The June 2018 demonstrations were one of the largest widespread protests in Vietnam in recent decades. Consequently, the crackdown on its protesters was also one of the most oppressive. From kidnapping and physical assault to blatant police brutality; from arbitrary detention to severe sentences of imprisonment, it appears that the authorities have done everything they can to suppress citizens’ attempts to voice their dissatisfaction concerning two draft laws, the Law on Special Economic Zones and Law on Cybersecurity.
The former bill allows foreign investors lease land up to 99 years in three special economic zones (SEZ). While it does not sound unconventional in comparison with international investment norms, the special treatment for foreign residents, the function of SEZs as a separate and isolated administrative unit with minimal Vietnamese representation, and the ambiguous use of words such as “northern neighbouring country” (basically, China) in the draft created public anger.
The latter bill authorizes unlimited and unchecked powers to public security forces to track and intervene in personal information and expression online. With the poor track record of Vietnamese public security forces, it is almost certain that this new power will be abused.
Hence, the series of protests started because of a genuine growing fear of Chinese influence, worries about freedom of speech, and distrust of the lawmaking process. Demonstrations were held in 10 cities and provinces across the countries, including Vietnam’s largest, Ho Chi Minh City, and involved about 30,000 people on June 9 and 10, 2019. On June 17, thousands more protesters joined the streets.
Truong Thi Ha, kidnapped, unlawfully detained, and assaulted for participating in a peaceful demonstration. (Province: Ho Chi Minh)