Five Stories to Know for January

As we usher in the new year on both the Gregorian and Lunar calendars, here are the top stories that you should know about this month:

Number 1 - Hà Nội releases and exiles a prominent prisoner of conscience

  Photo: Diệu upon his release

Photo: Diệu upon his release

Đặng Xuân Diệu, a blogger and Việt Tân member, was released from prison on January 12th after six years imprisonment on charges of subversion.

Following immense international pressure, Diệu was released on “humanitarian grounds” and exiled to Paris.

Allen Weiner, the international lawyer who originally handled Diệu’s case, says there is always abundant work to be done for prisoners of conscience.

“Civil society, international organizations, governments that want to affirm to these human rights principles have to collectively work hard to work in conjunction to do advocacy, to bring pressure on governments like the government of Vietnam to try to make sure that the powerful ideas of freedom expression and freedom of conscience and freedom of assembly are respected on the ground.”

Number 2 - The revolving doors of Việt Nam’s jails

No more than a week after the release of Đặng Xuân Diệu, Vietnamese authorities captured two other prominent political activists: Nguyễn Văn Oai and Trần Thị Nga.

Oai, a Catholic activist and citizen journalist, had previously been jailed between 2013 and 2015 for “attempting to overthrow the government”. On January 19th, Oai was arrested in Nghệ An on charges of “resisting officials on duty” and violating his probation. He is currently being held at the Nghị Kim prison camp in Nghệ An province.    

Just two days later, Nga was arrested in Hà Nam province and charged under Article 88 of the penal code for “anti-state propaganda.”

Nga had updated her followers by posting a video online while security police surrounded her house.

Nga is a member of the group Vietnamese Women For Human Rights and had spoken out about increasing intimidation and harassment in the days prior to her arrest.

Number 3 - Vietnam mourns the passing of its Father of Environmental Conservation

  Photo:   Associated Press/Kathy Wilhelm

Photo: Associated Press/Kathy Wilhelm

Võ Quý, one of Vietnam’s leading zoologists passed away on January 10th in Hà Nội at the age of 87. The professor and revered conservationist was renowned for his research on Vietnam wildlife as well as his contributions to government reforestation programmes as a result of defoliants due to the Vietnam War.

Dr Quý paved the way for a new generation of environmental activists. The last year has seen an increase in mass protests, particularly against industrial pollution by the Formosa steel plant.

He is survived by a wife and two sons.

Number 4 - Flower prices and hospital visits soar during Tết.

Popular flowers such as the Hoa Mai, the yellow apricot blossom, are bought in abundance and used to decorate the home ahead of Lunar New Year.

However, this year, flower prices surged, particularly in the Southern Mekong regions, due to abnormally heavy rainfall and flooding.

Low yield and reduced variety in crops forced vendors to raise prices in order to make a profit.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Health reported over two thousand hospitalizations due to street and general fighting between January 26th and 29th. A thousand other hospital visits were due to issues such as food poisoning and alcohol poisoning.

Number 5 - The US exits from the TPP

On January 23rd, US President Trump fulfilled a campaign promise by signing an executive order to formally withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership. As reported previously on Loa, the TPP was an agreement between 12 countries that represented approximately 40 percent of the world’s economic output. The deal aimed to strengthen economic ties and boost trade.

America’s withdrawal from the TPP signifies a huge blow to Vietnam’s manufacturing-led economy, which was originally set to benefit from slashed tariffs. Under the TPP, the Vietnamese government would have had to implement necessary reforms, including the formation of independent trade unions and ensuring that environmental and worker protections be in place.

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And that’s our news round-up for January.

Make sure to stay on top of the news in Việt Nam. But just in case you don’t, we’ve got you covered at the end of the month.