Opinion: Civil Liberties in Vietnam: Half-Full Glass

Opinion: Civil Liberties in Vietnam: Half-Full Glass

Urban youth, Ho Chi Minh City

Human Rights Watch runs behind the times on a fast-changing country



Human Rights Watch is upset that Hanoi is revising “its already draconian criminal code.”  Parsing a recent report to Vietnam’s National Assembly by the Minister of Public Security, the New York-based advocacy group discerned that “Vietnam will return to its policy of stamping out dissent now that the (Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact) is in place.”

Actually, human rights-wise, it’s been fairly quiet in Vietnam recently.  Unimpressed, HRW insists that signatories to the TPP (the US, Japan, Australia, Canada, etc.) “must push Vietnam to halt [its pending] legislation.”

I’m not sure which is more annoying: HRW’s boldly simplistic narrative of the campaign for democratization, or the persistent obtuseness of the Hanoi regime’s internal security agencies.

Public Security Minister Tran Dai Quang’s report illustrates both phenomena. 

Question Time no picnic

At Vietnam’s National Assembly sessions, ministers submit to questioning by deputies.  The Q&A is often good theatre, and it is well-reported by what the Western newswires insist on calling the “state-controlled media.” 

A year ago, for example, Minister Quang was pressed to explain to the legislature’s Justice Committee what he and his ministry were doing to curb instances of police brutality.  It’s not news that the Vietnamese cops often mobilize squads of, er, local patriotic youth to intimidate people who complain too often and too vocally. It was indeed news that taking their cue from Vietnam’s president and energetic reporting by the daily newspaper Thanh Nien, a number of deputies put the regime’s internal security bosses squarely on the spot.

On Nov.15, however, Quang came to the legislature on a more routine mission: to update on his ministry’s accomplishments over the past three years.  As reported by the online paper Vietnam Net, his testimony was numbingly quantitative.  No matter: bean-counting passes for public accountability in Vietnam.

Since June 2012, Quang said, the national police had solved more than 150,000 criminal cases and arrested nearly 290,000 individuals.  Its 75 percent success rate, he noted, exceeded the 70 percent standard set by the legislature.

Going after the dissidents

In this three-year period, further, the police had dealt with 1,410 offenses against national security.  They involved 2,680 individuals.  About 350 oppositionists in 50 provinces and cities had “established in the name of democracy and civil rights more than 60 illegal organizations.”  However, said the minister, the police had defeated every conspiracy.

Moving on to economic crimes, Quang reported that the police in the same period had uncovered 1,145 cases of corruption involving 1,930 individuals. 

The regional and global situation is becoming ever more complex, the minister warned.  Disturbances fomented by enemy and reactionary influences were daily more dangerous.  The police would strive to foil plots hatched inside the country, outside the country, in the cybersphere, wherever.

In short, Quang’s report was notable only in its admission that the police have had less success combating the nation’s endemic corruption than in uncovering dissident activity. 

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