Rights violations, censorship threatens EU-Vietnam deal, says watchdog

Vietnam’s human rights record could jeopardise an upcoming free trade deal with the European Union, according to Human Rights Watch. Asia-Pacific Journalism’s Jessica Marshall reports.

A global human rights watchdog claims that Vietnam’s human rights record could jeopardise a free trade deal with the European Union.

A warning letter by Human Rights Watch, dated September 17, sent by 32 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) was addressed to the EU Trade Commissioner, Cecilia Malmström.

It called for a “push for robust progress in Vietnam’s human rights record ahead of the possible ratification of the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA)”.

“. . . loose provisions on national security have been widely used to suppress peaceful dissent and jail scores of human rights defenders. . .,” the letter said.

READ MORE: Vietnam censorship extends to popular, official news website

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The letter claimed that there was a need for a series of targets that the country should meet before the agreement was handed over to the European Parliament for its approval.

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The ratification of the EVFTA agreement is slated to happen at the end of this year and would rid the country of at least 99 percent of customs duties paid on exports into Europe.

Censorship has lately become a growing concern.

Censoring reality
The words Bachelor: Vietnam contestant Minh Thu uttered to Bachelor Quoc Trung on the episode which aired on September 21 said: “I went into this competition to find love, and I’ve found that love for myself, but it isn’t with you. It’s with someone else”.

While participating in the competition over time, Thu had fallen in love with another woman, fellow contestant Truc Nhu, and they left the programme together.

“In Vietnamese pop culture, there’s a lot of people that are rumoured to be LGBT or people that hint at it. . . So to see a moment that’s unequivocal, where someone is saying that they love someone else . . . I think it’s going to be very powerful to young people,” says the shows story producer Anh-Thu Nguyen.

At this point in the history of Vietnam, few are willing to come out of the proverbial closet – in more ways than one.

Despite this, censors allowed the confession to air almost completely, a move surprising many viewers and commentators.

Vietnam, a Communist country since 1976, has seen much censorship over the years and its culture, it appears, has been no different.

Bachelor: Vietnam, currently in its first season, has faced issues of potential censorship since its inception. According to the show’s executive producer, Anh Tran, it was difficult to sell to networks.

Many of the traditional parts of the United States’ version of the show had to be edited or cut out entirely to avoid censure from censors.

The rose ceremony, for example, has to be carefully edited to avoid showing a line-up of women vying for a man – the main plot point for the show.

Mai Khoi, the woman who has been dubbed as Vietnam’s own Lady Gaga or Pussy Riot and who recorded the controversial number Dissent, was detained and “interrogated for eight hours”. Image: Hanoi Grapevine

Censorship of culture
Vietnam is ruled by the Communist Party, and censorship is seemingly common in the cultural realm as singer Mai Khoi could attest.

In March, the woman who has been dubbed as the country’s own Lady Gaga or Pussy Riot, was detained at the airport, and “interrogated for eight hours”.

Copies of her latest album, Dissent, were confiscated, she claimed in a Facebook post.
She has written songs about the women’s movement and LGBT rights. She also ran – unsuccessfully – for public office in the country. She now performs in secret in her own country.

The country has been a Communist nation since the 1960s, and censorship has long been a part of that.

Last month, Reuters reported that a court had jailed an activist for 12 years in prison and a further five years’ house arrest.

Nguyen Trung Truc, 44, was – according to a statement given by police – among a group called “Brotherhood for Democracy” in 2013. The group, police said, conducted “anti-government activities” with the aim of creating a system of “multi-party democracy” in Vietnam.

‘Hurt the prestige’
A second man, Bui Manh Dong, 40, was convicted over his comments on September 28.
Police said that Dong had “hurt the prestige and leading role of the [Communist] party and the state”.

Dong, and one other man, Doan Knanh Vinh Quang, were accused of encouraging people to protest against government policies or write posts that were critical of the government.

Vietnam has a high level of social media use among its citizens yet the country’s Communist government has introduced a new law which, according to Amnesty International, would force tech companies like Apple, Google, and Facebook to hand over data from their users.

