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Protests Spread in Vietnam Over Proposed New Laws

Protesters hold a banner which reads "No Leasing Land to China even for Anytime" during a demonstration against a draft law on the Special Economic Zone in Hanoi, Vietnam, June 10, 2018.
Protests Spread in Vietnam Over Proposed New Laws
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Experts say spreading street protests in Vietnam this month show a growing fear of China, worries about freedom of speech and distrust of the lawmaking process.

The rights group Amnesty International says demonstrations involving about 30,000 people took place on June 9 and 10. The group says protests were held in 10 cities, including Vietnam’s largest, Ho Chi Minh City. Occasional violence was reported.

But on June 17, protests brought out thousands more people.

The rights group said at least 150 people were detained. Police beat some of the demonstrators. Vietnam’s Tuoi Tre newspaper reported that eight people were arrested.

Protesters throughout the country were reacting to a National Assembly bill. The law would let foreign investors occupy land for up to 99 years in three special economic areas. The protesters worry that investors from China would lease the land.

They also condemned a cybersecurity law that the National Assembly passed on June 12. The bill could lead to rules that let police more closely watch the public’s internet activity.

Trung Nguyen is an international relations official at Ho Chi Minh University of Social Sciences and Humanities. He thinks the cause of the protests is that the public does not trust the government, the National Assembly or the legislation.

Proposed cybersecurity law criticized

The National Assembly has delayed the lease bill until October for possible changes.

But protesters in cities still opposed the cybersecurity law. That is because the exact rules on what will be permitted online will not be known for about six months. The law requires service providers such as Google and Facebook to store user information in Vietnam, open offices in the country and remove offending posts within 24 hours.

One official with Amnesty International said the law may let the government ask service providers to share information about what common users say online.

Adam McCarty is chief economist with Mekong Economics in the capital, Hanoi. He said the Vietnamese government has always watched people’s internet activity. He said the government has made some arrests in recent years. But he thinks the new law will permit more watching of the public, “even people not really actively trying to overthrow the government.”

In June 2017, the Ministry of Public Security proposed the Law on Cybersecurity to give it more power over banned content and anti-government activities. The assembly strongly supported the law by a vote of 423 to 15.

Picture taken on June 10, 2018 shows protesters burning motorcycles in front of a provincial office in Vietnam's south central coast Binh Thuan province in response to legislation on three special economic zones that would grant 99-year leases.
Picture taken on June 10, 2018 shows protesters burning motorcycles in front of a provincial office in Vietnam's south central coast Binh Thuan province in response to legislation on three special economic zones that would grant 99-year leases.

Second wave of protests

However, on the same day, June 17, thousands of people protested in Ha Tinh province of central Vietnam. They opposed the cybersecurity law and the idea of leasing land to Chinese investors.

China makes up nearly 7 percent of Vietnam’s foreign direct investment now, media reports say. Relations between the countries are uneasy, however, because the two have a territorial dispute in the South China Sea.

The Catholic news website reported that about 200 protesters were detained, beaten and questioned in Ho Chi Minh City on Sunday.

The website said tens of thousands of Catholics, including priests from Ha Tinh province, had attended “special masses” Sunday. They said they were seeking "to pray for justice and peace in the nation and for government leaders to protect the country.”

In Binh Thuan province protesters came with bricks and Molotov cocktails. The news website Vietnam Net Bridge reported that they burned vehicles, injured police and damaged official buildings on June 10 and 11.

Vietnamese officials have accused extremists of starting some of the protests. Communist Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong appealed Sunday for calm.

Next moves

Ming Yu Hah is an Amnesty International official for Southeast Asia and the Pacific. She said, “I think…we’re in a different digital environment, so I think there’s a lot of unknown factors that are definitely difficult to predict.”

Vietnam does not block websites, and this lets people organize on social media.

But Maxfield Brown says as long as Vietnam’s economy keeps raising people’s incomes through job creation, protests are unlikely to increase. He is with Dezan Shira & Associates, a business advice agency for foreign investors based in Ho Chi Minh City. Vietnam’s economy grew nearly 7 percent last year.

Brown said the intensity of the protests and where they took place suggest that the protesters are isolated groups of people already feeling dissatisfied.

I’m Mario Ritter.

Ralph Jennings reported this story for VOA News. Alice Bryant adapted it for Learning English. Mario Ritter was the editor.


Words in This Story

occasional – adj. happening or done sometimes, but not often

cybersecurity – n. the protection of internet-connected systems, including hardware, software and data, from cyberattacks

mass – n. the central act of worship in the Catholic church

brick – n. a small, hard block of baked clay that is used to build structures and sometimes to make streets or paths

Molotov cocktail – n. a simple bomb made from a bottle filled with gasoline and stuffed with a piece of cloth that is lit before the bottle is thrown

digital –adj. related to computers and information on them

factors –n. something that helps produce or influence a result

isolated – adj. separate from others