The Socialist Republic of Vietnam is an authoritarian state ruled by a single party, the Communist Party of Vietnam, led by General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong, President Nguyen Xuan Phuc, Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh, and Chairman of the National Assembly Vuong Dinh Hue. May 23 National Assembly elections were neither free nor fair; there was limited competition among Communist Party-vetted candidates.
The Ministry of Public Security is responsible for internal security and controls the national police, a special national security investigative agency, and other internal security units. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed numerous abuses.
Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings by the government; torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and punishment by government agents; arbitrary arrest and detention; political prisoners; politically motivated reprisals against individuals in another country; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including arbitrary arrest and prosecution of government critics, censorship, and criminal libel laws; serious restrictions on internet freedom; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; restrictions on freedom of movement, including exit bans on activists; inability of citizens to change their government peacefully through free and fair elections; serious restrictions on political participation; serious government corruption; trafficking in persons; significant restrictions on workers’ freedom of association; and use of compulsory child labor.
The government occasionally took corrective action, including prosecutions against officials who violated human rights or engaged in corruption, but police officers and state officials frequently acted with impunity.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties
The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media; however, the government did not respect these rights, and several laws specifically encroach on freedom of expression. The government also continued to use broad national security and antidefamation provisions in the law to restrict freedom of expression. Such provisions establish crimes such as “sabotaging the infrastructure of socialism,” “sowing divisions between religious and nonreligious people,” and “propagandizing against the state” as serious offenses against national security. The law also expressly forbids “taking advantage of democratic freedoms and rights to violate the interests of the state or lawful rights and interests of organizations or individuals.”
Freedom of Expression: The government continued to restrict speech that criticized individual government leaders or the party, promoted political pluralism or multiparty democracy, or questioned policies on sensitive matters, such as human rights, religious freedom, or sovereignty disputes with China.
Representatives from state-run organizations and progovernment groups visited activists’ residences and attempted to propagandize or intimidate them into supporting government policies, according to social media and activists’ reports. Family members of activists also reported numerous incidents of physical harassment, intimidation, and questioning by Ministry of Public Security officials.
On April 23, a court in Phu Yen Province sentenced Tran Thi Tuyet Dieu to eight years in prison for spreading “antistate propaganda.” According to the indictment she posted 25 articles and nine videos on Facebook and YouTube starting in 2019 until April 2020 “with content opposing the State of the Communist Republic of Vietnam.” Dieu was a former reporter at the province’s official newspaper Phu Yen.
On September 2, Ho Chi Minh City police and the Department of Information and Communications fined Facebook user Nguyen Thi Thuy Duong five million dong ($220) for “sharing untruthful content” by criticizing the government’s handling of COVID-19. According to media reports, Duong posted a video on July 22 and claimed that Binh Trung Dong Ward did not provide sufficient food, aid, and care for individuals under lockdown.
Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: The CPV, government, and party-controlled mass media organizations exercised legal authority over all print, broadcast, online, and electronic media, primarily through the Ministry of Information and Communications under the overall guidance of the CPV Propaganda and Education Commission. The law requires editors in chief to be CPV members; many outlets applied this to additional managers as well.
Many nongovernmental entities, however, produced and distributed publications by subcontracting, joint publishing, or buying permits from government or other public publishing entities. State-run media reported private entities produced more than 90 percent of all publications in the country, although outright private ownership or operation of any media outlet or publishing house was prohibited. Media independent of government authority operated on a limited basis online, primarily via blogs and social media, but independent journalists faced government harassment.
Authorities further consolidated government control over media outlets, including requiring them to be affiliated with a government body. In Ho Chi Minh City, the party committee assumed the role of the governing agency for two major newspapers, Nguoi Lao Dong (Laborers) and Phu Nu (Women), previously under the management of the Labor Federation and the Women’s Union respectively. Similarly the People’s Committee took over four popular city-based publications, Phap Luat (Law), Du Lich (Tourism), Giao Duc (Education) and Kinh Te Saigon (Saigon Economic Times), previously managed by the committee’s departments. The magazine Doanh Nhan Saigon (Saigon Entrepreneurs) was also transferred to the People’s Committee from the Ho Chi Minh City Business Association.
