Five News Stories to Know for November

Published November 30, 2016 in Episode 61

November has come and gone and this is good news to some and bad news to others. The US presidential election was the hot topic of the month -- not just to Americans, but for people all around the world, including in Việt Nam. But we can’t forget the other big November news, so let’s get started with the biggest:

Number 1: Donald Trump’s Surprise Victory Throws a Wrench in Việt Nam Foreign Affairs

Vietnamese citizens watched closely as more than 120 million Americans went to vote on November 8 in one of the most turbulent general elections in modern U.S. history.

When billionaire Republican Donald Trump beat out Democrat Hillary Clinton to become the 45th President of the United States, the suspense made way for shock, says Hoàng Thành, a young Vietnamese who attended an election viewing party hosted at the U.S Embassy in Hà Nội.

“Today, when I was at the Embassy and the final results appeared and Trump was the winner, I saw most clearly the sadness from the Vietnamese people and the international students who had the intention of studying in the US. Those people are very worried that they may not be able to study abroad starting next year and what US policy will be like by then. Some people were tearing up.”

Meanwhile, some Vietnamese were supportive of Trump because they believe he is the candidate more likely to be tough on China.

Still, it is unclear what a Trump Presidency will mean for Asian countries, and whether the president-elect plans to continue focusing on the Asia Pacific region as President Barack Obama promised in his “pivot” to Asia.

After the election Trump reiterated his opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade agreement that the US signed with 11 other countries in February.

Việt Nam stands to benefit the most from the TPP, as we reported in episode 16. On November 17, Việt Nam’s Prime Minister, Nguyễn Xuân Phúc, announced that Việt Nam will shelve ratification of the TPP due to the political changes ahead in the U.S.

The future of the trade deal looks increasingly uncertain.

Number 2: A Scandal Involving Teachers and Education Officials Breaks Out Right Before Teachers’ Day

As Việt Nam geared up for Teachers’ Day on November 20th, a day reserved for honoring teachers, education officials came under fire for demeaning those same public servants. According to state newspaper, the People's Committee of the town of Hồng Lĩnh, in Hà Tĩnh province, had requested 21 female teachers to serve as hostesses for a local event, a job that reportedly included singing and serving alcohol to guests in a karaoke room.

Minister of Education Phùng Xuân Nhạ, in an off-hand response to the incident, appeared to question why the teachers had kept silent. 

“If the teachers were forced to do this, we must first question their responsibility, before we talk about the person who forced them,” VietnamNet online quoted him saying, but the state-run page took the report down within hours.

Still, public reaction was swift and social media users blasted the minister for his words.

“Just blame the victims,” one Facebooker wrote. “That’s socialist culture for you. The robber says I only robbed her because she wore too much jewelry. The public official says he’s only corrupt because the people are so stupid and docile. That's it.”

Number 3: A New Law on Belief and Religion Tests the Faith

Việt Nam’s National Assembly on November 18 approved a new Law on Belief and Religion.

The new law “stipulates that everyone has the right to freedom of belief and religion, following or not following any religions. Everybody has the right to exercise religious practices and attend religious festivals,’ Việt Nam News reports.

But the law also “bans religious activities that infringe on national defence, security, sovereignty, and social order and safety.”

The Việt Nam Committee on Human Rights  strongly denounced its adoption, based on earlier drafts. The final text is not expected to differ materially, and has not been made public.

VCHR and advocates for religious freedom from around the world  sent a open letter to National Assembly President Nguyễn Thị Kim Ngân, calling for an urgent revision of the draft law before it came up for vote.

“Specifically,” the letter says, “basic guarantees of the right to freedom of religion or belief continue to be undermined by onerous registration requirements and excessive state interference in religious organizations’ internal affairs.”

While most laws come into force some months after their adoption, the Law on Belief and Religion does not take effect until the 1st of January 2018.

Number 4: Outspoken Government Critics Receive 2016 Human Rights Awards

The California-based Việt Nam Human Rights Network has awarded this year’s Human Rights Award to four vocal proponents of civil rights. They include land rights activist Cấn Thị Thêu, human rights lawyer Võ An Đôn, political activist Trần Ngọc Anh and the Việt Nam Blogger Network.

From Tuy Hoà in south-central Phú Yên province, attorney Võ An Đôn says the prize is a source of moral support for him and other lawyers who share the same mission.

Award recipient Cấn Thị Thêu is currently serving a 20-month prison sentence for participating in land rights demonstrations. Her son Trịnh Bá Phương accepted the award on her behalf and spoke about the meaning of the award to the land rights activists of Dương Nội, a town just outside of Hà Nội, where he and his mother are from:

“My mother will be so happy to know that the Vietnamese community from across the world loves and cares for her, and she will be honored to receive this 2016 award from the Human Rights Network. This is not an award that belongs to my family alone, but I believe it is encouragement for all of the people of Dương Nội as well as all of the land petitioners across Việt Nam.”

Cấn Thị Thêu faces an appeals trial on November 30th.

Number 5: Hà Nội’s Detention of Photojournalist is “Arbitrary”, a United Nations Body Says

The U.N Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has found Hà Nôi’s detention of activist and photojournalist Nguyễn Đặng Minh Mẫn to be -quote- ‘arbitrary’. The Working Group is a body mandated by the United Nations to investigate cases of unjust imprisonment. The group called on the Vietnamese government to immediately release the 31-year-old, considering the - quote- risk of harm to [her] physical and mental integrity” - end quote.

Minh Mẫn was arrested in 2011 and convicted in 2013 on charges of ‘subversion’. She was sentenced to eight years in prison and five years of house.

According to the Working Group, Minh Mẫn was detained for her involvement with pro-democracy party Việt Tân, and to prevent her from highlighting issues of public interest.

UNWGAD Petition for Minh Man

She had photographed instances of “Hoàng Sa. Trường Sa. Việt Nam” graffiti and anti-China protests for online publication.

Minh Mẫn’s mother, in an interview with Radio Free Asia, says that she hopes that the Vietnamese government will soon release her daughter, but she is doubtful that Hà Nội will let her stay in the country.

“I hope that Minh Mẫn will be released unconditionally, but I think even if she is released unconditionally, she still won’t be able to come home to us, her family. I think they will exile her to another country. Our family hopes that she will be released and she can come home to us, and continue her activism with us.”

Minh Mẫn was one of 14 bloggers, political and social activists who were convicted in 2013 of plotting to overthrow the government and sentenced to prison terms ranging from three to 13 years. Human rights groups say it was the largest subversion case to be brought in the country in years.