In March 2020, COVID-19 was officially declared a pandemic; as the medical community worked to find a vaccine, the information world was rampant with misinformation. The Vietnamese government implemented a state of emergency and began cracking down on misinformation.
During this time of uncertainty, citizens relied on social media to stay informed and express their thoughts on the current state. Facebook user Nguyen Van Dung was fined VND 10 million (approx. USD 430) for stating in a post that Ho Chi Minh City would be “locked down” for 14 days starting March 28th, 2020. There is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic constitutes an emergency with dire consequences for the right to health and other rights; preventing and addressing these consequences requires robust protective action from the government, which has obligations to protect and fulfill all rights. Among these rights is the right to free speech and access to information; the measures by which the government suppresses these rights in times of crisis are vital to the strength of democracy.
The essential prerequisites to establish democracy do not exist in Vietnam. However, Vietnam is not a democratic government; they publicly claim to have a representative government with leaders who speak for the people. However, there is a slight separation between the party and the government. Although the president and the National assembly enforce laws and carry out government matters, the communist party has a substantial influence in setting the priorities for the state. Despite Vietnam having a democratic constitution, citizens are not granted the rights given to them by the constitution. Opposition candidates are swiftly eliminated and often imprisoned; this indicates the erosion of what little democratic principles remained in Vietnam.
Vietnam’s history is riddled with turmoil, creating an environment that does not foster democracy. The land now known as Vietnam was a part of Indochina, a French territory. After nearly three decades under French rule, Vietnam was split into two states; North Vietnam and South Vietnam. This divide caused tension between the two regions, leading to the Vietnam War two years later. After Vietnam was split into two, the leader of North Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh, wished to create a unified communist regime by invading South Vietnam. He modeled this regime after those in China and the Soviet Union. South Vietnam adopted a democratic republic form of governance. Ultimately South Vietnam fell, and Ho Chi Minh created a unified communist state. The United States tried to prevent Vietnam from becoming a communist state, resulting in the death of millions and catastrophic loss for all involved. The eventual American withdrawal and transition into communism made clear that this endeavor was unsuccessful.
In theory, Vietnamese citizens have rights, but their rights are tightly restricted in practice. Freedom of expression, civil society activism, and religious freedom are most restricted. COVID-19 has enabled the government to crack down on any information that does not align with their beliefs, resulting in government control over social media platforms.
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