Vietnam Free Expression Newsletter No. 29/2020 – Week of July 20-26
Greetings from The 88 Project! We bring you news, analysis, and actions regarding human rights and civil society in Vietnam during the week of July 20-26. The appeal trial for two BOT protesters has been delayed. Legal Initiatives for Vietnam has launched a new database focusing on violations of religious freedom. And despite its dismal human rights record, Vietnam attended the 44th session of the UN Human Rights Council. In the news and analysis section, read about US-Vietnam and Vietnam-China relations. Coming up this week, eight defendants face trial– some for their activities as part of the Hien Phap rights group– almost two years after their initial arrests. In case you missed it, check out our analysis of the journalism profession in Vietnam and the state of press freedom. And please take action by sharing The 88 Project and nine other organizations’ open letter urging Vietnam to cease repression of journalists, land rights defenders, and other activists.
HUMAN RIGHTS & CIVIL SOCIETY
Dang Thi Hue
On July 21, Hanoi’s higher court delayed for the second time the appeal trial of Dang Thi Hue and Bui Manh Tien on charges of “disturbing the peace” for protesting against Build Operate Transfer (BOT) toll booths. The reason given for the delay was that one defendant did not show up. Hue said that Tien, her driver, never received a summons from the higher court. In May, a lower court in Soc Son District found the two guilty and sentenced them each to 15 months in prison. The next court date may potentially be July 29, 2020. Many have criticized the locations of thes BOT toll booths, alleging that they are being charged with or without using the new road built by BOT companies. They also believe that this lucrative business (which can generate billions of Vietnam Dongs per day – approximately 50,000 USD to 100,000 USD per day) is corrupted by cronyism.
This week, we remember the arrests and trial anniversaries of the following political prisoners:
- Le Dinh Luong, democracy and environmental activist, arrested, July 24, 2017, and sentenced to 20 years in prison
- Ha Hai Ninh, civil society activist tried July 23, 2019; little information is currently available about his case
Defendants at trial on July 23, 2018, Source: Infonet
- Ten June 2018 protesters tried on July 23, 2018, and sentenced to between 2 and 3.5 years in prison
Legal Initiatives for Vietnam (LIV), a non-profit organization based in California, has launched a Database on Religious Freedom in Vietnam. The database will be updated regularly to document cases related to violations of religious freedom. LIV is the organization that oversees Luật Khoa tạp chí (Law Magazine) and The Vietnamese. Vietnam has a wide range of religions and sects; many resist folding into state-sanctioned churches and therefore are considered illegal. Activities deemed reactionary by the government could be anything from land disputes to ethnic-based resistance efforts, and even practices by Falun Gong members which make up a large number of cases currently. Readers can read about and report on cases.
This year’s Vietnam Advocacy Day, organized by BPSOS, will feature three series of webinars as follows:
- 1. Friday, July 31: Freedom of Religion and Belief, and the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
- 2. Friday, August 7: Freedom of Expression, Press and the Internet; Prisoners of Conscience and Torture.
- 3. Friday, August 14: Human Rights mechanisms and sanctions regimes.
Speakers lined up for the first webinar are:
- 1. James Carr, member of US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), who is a sponsor of ethnic Baptist minister A Dao from Tay Nguyen (the Highlands);
- 2. U.S. Representative Glenn Grothman (R-WI) who will discuss the current situation in Tay Nguyen and the Hmong ethnic group;
- 3. Attorney Anurima Barghava, member of USCIRF, who traveled to Tay Nguyen in September of last year to see how Vietnam implements its law on Religious Rights. After that trip, USCIRF issued a report stating that the law violates international standards and recommended that Vietnam be put on the CPC list of countries of particular concern.
To register for this webinar, please go to this link. For future webinars, click here.
Despite its numerous documented cases of human rights violations, Vietnam participated in the UN Human Rights Council’s 44th Session in Geneva, Switzerland. During the three-week event which ended last week, Ambassador Le Thi Tuyet Mai led a delegation in attending nine working sessions and meetings. The delegates made speeches touting the country’s commitment to and protection of human rights, “with priorities given to vulnerable groups” in society — particularly children and the elderly.
As ASEAN chair for 2020, the delegation also represented the group in addressing a variety of subjects related to human rights in the era of COVID-19. The session concluded with participants approving two Universal Periodic Reviews. At the 41st Session held last year, Vietnam said it “accepted 241, or 83%, of the 291 human rights recommendations,” although it isn’t clear how many of those have actually been implemented or followed.
NEWS & ANALYSIS
Advancing US-Vietnam Relations: Past, Present, and Future, Prashanth Parameswaran,The Diplomat, July 15, 2020: “Lastly, the occasion should also serve as a reminder of the work that remains to be done, which policymakers on both sides are well aware of. Some of this involves the bilateral relationship itself, be it speeding up the pace of defense cooperation or reinvigorating economic ties, an agenda item that Vietnam’s Ambassador to the United States Ha Kim Ngoc has highlighted following the loss of steam following the U.S. withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and broader regional concerns about some aspects of the Trump administration’s foreign policy. But other aspects involve managing the broader environment in which the U.S.-Vietnam relationship develops, be it the strategic landscape in the Asia-Pacific, with an increasingly assertive China making gains in the security domain, or the domestic dynamics of two different political systems with differences in areas such as human rights, which will be at play as the United States holds presidential elections in November 2020 and Vietnam holds its quinquennial Party Congress in early 2021.”
Did China Block Vietnam Offshore Oil Contract?, Ralph Jennings, Voice of America, July 20, 2020: “London-based drilling contractor Noble Corp. said July 9 its Noble Clyde Boudreaux semi-submersible had cancelled a previously announced project with Vietnam. News reports placed the drilling site off Vietnam’s east coast in a zone watched by Chinese survey vessels. It’s unclear whether officials from Beijing forced the cancelation, but they have pressured other Vietnamese seabed oil drilling contracts in the past. The two countries contest nearby tracts of the broader South China Sea.”
Covid-19 could loosen communist rule in Vietnam, David Hutt, Asia Times, July 23, 2020: “That divide, which did indeed worsen after 2013, is now likely to widen further because of economic interruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. It may also cause the Communist Party to rethink how it views social welfare and its own role in society.”
Le Quy Loc, Ngo Van Dung, and Doan Thi Hong
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
IJAVN’s President Pham Chi Dung in a 2016 demonstration against China’s aggressions in the China Sea. Source