COVID-19 Op-ed

Vietnam amid the COVID-19: “Công Lý (Justice) is the name of a comedian”

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Tania NguyenStudent, Asia
Pacific MA Human Rights and Democratisation
Global Campus
of Human Rights Asia Pacific
Institute of Human Rights
and Peace Studies, Mahidol University

“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
( Hai Duyen, 2016). 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 (The Straits Times, 2019). 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 (Hoang Tao, 2020). 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 (Quang Tho, 2020). 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 (Chaohanoi, 2020). 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 Code (Thuvienphapluat, 2020). 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.Reference:Chaohanoi,
2020. FM: everyone in Vietnam must wear facemasks in crowded areas.
Chaohanoi,  16 March. Available
> .Hai Duyen, 2016. Stealing loaf of bread while being hungry, two
juveniles result in life sentence/ Cướp bánh mì khi đói, two thiếu niên lĩnh
án. VNExpress,  20 July. Available at:
.Hoang Tao, 2020. Vietnamese man cheats, sending staff to be quarantined in
his stead. VNExpress,  09 March.
Available at: <
> .Quang Tho, 2020. Sentence to nine months in prison for resisting
arrest. Baomoi,  10 April. Available
at: <
> .Supreme People’s Court, 2020. Decree No. 45/TANDTC-PC-2020
regarding trial of crimes related to prevention and control of COVID-19/ Công
văn 45/TANDTC-PC-2020 hướng dẫn xét xử tội phạm liên quan đến phòng, chống
dịch bệnh Covid-19. Thuvienphapluat, 
30 March. Available at: <>
.The Straits Times, 2019. Vietnam court sentences ex-minister to life in
MobiFone corruption scandal. The Straits Times,  28 December. Available at: <>
.Thien Ly, 2020. People’s Council Vice-Chairman in Binh Phuoc is relieved of
his post in the Communist Party/ Cách hết chức vụ trong Đảng của Phó Chủ tịch
HĐND huyện ở Bình Phước. VOV.VN,   17 April. Available
at: <’s-council-vice-chairman-in-binh-phuoc-is-relieved-of-his-post-in-the-communist-party-1038392.vov>
.Vietnamese National Assembly, 2013.  Decree No. 176/2013/ND-CP penalties
for administrative violations against medical laws. Van ban phap luat,  
14 November. Available at: <
.Vietnamese National Assembly, 2007.  Law on prevention and control of
infectious diseases. ILO,   21 November. Available
at: <>
.*Công Lý is a well-known comedian and an actor in Vietnam. Read
more at:

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