Featured Image: Nguyen Van Trang, a member of the Brotherhood for Democracy who was originally charged with “activities aimed at overthrowing the people’s administration” but now is charged with “procuring prostitutes” in an apparent attempt to make it easier to extradite him
Greetings and Happy New Year from The 88 Project! We are bringing you news, analysis, and actions regarding human rights and civil society in Vietnam during the weeks of December 23-29 and December 30-January 5. Journalist Pham Chi Dung still has not been able to meet with a lawyer, as he remains under pre-trial investigation after his November arrest. Music teacher Nguyen Nang Tinh has appealed his 11-year sentence. And the Vietnamese authorities are reportedly changing political activists’ charges to non-political, criminal offenses with the intention of making it easier to extradite and prosecute them. This week, more people were targeted in connection with the government’s continued crackdown on the independent Liberal Publishing House. Ho Sy Quyet and his wife were detained, questioned for several hours, and had their house searched and property confiscated. State journalists were blocked from reporting on a construction project recently, and land use issues are anticipated after the authorities designated a Catholic convent as a “heritage site.” Moreover, a massive outdoor trial of nine criminal defendants is anticipated, even though Vietnam agreed it would do away with the outdated practice as part of a recommendation from Denmark at Vietnam’s Universal Periodic Review. In the news, read about possible directions and roles for Vietnam within Asia and the international order in 2020. Coming up next week, the People’s Court of Ho Chi Minh City will try eight activists who are members of the Hien Phap civil society group. Please take action in support of the Liberal Publishing House by sharing Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch’s joint statement condemning recent months of harassment against the organization and its affiliates.
HUMAN RIGHTS & CIVIL SOCIETY
In January 2019, the Vietnamese government agreed with no reservation, concerning Denmark’s Universal Periodic Review recommendation, to abolish immediately and at all levels, the exercise of conducting outdoor trials. This recommendation was made to ensure the right to presumption of innocence, effective legal representation, and fair trials. Most Vietnamese lawyers and activists were happy that the country could leave the outdated trial model behind. However, it is now certain that another outdoor trial will indeed be carried out, in a stadium where approximately 4,000 people will attend, to try nine defendants accused of rape and murder. While the case might bring up strong public opinions, there is no reason that this ancient method of judicial remedy should be applied. It also questions the integrity of Vietnamese government in implementing their UPR commitments.
NEWS & ANALYSIS
Assessing Southeast Asia in the 2010s: 5 Big Strategic Trends and How They May Shape the 2020s, Prashanth Parameswaran, The Diplomat, January 1, 2020: “Indeed, as my colleague Ankit Panda and I discussed in a recent podcast, 2020 may in fact see heightened tensions, with China continuing to get into run ins with Southeast Asian claimants, hopes for a meaningful ASEAN-China code of conduct dimming, the South China Sea continuing to be one of a series of pressure points in U.S.-China competition, and Vietnam – the most active and capable South China Sea claimant – holding the ASEAN chairmanship.”
Downside risks abound for Vietnam’s 2020 economy, David Hutt, Asia Times, January 2, 2020: “The country will also serve in 2020 as rotating chairman of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), in a year when tensions in the South China Sea between rival Southeast Asian claimants and China could come to a head. Vietnam will also take up a non-permanent seat on the United Nations’ Security Council, a position that could herald the nation’s arrival as a responsible global actor after previous decades of international isolation. But despite all those political happenings, the Party and its planners would be ill-advised to lose sight of the economy.”
The People’s Court of Ho Chi Minh City will try eight activists who belong to the Hien Phap group starting on January 10. They are: Le Quy Loc, Doan Thi Hong, Nguyen Thi Ngoc Hanh, Ngo Van Dung, Tran Thanh Phuong, Do The Hoa, Ho Dinh Cuong, and Hoang Thi Thu Vang. All were arrested ahead of a planned protest in Ho Chi Minh City in September 2018. Some members face up to fifteen years in prison if convicted. The Hien Phap (Constitution) group was established on June 16, 2017 with the aim to promote peoples’ understanding of their human rights in the 2013 Constitution. In December 2018, fellow Hien Phap member Huynh Truong Ca was sentenced to five and a half years in prison.