Greetings from The 88 Project. We bring you news, analysis, and actions regarding human rights and civil society in Vietnam during the week of February 7-13. The Lunar New Year kicked off with a huge bang in the form of an award-winning environmentalist arrested for “tax evasion.” The new US ambassador to Vietnam received a letter from home reminding him to pay particular attention to human rights abuses. A singer-songwriter received a freedom of speech award, while Pham Doan Trang was given yet another award, this one from Canada and the UK. A disturbing report on crackdown against so-called “false religions” and using Covid-19 as a cover is truly worth a read. The USCIRF has also issued a report on religious freedom in Vietnam in 2021. Meanwhile, the pandemic appears to be on the upswing, causing strains on local hospitals just as the government gets ready to re-open the country to tourism. A man burned himself to death in Cho Lon to protest an eviction order. Don’t miss our Vietnam legal update and our article covering our most-read human rights stories of 2021.
HUMAN RIGHTS & CIVIL SOCIETY
Nguy Thi Khanh, Source: Lillian Suwanrumpha/AFP/Getty via The Guardian
Vietnam’s first ever winner of the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize has been arrested and charged with “tax evasion.” Nguy Thi Khanh, 46, founder of The Green Innovation and Development Centre, was arrested last month after her home in Hanoi was searched, but the state-run media did not acknowledge it until now. Unlike many others, Khanh has been allowed to talk to a lawyer. She’s the third person in charge of an NGO who has been charged with “tax evasion” recently, leading to many questions about Hanoi’s motives for cracking down on civil society in general and environmentalists in particular. Last month Dang Dinh Bach and Mai Phan Loi were sentenced to five years and four years, respectively, for tax evasion. Khanh’s case is being closely monitored worldwide.
This week, we think of online commentator Le Van Sinh, arrested February 15, 2019, and sentenced to five years in prison for “abusing democratic freedoms.”
A new report by “The Vietnamese” shows an alarming increase in the government crackdown against various independent religious groups and practices; some are deemed “false religions” whose definition is not particularly well defined by the authorities. Covid-19 has also been used as a reason to suppress certain religious activities accused of “spreading disease” according to Article 240 of the 2015 Penal Code. No one has been arrested so far; however, one woman was fined 12.5M VND (about US$4,500) for proselytizing about the Falun Gong.
Pham Doan Trang
Congresswomen Zoe Lofgren and Anna Eshoo, along with five of their colleagues, sent a letter to ambassador to Vietnam Marc Knapper to congratulate him on his new post and to raise awareness of the ongoing human rights abuses there. They also gave him a list of nearly two dozen political prisoners who need special attention.
The US Commission on International Religious Freedom has issued a country update report on Vietnam. In it, USCIRF recommended that Vietnam be put on the list of CPC — Countries of Particular Concern.
NEWS & ANALYSIS
Vietnam: Administrative Sanctions in the fields of Information Technology & e-Transactions, Baker McKenzie Viewpoint, February 11, 2022: “Vietnam has just promulgated new Decree No. 14/2022/ND-CP (“Decree 14”) providing for administrative sanctions in the fields of, among others, information technology and electronic transactions. … Among other amendments, here is the epitome of some notable provisions that may be of business’s concern:
Temporary seizure of domain names: Under Decree 14, Vietnam competent authorities may temporarily seize the national domain name of Vietnam (“.vn”) and/or the international domain name allocated to organizations and individuals in Vietnam as an administrative penalty for different violating acts including, among others, the provision or sharing of links to online information with law-infringing content, as well as the advertisement, propaganda, or transaction of prohibited goods and services.”
Vietnam a ‘country of particular concern,’ US religious freedom agency says, RFA, February 9, 2022: “Vietnam has been targeting Protestants in its Central Highlands area, imprisoning many for following an unrecognized religion. ‘Over 500 Central Highlanders have been imprisoned since 2000. Most of these are church leaders, their assistants, or followers who were very active in church activities,’ H Biap Krong, an expert on the religious freedom situation in the region, told RFA. She said the government tags Central Highland Protestants with vague charges of undermining national unity and planning to overthrow the government. Recently, the People’s Public Security Newspaper, the mouthpiece of the Ministry of Public Security, published articles targeting the Evangelical Church of Christ in the Central Highlands.”
Why Won’t Vietnam Teach the History of the Sino-Vietnamese War?, Travis Vincent, The Diplomat, February 9, 2022: “In response to Vietnam’s occupation of Cambodia and its conclusion of the Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation with the Soviet Union in 1978, China launched an incursion into Vietnam in February 1979 and captured several border cities. The diplomatic relations between two Communist erstwhile allies hit a nadir. Between February 17 and March 16, the war claimed the lives of tens of thousands of Chinese and Vietnamese soldiers, though the precise number of casualties remains debatable. The Chinese army withdrew after three weeks, announcing that its punitive mission had been fulfilled. But over four decades since the war ended, Vietnam’s schools are strangely hesitant to teach about the conflict. Hang, who asked to use a pseudonym, has been unable to incorporate the event either into an exam for her students or even into her own syllabus.”
Vietnamese man dies after setting himself on fire over order to move, RFA, February 9, 2022: “A November 2021 article in Zing, an online newspaper, said that about 160 out of 474 households in the area marked for the canal project had refused to accept the compensation offered. Many of the occupants depend on the nearby Binh Tay Market to do business and they feared they would lose their livelihoods in addition to their homes in a relocation, the article said. Many residents have instead chosen to live in semi-demolished houses on smelly plots of land near the existing canal full of waste. After Quang’s death, a second video surfaced online showing his body being placed in a coffin as police and officials in medical protection suits put up a barrier to block the alley where he once lived.”
Vietnam could finally let tourists back in from the end of March, Matt Blake, TPG, February 8, 2022: “Adventure-thirsty travelers have received another boost after Vietnam announced plans to fully reopen its borders to foreign visitors ‘ideally at the end of March and no later than the end of April.’ Those were the words of Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh who has begun easing his country out of one of the strictest zero-tolerance COVID-19 policies in Southeast Asia. ‘We may be facing a further rise of omicron and possibly other new variants,’ he said at the end of January. ‘However, with higher rates of vaccination along with other measures, we will be able to reopen the country safely, for the sake of economic recovery and development.’”
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
The 88 Project’s latest Vietnam Legal Update gives an in-depth look at several government decrees and directives that use Covid-19 as a pretext to further tighten freedom of speech and consolidate censorship. “Bringing them to light and under the scrutiny of human rights observers will help hold the Vietnamese government accountable in the implementation of the human rights commitment that the authorities have made to their own citizens and to the international community.”
What were the most read human rights stories by The 88 Project in 2021? Read our recap here.
Take action this week by sharing the One Free Press Coalition’s list of “10 Most Urgent” cases of injustice against journalists. The list includes one Vietnamese journalist, Nguyen Van Hoa, a regular contributor to RFA, who is serving a seven-year prison sentence for conducting “anti-State propaganda.”
© 2022 The 88 Project
Correction: We incorrectly stated that the USCRIF report on Vietnam was part of its annual report; the report is actually a separate country update.