgrade. These objections came after Republican senators expressed similar disapproval of the change in Vietnam’s trade status. They warned that a “hasty decision […] would weaken the enforcement of U.S. trade and national security laws, embolden and advantage the Chinese and Vietnamese communist parties, and hurt American industries and their workers.”

Previously, on Jan. 23, Vietnam’s Ambassador to the United States, Nguyen Quoc Dzung, urged Washington to end its “non-market economy” label on Hanoi, warning that maintaining the punitive duties on Vietnamese goods is bad for bilateral ties. 

Reuters explained that the non-market economy label allows the United States to impose significantly higher anti-dumping duties on imports from designated countries by relying on third-country proxy pricing. The designation is also applied to China and Russia due to heavy state involvement in their economies.

Human Rights Watch Dismisses Vietnam Government’s Defense of its Human Rights Achievement

The New York-based rights advocate Human Rights Watch (HRW) hit back at the Vietnamese government’s accusation that this nonprofit organization was fabricating its World Report 2024, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported.

The HRW annual report, released on Jan. 11, writes that 2023 was a gloomy year in Vietnam as the Hanoi regime ramped up its repression of fundamental civil and political rights in the country. It added that the Vietnamese authorities “continued to prohibit the formation of independent labor unions and human rights organizations and outlawed independent religious groups.”

Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Pham Thu Hang on Jan. 15 dismissed the report as “factually inaccurate and fabricated,” claiming that Vietnam’s efforts and achievements in ensuring the fundamental rights of humans have been “demonstrated through the results of the socio-economic development,” and that they are “recognized and highly appreciated by people domestically and the international community.”

However, HRW Deputy Asia Director Phil Robertson called the government’s defense predictable and said that Vietnam has “slid so far backward on human rights that it literally has no plausible rationale left to claim that it follows any of the international human rights treaties that it has ratified.”

Robertson added that it is preposterous to equate delivering economic growth with fulfilling its human rights obligations, pointing out that Vietnamese citizens don’t complain about the government’s rights violations because they would face constant surveillance and harassment if they criticized the regime. The HRW report writes that Vietnam is currently detaining more than 160 people for peacefully exercising their civil and political rights.

A Vietnamese Internet User Arrested for Live Streaming ‘Distorted, Defaming Content’ 

Vietnamese police in Hung Yen Province on Jan. 30 arrested and indicted Pham Van Cho, 64, a social media user residing in Lac Dao Commune, Van Lam District. The authorities alleged that Cho had engaged in the “making, storing and distributing documents and items aimed at opposing the government” under Article 117 of the Penal Code.

The Security Investigation Agency of Hung Yen Provincial Public Security said that its Department of Cybersecurity and High-tech Crime Prevention discovered that between 2020 and November 2023, Cho had managed and used two Facebook accounts, namely “Cho Pham Van” and “Nguyen Minh Tan,” to broadcast live streams and share many video clips that “defame the Vietnamese Communist Party , the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, and its revolutionary leaders.”

The security agency has determined that a total of seven video clips that Cho published contain “distorted and defamatory content” that seeks to “provoke” anti-state sentiments and opposition.

Hanoi and Manila Agree to Broaden Cooperation in the South China Sea

Vietnam and the Philippines on Jan. 30 signed agreements during a state visit by President Marcos Jr. to Hanoi, aiming to prevent incidents in the disputed South China Sea and boost cooperation between their coast guards, the Associated Press reported. Both countries assert their territory claims in the South China Sea, and both have faced tense confrontations with China in the disputed waters, which Beijing claims entirely as its own.

While in Hanoi, Marcos expressed concerns about Chinese aggression over incidents such as a water cannon assault by the Chinese coast guard on a Philippine vessel on Dec. 10. The Philippine president also mentioned the reported Chinese violation of sovereign rights and jurisdiction in a call to Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh. Vietnamese and Philippine officials did not release specific details of their agreements.

The bilateral maritime agreement “aims to establish a comprehensive partnership between our coast guards on capacity building, training and personnel and ship exchanges to enhance interoperability operations between our two countries,” Marcos said. VinFast, Vietnam’s leading EV company, also announced plans to expand its operations in the Philippines, saying the investment would start later this year.

 

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