On June 24, Hanoi police arrested Mai Phan Loi and Bach Hung Duong, the chairman and director of the nongovernmental Media and Education Center; Dang Dinh Bach, director of the NGO Law and Policy of Sustainable Development; and at least two other persons, one of them an accountant and director at the Media and Education Center, for tax evasion. Loi produced and shared many critical programs and reports concerning a variety of topics, notably the environment, on social media.
On June 30, police arrested Dung Le Van (also known as Dung Vova), a freelance journalist who runs Chan Hung Nuoc Viet, a Facebook and YouTube-based outlet that covers politics, social topics, and corruption, according to news reports. Authorities issued a warrant for Dung’s arrest in late May for purportedly violating provisions of the penal code that bar “making, storing, distributing or spreading” news or information against the state.
In a closed trial on July 9, a Hanoi court sentenced independent journalist Pham Chi Thanh to six years and six months in jail for “creating, storing and disseminating information against the state.” Thanh was famous for criticizing and making fun of many high-ranking communist party and state officials on his Facebook page Ba Dam Xoe (Lady Liberty) and in other social media. The conviction reportedly was mostly for his book published in late 2019 criticizing Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong.
On October 28, a court in Can Tho sentenced five members of anticorruption group Bao Sach (Clean Journalism) to more than 14 years’ imprisonment in total on charge of “abusing democratic freedoms.” The indictment accused Truong Chau Huu Danh, Nguyen Phuoc Trung Bao, Nguyen Thanh Nha, Doan Kien Giang, and Le The Thang of publishing 47 articles on the Bao Sach Facebook page with “negative and biased information.” By law the government may fine journalists and newspapers for failing to cite their sources of information or for using “documents and materials from organizations and personal letters and materials from individuals.”
Online news site Dan Tri was fined for inaccurately reporting that a student had died of COVID-19 when the student was still being treated. Dan Tri was not the sole outlet to publish the information but was the only one fined because it was the first to publish the story. Journalists interpreted the sanctions as an attempt to discourage local media outlets from publishing stories critical of the government’s handling of the pandemic or even stories on the pandemic deemed too negative.
The law allows the government to punish publishers if they publish “untruthful information” in the fields of statistics; atomic energy; management of prices, charges, fees, and invoices; education; civil aviation; vocational training; hydrometeorology; cartography; and health.
The law limits satellite television access to senior officials, foreigners, luxury hotels, and the press, but persons throughout the country accessed foreign programming via home satellite equipment or cable.
The government permitted journalists employed by foreign-based media outlets to operate under significant restrictions. Foreign journalists required formal permission to travel outside Hanoi for reporting. The law also requires “live” foreign television programming to run on a 30- to 60-minute delay to enable content monitoring.
Viewers reported obstruction of coverage of various commentaries, documentaries, and movies on human rights incidents in the country, the Vietnam War, the Cold War, the Soviet era, or reports involving trade tensions. The information ministry may revoke the licenses of foreign publishers; foreign publishers must renew their licenses annually.
The government also sought to impede criticism by monitoring journalists’ meetings and communications.
Violence and Harassment: Independent journalists faced restrictions on freedom of movement, other forms of harassment, and physical attacks, if they reported on sensitive topics.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: The Ministries of Information and Communications, Public Security, National Defense and the CPV Propaganda and Education Commission frequently intervened directly with media to dictate or censor a story.
Propaganda officials forced editors of major media outlets to meet with them regularly to discuss what topics were off-limits for reporting. More often pervasive self-censorship, including among independent journalists and bloggers, due to the threat of dismissal and possible arrest, enabled the party and government to control media content. The government punished journalists for failing to self-censor, including by revoking journalists’ press credentials.
Libel/Slander Laws: Defamation is a criminal offense, and the laws were enforced.