“This decision has potentially devastating consequences for freedom of expression in Viet Nam,” said Clare Algar, international director of global operations for Amnesty International, in June.

“With the sweeping powers it grants the government to monitor online activity, this. . . means there is now no safe place left. . . for people to speak freely”.

Last year, it was reported that the country had built up a force of “cyber-troops” to tackle what they call “wrongful views”.

Jessica Marshall is a student journalist on the Postgraduate Diploma in Communication Studies course at AUT. She is filing articles in the Asia-Pacific Journalism Studies paper.

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Bryce Edwards’ Political Roundup: Labour’s remarkable CPTPP

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Headline: Bryce Edwards’ Political Roundup: Labour’s remarkable CPTPP

Bryce Edwards’ Political Roundup: Labour’s remarkable CPTPP

Dr Bryce Edwards.

Last year, Labour MPs were amongst the 72,000 who marched in the streets against the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement. Now in Government, Labour appears to have made major progress in ensuring the TPP should happen. Below are 20 of the most important items from recent days about the progress of the deal.

New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, at the APEC leaders’ summit, November 2017 (Image courtesy of APEC.org).

1) The TPP is now the CPTPP! Vernon Small explains: “It might be near unpronounceable as the CPTPP (Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for the Trans-Pacific Partnership), and loom on paper like an abbreviation of something from the former Soviet Union, but apparently the rebranding will help Trudeau sell it to his voters” – see: Jacinda Ardern passes Apec test. See also, Audrey Young’s TPP not dead but needs more work – PM.

2) Many former critics of the TPP are now happier with the agreement that seems to be emerging. Bryan Gould says “If the reports coming out of the negotiations are correct… the problems many had with the TPPA will have been substantially resolved” – see: Is the TPPA now fit for purpose? Gould gives credit to Ardern: “We will be able to judge how successful she has been when we see the full amended text. But the early reports are that substantial progress was made on these points of difficulty, and if that is so, it is entirely because she dug in her heels.”

3) The deal has been improved largely thanks to Canada, says blogger No Right Turn – see: Saved by Canada. He’s more positive about the deal than previously, but says, “Whether the deal is still worth it for New Zealand without US market access remains to be seen, but in the previous analysis the US bullshit was a significant cost, so it might be”.

4) The Labour-led government is winning the praise and support of business and the National Party for their progress on the trade deal – see Craig McCulloch’s Exporters welcome revamped TPP, critics have doubts. However, former Trade Minister Todd McClay is also quoted suggesting that the deal isn’t so different to National’s version: “We can give it a different name, but ultimately it substantially is the same”.

5) On RNZ’s Nine-to-Noon today, Matthew Hooton praised Ardern and Parker, pointing to the difficult ideological terrain for the Labour leadership: “I think that the Government has handled this well. They do have this fringe, including within their own party, which has got themselves into an absolute lather over this issue. And Jacinda Ardern, I think, has done enough to keep that extreme left, at least if not happy with what she has done, but at least not going to man the barricades” – listen here: Political commentators Mike Williams & Matthew Hooton.

6) How has David Parker managed to walk the tightrope of placating so many critics and fans of the TPP? For the best answer to this, see Sam Sachdeva’s interview with the Trade Minister: David Parker plots a new approach to trade. Partly, it seems that the Minister is much more determined to make gains that the political left might appreciate. Parker is also very sensitive to the need to be more transparent and communicative over the negotiations.

7) David Parker’s attempt to make trade deals more progressive is dealt with in Sam Sachdeva’s The fight for multilateral trade. According to this, “Parker said the CPTPP was good for New Zealand not just in terms of market access, but by providing enforcement mechanisms to hold countries to account if they didn’t meet labour and environmental standards.”

8) For details of the effort Jacinda Ardern and David Parker have been going to in order to keep their party onside with them over the negotiations, see Richard Harman’s Labour Party on side with new TPP – so far. Harman says that the issue of how Ardern now deals with getting an agreement supported by her colleagues “is going to be real test of Jacinda Ardern’s political management skills.”

