Ðằng Vân


Point of View

Week Ending 17 December 2006


About-face on administrative detention: interesting times ahead


Barely a week after the APEC summit in Hanoi (17-19 November 06), opposition groups overseas heard reports from dissidents inside Vietnam that somehow state security men who usually kept watch on them 24 hours per day mysteriously disappeared into thin air. It was generally assumed that the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) must have learned from the APEC experience and changed tactics on political repression. From now on they would severely repress new dissidents who were not yet known to the international community, but leave veteran dissidents relatively free to assuage international critics.

However, the CPV’s intention is much clearer on 14 December 2006, when a government-owned website Vietnamnet published an article by Ha Yen entitled “Discontinuing Administrative Detention of Violations of State Security”.


Ha Yen’s article states, among others, the Permanent Commission of the Congress today (14 December) was unanimous on a Decree to abolish, amend some provisions of the Decree on Administrative Detention Measures of 2002. Accordingly the subject of this new decree before it takes effect shall be exempt from detention for the balance of the time under detention, effective from 1 January 2007.

The article also outlines the official reasons by the minister for Justice Uong Chu Luu for such a move:


  1. The current criminal codes already have adequate provisions to deal with crimes such as betrayal of the fatherland, spying, activities to overthrow the government, sabotaging national solidarity, violations of territorial security, terrorism, anti-government propaganda …In the era of world integration and in the context of present day Vietnam, the government should take a page from other nations, prosecute these crimes at court so that defendants could avail themselves of the right to defend these allegations.
  2. More to the point, the minister said that these detention measures were generally harmful to the government and counter-productive. Dissidents under detention were usually intellectuals and the local police found it difficult to educate. Local governments were generally embarrassed, reactive and ineffective leading to dissidents losing respect for the government. Instead of repenting their crime, they became more entrenched in their opposition.


But the real motivation behind such a move by the CPV is more realistic:


  1. In the aftermath of its admission to WTO there is much more international pressure on the CPV to make its legal system more transparent and equitable. Vietnam is a much smaller nation than Communist China and as a result is more susceptible to such pressure.
  2. The second factor is the stark reality that the national security apparatus is so alienated after more than 30 years of bribery, corruption, graft and total moral collapse that they have lost their faith, conviction and are now simply unable to enforce the will of an impotent totalitarian regime. To coin a well-known phraseology, for the CPV leadership, it is purely a case of “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak”. They dearly want to suppress and snuff the life out of all dissidents, but their policemen can no longer sum up the muscle to be effective enforcers. Extreme proximity to the people to control them is a necessary condition of work of these security officers. It, together with a pervading culture of bribery, has demoralized the entire apparatus. The Army, whose barracks are more remote from the people might do a better job at brutal repression. But the Security machine may have treated the army with such contempt within the party that the later may not necessarily take the side of the CPV in a final show-down between the party and the people. Wherefore the CPV dilemma.


When a totalitarian regime can no longer command its machinery of repression effectively, the beginning of its end is near.

CPV leaders are certainly living in interesting times in Vietnam.


Ðằng Vân

18 December 2006