On March 31, a court in Lam Dong Province in the Central Highlands sentenced Vu Tien Chi to 10 years in prison. The court alleged Chi shared nearly 340 “antistate” articles and conducted 181 social media livestreams in which he “defamed senior communist leaders, including President Ho Chi Minh.” On the same day, a court in Khanh Hoa sentenced Nguyen Thi Cam Thuy to nine years, Ngo Thi Ha Phuong to seven years, and Le Viet Hoa to five years in prison. Thuy, a former schoolteacher fired for expressing “antistate” political opinions, was accused of burning the national flag and cutting up pictures of senior leaders including Ho Chi Minh on her Facebook page.
National Security: The law allows significant fines to be levied against journalists, newspapers, and online media that publish or broadcast information deemed harmful to national interests or for disseminating information considered to distort history and the revolution’s achievements. In some cases these “violations” may lead to criminal proceedings. No such cases were reported, although editors noted that publications and journalists must be careful of national security laws, contributing to self-censorship.
Citing laws protecting national security, police arrested and ordered journalists to restrict criticism of government policies or officials.
The government restricted the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.
c. Freedom of Religion
The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government regularly imposed limits on the movement of individuals, especially those convicted under national security or related charges or outspoken critics of the government.
In-country Movement: Authorities restricted the movements of several political activists on probation or under house arrest, along with others not facing such legal restrictions. Authorities also continued to monitor and selectively restrict the movement of prominent activists and religious leaders. Authorities continued to prevent activists from leaving their houses during events that might draw public attention. Several activists reported authorities had confiscated their national identification cards, preventing them from traveling domestically by air or conducting routine administrative matters.
Government restrictions required citizens and resident foreigners to obtain a permit to visit border areas, defense facilities, industrial zones involved in national defense, areas of “national strategic storage,” and “works of extreme importance for political, economic, cultural, and social purposes.”
Citizens (or their hosts) must register with local police when staying overnight in any location outside their own homes. Foreign passport holders must also register to stay in private homes, although there were no known cases of local authorities refusing to allow foreign visitors to stay with friends or family.
Religious leaders were required to specify geographic areas where they were active. Some reported that authorities told them that preaching outside the approved areas was illegal, although enforcement was inconsistent.
Authorities did not strictly enforce residency laws for the general population, and migration from rural areas to cities continued unabated. Moving without permission, however, hampered persons from obtaining legal residence permits, public education, and health-care benefits.
Foreign Travel: Prospective emigrants occasionally encountered difficulties obtaining a passport or exit permission, and authorities regularly confiscated passports of activists and government critics, at times indefinitely. The law allows authorities to postpone the departure of any person on various broad grounds, including for national security and defense. There were multiple reports of individuals crossing the land borders with Laos or Cambodia illegally because they were unable to obtain passports or exit permission; in some cases this included persons wanted for crimes, political activities, or activism.
The Ministry of Public Security continued to use foreign travel prohibitions against certain activists and religious leaders. Authorities banned and prevented dozens of individuals from traveling overseas, withheld their passports on vague charges, or refused to issue passports to certain activists or religious leaders without clear explanation. Activists believed they were not authorized to travel abroad to reduce their opportunities to speak out against the government. Authorities also refused to issue passports to the family members of certain activists.
The government generally did not cooperate with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other organizations regarding treatment of refugees, returning refugees, or asylum seekers, as well as other persons of concern.
Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees.
According to 2020 statistics from UNHCR, there were 32,890 recognized stateless persons and persons of undetermined nationality in the country. This was a substantial increase from the estimated 11,000 stateless persons acknowledged in 2016, reflecting increased government efforts to identify such persons. The bulk of this population were ethnic H’mong living in border areas, but it also included a number of women who lost their citizenship after marrying a foreigner but then lost their foreign citizenship, primarily because of divorce.
In March a diplomat reported local authorities in Subdivision 179, Dam Rong District, Lam Dong Province continued to refuse to issue identity and household residency documents to members of the H’mong Christian community living in the area. Without identity documents and residency cards, the residents could not access public health care or educational resources and faced challenges securing legal employment. Local authorities would only issue identity and residency documents to families that agreed to purchase a home in areas zoned for residency outside the “forest land,” which includes Subdivision 179.