Five Most Twisted Stories in March

Published March 28, 2016 in Episode 45

March was a month of protest incitements, disastrous effects of climate change, and twisted DNA news. Here’s our list of the five news item from Việt Nam you need to know this month.

1. Vietnamese Twins From Different Fathers

A father in Việt Nam was urged to bring his two-year-old twins in for DNA testing after relatives pointed out the toddlers looked nothing alike. One twin has thick and wavy hair, the other has thin and straight hair. It turns out that they look different because they have different fathers, according to the online paper Dân Trí.

This is a case of ‘heteropaternal superfecundation’, which can occur when a woman’s eggs are fertilized by different men within a short time of the same ovulation period.

Lê Đình Lương of the Genetic Association of Việt Nam heads the lab that performed the tests. Lương  told news agencies, “this is rare not only for Việt Nam, but for the world.” The situation is so rare, it has been reported less than 10 times around the world, Dân Trí reports.

2. Harsh Sentences Handed Down for Blogging

Two bloggers were sentenced to a combined eight years in prison for ‘abusing democratic freedoms’. Nguyễn Hữu Vinh, the creator of a popular blog called Ba Sàm, was sentenced to five years, while his assistant Nguyễn Thị Minh Thúy received three years. The Hà Nội People’s Court handed the punishment down after delaying the  trial for  22 months after the two were arrested. The trial proceedings took place on March 23rd and lasted only one day.

The government claims articles posted on Ba Sàm damaged people’s confidence in the state and in the Communist party. Both Vinh, who is known as Anh Ba Sàm, and Thúy deny guilt.

Hundreds of supporters gathered outside the courtroom chanting “Freedom for Ba Sàm. Freedom for Thúy.” Supporters were barred from the courtroom. The Associated Press reports foreign media and diplomats were allowed to watch from a closed circuit monitor in another room.

One international observer who was not allowed to attend was German Member of Parliament Martin Patzelt. Outside the courtroom, he told blogger JB Nguyễn Hữu Vinh that the lack of transparency cast a shadow over the trial.

“I wanted nothing but to attest that the Vietnamese government is guaranteeing a constitutional due process of law. That’s what I wanted to attest to. If you don’t allow the public entrance, if you limit the entrance of observers, it leads to the suspicion that the law is not being processed right.”

3. A Teacher is Disrupted from Teaching

A workshop on nonviolence ended in disruption and violence when police barged into a class taught by former prisoner of conscience Phạm Minh Hoàng at a café in Sài Gòn on March 20th. The disruptors, both uniformed and plainclothes police, physically separated professor Hoàng from his 13 students.

Police filmed the participants, but when they in turn took their cameras out, the beatings began. 25 year-old Nguyễn Mạnh Hiền, a day laborer and one of the students assaulted, tells Loa it was only the plain-clothed men who were doing the beating while the uniformed officers watched.

“They heard me coming down by myself so they pulled me into a corner, and told me to cooperate,” Hiền recounted. “When I didn’t comply with them, they punched my shoulder and kicked my legs. I yelled out ‘Police are beating people!’ and a few of the other students came running down. They were also beaten and pushed.”

Hoàng and his students were held for several hours at the café and later taken to a police station. Hoàng was instructing students on Vietnamese history, as well as leadership skills.

Phạm Minh Hoàng was a professor of mathematics at Ho Chi Minh City Institute of Technology until he was arrested and jailed in 2011 for his pro-democracy activities. A member of  Việt Tân, he has continued to lead workshops on leadership and activism as an act of civil disobedience. Hoàng and his students were released after 13 hours of interrogation.

4. Climate Change Crisis in the Mekong Delta

The worst drought in nearly a century is hitting Việt Nam hard right now and is bearing down on the Mekong Delta, the country’s rice bowl. Farmers are faced with a double whammy as the drought gives way to an influx of saltwater that has damaged nearly 200,000 rice paddies, caused by El Niño this year. Scientists say this is only just the beginning.

A United Nation’s report estimates that almost a million people in Việt Nam are suffering from lack of water. Government officials have taken notice of this crisis and conducted conservation workshops and handed out some financial aid.

However, not everyone is confident with the response, as Radio Free Asia reports. A coconut farmer from Bến Tre told RFA:

“They haven't said anything about building dams. The region further up, they paid attention to this, but here, nobody has said anything. Everyone has to fend for themselves. I built an embankment myself to keep out the saltwater.”

The drought and its consequences reveal only the beginning of the effects from climate change and competing geopolitical interests. Countries further upstream along the Mekong river like China, Laos, and Thailand have built dams that are exacerbating the problem.

5: Local Fishermen Say “No” to Building Tourist Resort

A ten-day protest earlier this month against government plans for a tourist resort brought traffic to a standstill and resulted in a public apology and concessions from provincial authorities. Hundreds of locals in Thanh Hóa province in North Việt Nam chanted “Give the Beach back to the People" during the protest.

Fishermen and their families took to the streets after Thanh Hoá officials gave away an essential strip of Sầm Sơn Beach to a developer, the FLC group, to build a tourist resort. Local media report that the resort, scheduled for completion this summer, would have barred fishermen from accessing wharves they have used for generations. One local expressed his frustration on An Ninh TV:

“Why are they building a fence to prevent people from coming and going? There are people who work here and people who visit. They prohibit people from going, prohibit everything, in every direction. Then they spread news that this is FLC’s property, FLC’s road, nobody is allowed to enter. That’s why residents here are upset.”

The protest escalated when police set up fences between the buildings and the protesters. The two sides clashed, causing some to be injured.

According to VN Express, more than 700 fishing boats were affected by the government decision. Authorities  promised to compensate these fishermen for their losses, but many expressed anxiety that the resort would be the end of their traditional livelihood.

The protest ended on March 7th and resulted in a public apology from the Thanh Hoá Provincial Party Secretary, Trịnh Văn Chiến. But Secretary Chiến downplayed the stark choices fishermen faced. He continued to ask those who had accepted government money to move.

“For anyone else who has a problem with this policy for one reason or another, just do as you have been for all these years. There's no problem.”

For now, the government has decided to set aside three areas for local fishermen to access Sầm Sơn beach, a small victory for local fishing families.