Police in Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City have fined a local Facebook user for saying that local government has neglected city residents and let them go hungry amid lockdowns aimed at controlling the spread of COVID-19, sources said.
Nguyen Thuy Duong was fined VND 5 million (around $210) on Thursday after saying in a July 22 posting that lockdown measures enforced by authorities in the Binh Truong ward of Thu Duc City, an area under Ho Chi Minh City’s jurisdiction, had left residents unable to receive relief packages.
State media said the fine was imposed by Ho Chi Minh City police and the city’s Department of Information and Communications for violations of Government Decree 15, governing the use of postal services, telecommunications, and other information technologies.
Challenging her fine on Thursday, Duong said in a statement online that authorities told her in a meeting by phone that they had produced four witnesses who said people living in the area had not been left to starve.
“I told them that I had 40 witnesses who could prove that people had been forced to beg for food. And to prove my goodwill, and so as not to argue with them, I suggested they speak to people in the lockdown area in person,” she said.
At the same time, people in the affected area were still calling her to report their problems, she said.
“I turned on my phone speaker, and they agreed to go to the checkpoint to testify, but the police told me to turn off my phone and refused to say anything more,” Duong said. “The minutes of our meeting show that I denied doing anything wrong.”
The fourth wave of Vietnam’s COVID-19 pandemic beginning on April 27 has hit the country hard, as cities and provinces implement strict social distancing measures, restrict people from leaving their homes, and shut down factories and other businesses, leaving many out of work.
Photos and videos posted on Facebook and TikTok show widespread anger at food shortages, unemployment, and lack of government support, and authorities have imposed penalties on people posting allegedly “false information” on social networks about the pandemic’s spread.
When running stories on the penalties imposed for spreading false information, state media sometimes fail to point out which regulations have been violated, though, sources said.
Protecting each other, blaming others
Ordinary people are often left at a disadvantage, Ngoc Binh—a resident of Ho Chi Minh City’s Binh Tan district—told RFA, adding that in any dispute involving government officials and ordinary citizens, it is the citizens who are first to be punished.
“Government officials often protect each other and blame others,” she said.
Authorities sometimes also issue documents and then recall them without explanation, said lawyer Dang Dinh Manh, also speaking to RFA.
“Obviously there is inequality between the government sector and the private sector,” he said. “People are immediately sanctioned and fined when allegedly violating the regulations. However, when making mistakes in the public sector, the authorities can withdraw their decisions, and no sanctions are announced.”
The inspection of travel permits and other documents at checkpoints in Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, and other locations has at the same time turned those places into congested areas, violating regulations that require social distancing, sources say.
COVID-19 could easily spread among the thousands of people waiting for their permits to be issued, said Vietnam-based journalist Nguyen Vu Binh, adding, “In communist countries in general, and in Vietnam in particular, governments never admit to being wrong, even if their policies have a lot of errors and shortcomings.”
If their policies show flaws, the authorities simply replace them with new ones and don’t admit their mistakes, he said. “When people violate those policies, they are treated harshly. But for the authorities and cadres, if they make mistakes, they only have to draw the lessons learned.”
“Things have always been this way,” he said.
As of 5:48 p.m. on Friday, Vietnam had recorded 501,649 confirmed cases of COVID-19 infection in the country, according to data tallied by the CDC, WHO, and other sources. The total number of deaths now stands at 12,446.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Anna Vu. Written in English by Richard Finney.