June News Roundup

Published: June 4, 2018

From the National Assembly to assembly in the streets, and a return to freedom for two activists, this month was jam-packed with big headlines. Quyên Ngô brings you the important headlines this  month.

1.  Việt Nam’s National Assembly passes the Cybersecurity Law

On June 12th the National Assembly voted to pass a measure that forces global tech firms, such as Facebook and Google, to give private information to the Vietnamese government when requested. Hà Nội alleges that this is a measure against terrorists and hackers and denies any infringement on internet freedom. Authorities now have the power to remove any information they deem as “threatening to national security” and/or “xấu" -- bad. 

A video post from Facebook user Trương Huy, shared 12,000 times, documented one woman’s many attempts to call National Assembly members to inquire about their vote.

The law passed with 86 percent of the National Assembly voting to approve and will go into effect January 1st, 2019. 

2. 99-year land lease brings people to the streets

Members of the National Assembly also debated a draft law that would allow the opening of three economic zones in Phú Quốc, Nha Trang, and Quảng Bình. The special economic zones -- known as the SEZs -- would allow foreign companies to lease the land for 99 years. Many believe the SEZs would favor China.

Pubic anger was swift. The Vietnamese people have a long history of resistance against Chinese encroachment. Spurred by organizing on social media, thousands turned out for protests in ten major cities starting on June 9th.

Live videos show protesters being beaten or dragged onto police vehicles in Sài Gòn and Hà Nội. Over 150 people were arrested that weekend. 

Street protests were mostly peaceful, with reports of violence taking place in Bình Thuận District. There, citizens reportedly hurled molotov cocktails and destroyed government property. 

3. Police detain Vietnamese-American who participated in protests

Among the many arrested during the protests was Will Nguyễn. The 32-year old Vietnamese-American was visiting from Singapore, where he was finishing his masters degree.

The video of his arrest, which quickly circulated on social media, shows Nguyễn bleeding from a head injury as plain clothes police dragged him onto a van.

On June 19th, 9 days after his arrest, Nguyễn made an appearance on state television, apologizing for causing trouble and said he would not be joining any anti-state activities. The Vietnamese government is known to coerce dissidents into making these type of public statements. 

At the time of this airing, Nguyễn has been held for nearly three weeks under investigation of “disturbing the peace.” No charges have been formally issued.

4. Will people soon pay a fee for plastic bags?  

Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Trần Hồng Hà declared that Việt Nam will soon issue fines on plastic bags, according to state media.

This announcement was made on June 26 at the sixth Global Environment Facility Assembly in Đà Nẵng. 

Việt Nam is among the five Asian countries, alongside China, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Thailand, contributing to a global plastic crisis. About eight million tonnes of plastic waste are dumped into the world’s oceans every year, and more than half comes from these five countries, according to AFP.

5. Attorney Nguyễn Văn Dài is released from prison and exiled to Germany

Human rights lawyer Nguyễn Văn Đài and his colleague Lê Thu Hà were exiled to Germany on June 7th. They were sentenced to 15 years and 9 years in prison, respectively. Since his arrest in December 2015, Đài was a high-priority case for many foreign diplomats, including those from the US and the EU. 

One of the founders of the Brotherhood for Democracy, the 48-year old was among eight others sentenced in April to long prison terms for “activities aimed at overthrowing the people’s administration.”

The Brotherhood for Democracy is an unregistered civil society organization promoting human rights in Vietnam. 

Đài and his wife, Vũ Minh Khánh, are currently settled in Frankfurt.