Tania Nguyen, Vietnam
“Công Lý* (Justice) is just the name of a comedian” is a general discourse in Vietnam. It has been repeated over and over again these days in light of people punished and prosecuted for violating the 2007 Law on prevention and control of infectious diseases, the 2015 Criminal Code, and other decrees to mitigate COVID-19.
The reason this saying is famous is because of the paradox of the administration of justice in Vietnam. One of the prime examples of the injustice is that the government jailed ordinary citizens for months to years in prison for minor thief crimes, whereas dozens of government officials and wealthy people who were accused of corruption and bribery got the suspended sentence or some of them got off very slightly. In 2016, two juveniles were sentenced to ten months for stealing a loaf of bread. Vice versa, in 2019, the brother of Vietnam’s richest man, Nhat Vu Pham, was arrested and fined three years in jail for allegedly bribing officials in a telecoms scandal which would have caused US$300 million in losses to state coffers. Although the ex-minister who received US$3,2 million from Vu gets a life sentence while eleven other officials involved received jail terms between two and 23 years, the verdict has not alleviated public discontent. When it comes to justice amid the pandemic, the Vietnamese judicial system shows its problems in implementation.
On 09 March, Vice-Chairman of Quang Tri People’s Committee confirmed that Thanh Ha Le, head of a company that invests in a wind power project in the central province of Quang Tri cheated the local government by sending an employee as his substitute for quarantining. He flew on the same flight from Hanoi to Hue with Vietnam’s 30th COVID-19 patient, and he was supposed to be quarantined but sent his staff as a replacement. After the substitution was discovered, authorities requested the businessman to present himself for isolation. Under Article 8 of the 2007 law and Article 10 of the Decree No. 176/2013/ND-CP penalties for administrative violations against medical laws, his falsehood was severe that could be fined of between VNĐ2 million (US$87) and VNĐ5 million (US$218) if he was found negative to the virus. If positive, he might be fined from VNĐ5 million (US$218) and VNĐ10 million (US$435). He even had to pay VNĐ200 million (US$8,700) or faced sentences up to 12 years if he infected other people in the community. Even though the officials later confirmed no case of Coronavirus in Quang Tri province, the affair has shocked the Vietnamese public, and it is determined to see justice done. Additionally, the violator is a member of the Communist Party, who must conscientiously obey the law and implement the party regulations. The case, however, may have been remained unsolved.
In a separate development, on 04 April, Xuan Anh Dao, a citizen from the northern province of Quang Ninh, was accused as “resisting arrest” under Article 330 of the 2015 Criminal Law. The local government said that he did not wear a facemask, denied having temperature checking, insulted, and attacked medical officials, which resulted in their injury while he was reminded at a checking point. It is clarified that to stem the risk of Coronavirus in Vietnam, the state had issued an additional notice to the 2007 Law that wearing a facemask at a public place is a must from 16 March. At the same time, thousands of medical checking points have been set up throughout the country. On 30 March, a new Decree No. 45/TANDTC-PC 2020 was passed by the government in which article 1.9 states that those who may use violence, threaten to use violence or other tricks to prevent people on duty in the prevention and control of COVID-19 disease shall be prosecuted for resisting arrest under Article 330 of the 2015 Criminal Cod. Xuan Anh subsequently was prosecuted on 10 April and got nine months sentence. It could be seen that the authorities were quick on the draw of the Xuan Anh case. Nevertheless, they have not reacted in the same way with another incident. On 03 April, Van Thanh Luu, a People’s Council Vice-Chairman in the southern province of Binh Phuoc, was accused of breaking the same articles as Xuan Anh (Thien Ly, 2020). It is reported that he did not wear a mask, railed against local medical officials for asking him temperature checking. He even banged his fist on the table to interrupt those officials’ words and threaten to pay them back. Noticeably, it took almost half a month later for the local government to inform the public that the Vice-Chairman would be dismissed for disciplinary reasons. Up to now, there is still no hint of prosecution, and the case may be up in the air.
Following those injustice verdicts and scandals, it is proved that the rule of law in Vietnam is not always respected, especially during the pandemic of COVID-19. It does cast doubt on implementation of the medical law and other related decrees that if they are merely applied for ordinary citizens, but not the wealthy, governors, and members of the Communist Party. Urgently, the state should put the protection of human rights at the center of all responses to halt the spread of the virus. Vietnamese authorities at all levels should show themselves as a law-abiding-state and make all of their efforts to ensure that every citizen is adequately treated and protected before the law. What is equally important is that the government should collaborate with the media and civil society to be more transparent in responding to the trial of crimes related to the prevention and control of the Coronavirus.
*The contents of this opinion piece are solely those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the view of the either Global Campus of Human Rights Asia Pacific, the universities under it, or the APMA program.