9) The National Party has clearly indicated they will help Labour get any TPP legislation passed in Parliament. But Richard Harman argues that relying on National “would almost certainly damage Labour among its base who generally ardently oppose the TPP” – see: National tries to drive wedge into coalition.

10) A long-time observer and critic of free trade deals, Gordon Campbell seems relatively happy with progress made in the weekend – see: On the TPP outcome, and the Hobbit law. His main concern has been the Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS), and he says: “if we couldn’t remove ISDS measures entirely, what we could do was make it harder for foreign firms to access them. The Ardern/Parker aim in Vietnam has been to severely restrict the conditions under which foreign firms could trigger ISDS measures, and Parker took at least three different routes to that goal.”

11) How have the ISDS provisions changed? The improvements are outlined by Sam Sachdeva: “Ardern said they had been successful in narrowing the ISDS provisions in three areas: they no longer apply to investment screening (which will protect the Government’s restriction on foreign buyers from challenge), will not allow a company that takes up a contract with a government to sue through the ISDS, and changes to the way it applies to financial services” – see: New TPP text brings change, outstanding issues. See also, Vernon Small’s Renamed TPP ‘a damned sight better’, could be in place in a few months.

12) Jane Kelsey has been the leading opponent of the TPP, and she gave her strong verdict against the latest deal on TV3’s AM Show this morning. You can watch her interview with Duncan Garner, along with other interviews on the topic here: Greens will go against Labour in TPP vote.

13) For more of Kelsey’s analysis, see her Herald opinion piece, Signing TPPA-11 would break Labour’s word, and Leith Huffadine’s Why is the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement back on the table?

14) Many leftwing bloggers aren’t convinced that the TPP has been modified enough. At The Standard, Lynn Prentice warns Labour: “The new government, if it is interested in proceeding with something like the TPPA, should at the very least stop hunting for momentum and concentrate on transparency and analysis. Because if you can’t convince me that this agreement is anything other than a scam, then you won’t be able to convince many on the ‘left’.” – see: TPP: A slight improvement but deservedly still a zombie.

15) It’s not clear if Jacinda Ardern has managed to fix the TPP or not, but writing before the weekend, Chris Trotter said that if she hasn’t done so, then for many people, “Jacinda” will have become “just another f***ing politician” – see: TPP: Fix It, Jacinda, Or Forget It. Trotter paints a picture of the new government selling out its core activists.

16) Laura O’Connell Rapira of ActionStation is far from convinced about what the new government is doing on trade. Writing last week, she suggested the public is being manipulated by Jacinda Ardern and Labour – see: Don’t fall for the government’s spin on the TPPA. She also points out that Labour had previously run a petition against the TPP, but when you go to the party’s website now, all you see is: “A big ol’ blank page”.

17) The Labour Party is out of sync with the labour movement over the new trade deal, with the Council of Trade Unions coming out to say the TPP is still “structurally biased towards the commercial sector and downplayed issues such as health, safety and human rights”. CTU secretary Sam Huggard says that unions would like to “be part of a conversation with government about what a better agenda for trade could look like for working people” – see RNZ’s TPP critics unmoved by new negotiation wins.

18) The Green Party has announced, unsurprisingly, that they will vote against the new deal. Trade spokesperson Golriz Ghahraman admits the new agreement is an improvement, but says the Government should have pushed harder for a better agreement – see Claire Trevett’s Greens will not support revised TPP trade deal.

19) How could Labour go from opposing the TPP to negotiating what appears to be its near-conclusion? According to Rob Hosking this can easily be explained by the fact that politicians often say one thing in opposition and then another in government, and he calls this “‘the Maharey Rule”. He explains: “Steve Maharey, newly appointed Social Development Minister under Helen Clark, excused one of that government’s changes of tack when challenged about the mismatch between his opposition rhetoric and his actions by breezily saying it was ‘just the sort of thing you say in opposition’. It was a burst of admirable frankness, and as such has been celebrated ever since” – see: Labour TPP stance harks back to Maharey.

20) Finally, for humour about the trade negotiations over the years, see my blog post, The history of NZ’s TPP negotiations via cartoons.