Former activist kicked off maritime officers training course in Ho Chi Minh City

former activist kicked off maritime officers training course in ho chi minh city

A student at Ho Chi Minh City’s University of Transport says he was thrown off a training course for maritime officers because he took part in protests against a special economic zone bill.

After a few months of attending the course at the Maritime Training and Manpower Center, Dang Ngoc Thanh was told by teacher Nguyen Tan he would not be allowed to continue. He was given no official document stating the reason but he said he believed it was connected to his role in the 2018 demonstrations. 

The 30-month course Thanh had been attending trains sailors to crew international ships, “using their knowledge, talent and other capabilities to contribute to the development of Vietnam,” according to the University of Transport’s website. That role, and the university’s connections with the Transport Ministry, mean it is likely to refuse applicants who have a track record of protesting against the policies of the government and ruling Communist Party. However, Tranh told RFA Vietnamese he had already been attending the course for three months and the university knew his background when they accepted him.

“When I went to school, in the police file, it was recorded that I used to participate in printing and distributing leaflets protesting the leasing of special zones to China. The school kept that file and asked me if I was banned from leaving the country. I went to Cambodia to prove that I was not banned,” he told RFA on Sunday.

Thanh, 29, added that the school called the police in his home province of Tra Vinh to ask if he was politically active before accepting him on the course.

Thanh said he only distributed leaflets in 2018, and shared his frustrations on social media. He said the reason he was suspended from school may be because he participated in a demonstration in Ho Chi Minh City on June 10, 2018 to oppose the Bill on Special Economic Zones.

“I don’t participate in any political activities, but once when the communist government of Vietnam was planning to lease special zones to a foreign country for 99 years, I printed a large number of leaflets saying ‘No 99-years lease to China’ and distributed them throughout Ho Chi Minh City. I was arrested and administratively fined.”

RFA called Thanh’s teacher Nguyen Tan and was told that when the school checked his background they found his resume was “incorrect and inappropriate” so they decided not to accept him as a student. When the reporter asked for more details Tan refused to give them over the phone and requested a personal meeting.

Thanh rejected his teacher’s explanation saying that, before he was accepted onto the course, he submitted all the notarized documents required by the center for the course.

RFA repeatedly called the director of the Marine Training and Manpower Center but no one answered. Reporters also emailed the center and the University of Transport but received no reply.

In mid-2018, the National Assembly of Vietnam intended to pass two bills on Special Economic Zones and Cybersecurity. Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of major cities and provinces to protest. Thousands of people were arrested and many detained for days, tortured and beaten. Authorities prosecuted and sentenced hundreds of protesters.

The rare protests were triggered by concerns that leases as long as 99 years could go to Chinese-owned and operated firms, rather than helping local companies. Anti-China sentiment was high due to clashes over fishing rights in the South China Sea, called the East Sea by Vietnam, and China’s takeovers of the Spratly and Paracel islands, also claimed by the Vietnamese. Protesters against the cybersecurity bill feared it could threaten freedom of expression and lead to arrests of democracy campaigners who expressed their views online.

Thanh said he was not arrested on the day of the protests but detained a few days later by the police of Tra Vinh Province and later arrested by the police of Binh Chanh district in Ho Chi Minh City. He said police beat him and held him for a day before fining him VND7.5 million (US$310) for “slandering the Binh Chanh district police” rather than for taking part in the protest.

Thanh said on Tuesday he had returned to his hometown to look for a job. He said he has no plans to apply for another course because he is concerned they won’t accept him.

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