In early April, Amnesty International (AI) spoke out about the continued and increased arrests of dissidents in Vietnam, before the National Assembly elections, which will take place on May 23, 2021.
”While Vietnam intends to participate in the UN Human Rights Council election, this administration is experiencing blatant and widespread human rights abuses in the home country,” saidAI’s Regional Deputy Director Emerlynne Gil.
“The Vietnamese government must stop this persecution and allow the Vietnamese to exercise human rights without fear of retaliation. The recent leadership of the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) should show an improvement in respect for human rights in Vietnam, but the signs so far indicate that they are continuing their old violations and abuse,” said Ms. Emerlynne Gil.
Other human rights groups have observed that journalists and free media organizations are concerned about the government’s increasing repression in many ways, especially after the new senior leadership takes office.
Previously, in an interview with BBC News Vietnamese on January 14, on the eve of the 13th National Congress of the party, Mr. Vu Quoc Ngu, Director of Defend the Defenders, commented that “Vietnam’s human rights in 2021 are so closely related to the new leadership of Vietnam that the 13th National Party Congress is decisive.”
“If the police and the military continue to hold key positions in the government, the situation will only get worse,” Ngu told the BBC.
“Many conservative strategies”
IFEX, a global network of more than 119 independent non-governmental organizations working at the local, national, regional, or international level to protect and promote freedom of expression, said in an article:
”With the end of the 13th Congress, human rights watch groups foresee that the repression of freedom of the press and speech will continue or worsen in Vietnam.”
According to IFEX, Vietnam has many strategies to curb freedom of expression, including the Law on Cyber Security, which was enacted in January 2019, and the regulation on “fake news” comes into effect in April 2020 in the context of Covid-19 pandemics. The decree imposes a fine of VND10 million-VND20 million, equivalent to three to six months’ average salary in Vietnam, according to IFEX.
“First of all, the government claims to have the sole authority to decide what is a media outlet and who is eligible to be a journalist,” said Trinh Huu Long, co-director of the Vietnam Law Initiative, an advocate for human rights, democracy, and law in Vietnam.
“Second, they ban non-state media and discredit international media that are not friendly with their regime.
Third, they punish those who challenge the regime and thus instill fear. As a result, people have to implement self-censorship policies.
Fourth, they place spies in newspapers, which means people will be more frightened and more self-censored.
Fifth, they directly instruct the media on what to do and what not to do. Finally, they strictly control international journalists in Vietnam.”
Currently, there are about 15 journalists and dozens of bloggers in detention. But even those numbers do not reflect the severity of the situation, the IFEX article said.
Mr. Trinh Huu Long said. “Vietnam is mostly ruled by fear, not a prison.”
“There is no sign of improvement”
Speaking to the International Press Institute (IPI), Trinh Huu Long said: “There is no sign of any improvements in the coming years.”
“The person responsible for the decline in media freedom in Vietnam over the past five years has been re-elected to the top seat. The Party is sending out negative signals, as it elects a former security leader in one of the four most powerful positions, and rumors are beginning to spread that he will be the next prime minister.
According to IFEX, Mr. Nguyen Phu Trong, who has just been re-elected as General Secretary of the party, is “famous for his conservative ideology and suppression of dissent.”
“Although the Vietnamese government has always bragged about freedom of expression, it continues to ban independent or private media from operating,” said Grace Bui, of Project 88, a non-profit organization supporting and encouraging freedom tell IPI.
“The Vietnamese government uses bogus and ambiguous articles (of the criminal code) such as 331 and 117 to charge journalists, bloggers, and Facebook users with long prison sentences,” said Grace.
According to the Vietnam Criminal Code, Article 331 sanctions “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the State, legitimate rights and interests of organizations and citizens” and Article 117 sanctions the crime of “storing, disseminating and propagating information, documents, and publications against the State of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.”
Most recently, it was reported that a Cham poet and civil society activist, Mr. Dong Chuong Tu, has been missing since Wednesday, April 7, 2021, while his family expressed doubts with the BBC that he was “arrested by the government security.”
