Vietnam News

Beware of Vietnam’s new authoritarian president

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

To Lam’s rise to power is indicative of the Vietnam government’s worsening repression and utter hostility to basic civil and political rights.

A rare internal power struggle in Vietnam over the past few months resulted in the ousting of several major leaders for corruption and the appointment of a new president, former police general To Lam.

But democratic governments courting Vietnam as an attractive market and alternative to China should be wary. Rather than a hopeful sign, Lam’s rise to power is indicative of the Vietnam government’s worsening repression, its complete intolerance of criticism, and utter hostility to basic civil and political rights.

As head of Vietnam’s abusive Ministry of Public Security since April 2016, Lam is no stranger to notoriety. In November 2021 – while Vietnam was struggling through a COVID-19 lockdown – a video surfaced of the celebrity chef “Salt Bae” feeding a $2,000 gold-encrusted steak to Lam in London. The video went viral. To make matters worse, Lam was enjoying the carbon-emitting feast while leading an official delegation to the United Nations COP26 climate summit in Glasgow.

Shortly afterwards, the rights activist Bui Tuan Lam, who parodied the feast on social media, was sentenced to five and a half years in prison.

But eating a $2,000 steak when per capita income in Vietnam was only $3,756 in 2021 is the least of Lam’s misdeeds. He’s done much worse.

Sixty-six-year-old Lam, joined the Ministry of Public Security in 1979. He was promoted to minister in April 2016. And on his watch the agency steadily stepped up its repression of Vietnam’s civil society. The list is long:

Just days after Lam took over as head of public security, Vietnam experienced the worst environmental disaster in its history when a toxic spill devastated local fishing communities. Lam’s response? A major police crackdown to intimidate, assault, arrest, and imprison activists who protested on behalf of the victims.

In May 2016, just a month after Lam became minister, security forces working under him blocked activists from meeting US President Barack Obama during his visit to Hanoi.

Two years later, in 2018, Lam’s security forces orchestrated the highly problematic Law on Cybersecurity, which has muzzled free speech, and then cracked down ruthlessly on protesters opposing the law.

Security forces under Lam have also engaged in repression beyond Vietnam’s borders, including kidnapping a former party official, Trinh Xuan Thanh, from Berlin in July 2017 and a blogger, Truong Duy Nhat, from Bangkok in January 2019. Both were sentenced to long prison terms. Another blogger, Duong Van Thai, was kidnapped from Bangkok in April 2023. He is still in pre-trial detention.

Lam’s evident disdain for climate concerns goes far beyond his performative steak-eating. In 2022 and 2023, the security forces arrested several prominent environmental activists on bogus charges, with two – Dang Dinh Bach and Hoang Thi Minh Hong – now serving prison sentences and another, Ngo Thi To Nhien, in police custody awaiting trial. Lawyers like Vo An Don, Dang Dinh Manh, and Nguyen Van Mieng who dared to defend human rights activists have had to flee the country and live in exile. The lawyers who remain have been silenced by police intimidation and harassment.

Under Lam, Vietnam’s powerful security agency has nearly eradicated the country’s nascent human rights movement. Its agents have arrested virtually everyone who tried to promote democracy and human rights in the country, including members of the Brotherhood for Democracy, the Vietnam National Self-Determination Coalition, the Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam, and the Liberal Publishing House. The police seem to target any group whose name includes words the Communist Party of Vietnam fears most: “Democracy,” “Self-Determination,” “Independent,” and “Liberal”.

The agency has also arrested nearly every influential human rights activist and prominent journalist who has dared to criticise government policies. Last February, a former political prisoner, Nguyen Vu Binh, commented that Vietnam’s “democratic movement is enduring a difficult and gloomy period.” One week later, he, too, was arrested. Of Vietnam’s 164 political prisoners still behind bars simply for exercising their basic civil and political rights, 147 were convicted and sentenced on Lam’s watch.

As head of state now, Lam will receive many international delegations on official ceremonial occasions and diplomatic negotiations. When they shake his hand, these diplomats should not forget the long trail of destruction he has left in his rise to power, and the harm he has already inflicted on human rights in Vietnam.

By Elaine Pearson – Al Jazeera – June 19, 2024

Translate / Dịch

En poursuivant la visite de ce site, vous acceptez l’utilisation de traceurs (cookies) vous permettant juste d'optimiser techniquement votre navigation. Plus d’informations

En poursuivant la visite de ce site, vous acceptez l’utilisation de traceurs (cookies) vous permettant d'optimiser techniquement votre navigation. Aucune information sur votre utilisation de ce site ne sera partagée auprès de quelconques médias sociaux, de sociétés commerciales ou d'agences de publicité et d'analyse. Cliquer sur le bouton "Accepter", équivaut à votre consentement.