On the morning of April 7, the Vietnamese government arrested Ms. Nguyen Thuy Hanh, the wife of former journalist Huynh Ngoc Chenh. Ms. Hanh has participated in many anti-China protests, founded a 50K fund to support prisoners of conscience, and posted many articles on Facebook about the country’s political and social situation.
The arrest came shortly after Vietnam’s top leaders were appointed, with Pham Minh Chinh, the former head of the police forces, sitting as prime minister.
Before that, on March 27 and March 10, respectively, the authorities arrested Mr. Le Trong Hung (nicknamed Hung Gan) and Mr. Tran Quoc Khanh – the two self-nominated candidates for the National Assembly. Both were charged with “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 of the Criminal Code.
This law was also used to arrest three journalists in January 2021, including Pham Chi Dung (sentenced to 15 years in prison and three years of probation), Nguyen Tuong Thuy, and Le Huu Minh Tuan (each sentenced to 11 years and three years of probation).
Previously, on February 10, journalists Phan Bui Bao Thy and Le Anh Dung were arrested after posting articles on Facebook with accusations of defaming officials. The journalists will be detained for at least two months to investigate allegations of “abusing democratic freedoms” under Article 331 of the Criminal Code, according to Vu Quoc Ngu, director of Defend the Defenders.
Before that, journalist Pham Doan Trang was arrested and faces imprisonment of up to 20 years for “conducting anti-state propaganda.” Environmentalist Dinh Thi Thu Thuy was arrested last year and sentenced to 7 years in prison for sharing anti-government propaganda on Facebook.
What is the solution for press freedom in Vietnam?
Mr. Trinh Huu Long said that the international community should continue to support the independent media in Vietnam by acting and speaking up.
“We need the international community to help foster a new generation of independent media and journalism by providing educational opportunities and financial support.” “There have been endless efforts and some groups of Vietnamese inside and outside Vietnam know how to make them work,” Mr. Long was quoted on IFEX.
External organizations can also support freedom of communication efforts by condemning Vietnam’s breaches of media freedom and demanding the cessation of online repression and removal of Articles 117 and 331 from the Criminal Code, said Vu Quoc Ngu, director of Defend the Defenders.
Providing training courses on cybersecurity and technology development to help people in Vietnam access independent media without having to use a VPN will be critical in the next 5 years.
Mr. Trinh Huu Long added: “The government will be more able to control the Internet, and they will tighten the iron curtain. However, there will also be many people willing to take the risk of becoming independent journalists, and exiled independent media will continue to play an important role.”
What does the Vietnamese government say?
In response to the arrest of Ms. Nguyen Thuy Hanh on April 7, the Vietnamese government said that she “made, stored, distributed or propagated information, documents and articles aimed against the State,” according to Tuoi Tre newspaper.
Regarding human rights in general, in a late 2020 article on the e-People, the Vietnamese government said that “Vietnam’s human rights achievements are undeniable.” It says “In the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, human rights, political, civil, economic, cultural and social rights are recognized, respected, protected and guaranteed according to the Constitution and laws. And in fact, since the founding of the country up to now, the issue of democracy and human rights has always been concerned, focused, spread widely in life.”
“The Party, State, National Assembly, Government and the people of Vietnam always make every effort to ensure that human rights are guaranteed and increasingly developed. The achievements in all aspects of human rights in Vietnam have not only shown results. This effort, but also directly affirms, proves the superiority of the social regime.”
The article also said that Vietnam “is always interested in completing the legal system, in which the emergence is political and civil rights” … And that these facts “are not only popular with many countries and international friends highly recognizing. Even many organizations and forces that once did not fully understand or lack goodwill towards Vietnam must also change and admit it.”
Referring to the anti-Covid-19 achievement at the end of the article, the author concludes: “There is no other meaning, these achievements are the result of efforts to act for human rights, for the people of the Party and the state, no one can distort or deny it.”