Ha Tinh province revokes decision to establish a local Generals Association

Critics say the move goes against the constitutional rights of freedom of speech, assembly and association.

Ha Tinh province revokes decision to establish a local Generals Association

Authorities in Ha Tinh province, on Vietnam's north central coast, have revoked a decision to establish the Duc Tho District Generals Association.

They said the move was intended to prevent the establishment of other groups "like an oil slick." 

On Monday evening the Dan Tri online news site said the Standing Board of the Ha Tinh Provincial Party Committee had written a report to send to central agencies announcing its decision.

It said the reason given was that the association’s profile did not meet regulations concerning what Party members are allowed to do.

The Generals Association has 22 members including police and army generals, according to an article in the Ha Tinh newspaper, which was later withdrawn.

The association held its first congress this month to elect seven delegates to its executive board for a term running until 2027, the paper said.

Among those attending the congress were Sr. Lt. Gen. Vo Trong Viet, a former Deputy Minister of National Defense, and Deputy Secretary of the Provincial Party Committee and Chairman of Ha Tinh Provincial People's Committee, Vo Trong Hai.

The association said its goals included coming up with ideas to build the Communist Party, fight hostile forces and stamp out bureaucracy, corruption and waste.

A former officer of the General Department of Military Intelligence, Vu Minh Tri, told RFA that association is a constitutional right. He said it is normal for retired generals to form associations, which don’t usually break the law.

“I think the revocation is a clear violation of one of the constitutional rights of citizens,” he said. “It also shows the unanimity policy of the Communist Party and State of Vietnam, which is not to accept the right to freedom of association, demonstration, and speech.”

“This is not surprising because the Communist Party of Vietnam has long tried to maintain a monopoly on leadership of the state and society. To do that, it is willing to ignore the Constitution and the law.”

Journalist Vo Van Tao from Nha Trang, said the communist party’s executive committee is concerned about the phenomenon of ‘pluralism’. 

“The disbandment of the association is a suppression of ideas that differ from the orthodox direction of the current top leadership,” he said.

“It’s a precautionary measure. It means that Vietnamese citizens are restricted. Even generals are restricted."

Tao said the government was very concerned about the generals because they were people with important roles who had played a key part in the Vietnam War. He said they sat together and discussed things the current leadership did not like to hear.

He also said Vietnam's legal document system is not perfect, since many lower-level documents contradict higher-level documents.

Article 25 of the Vietnamese Constitution states that citizens “have the right to freedom of speech, press, assembly, association and demonstration. The State ensures the necessary material conditions for citizens to enjoy those rights.”

Vietnam's constitution is copied from many countries with full human and citizenship rights, but always "according to the law," Tao said.

There were mixed views on social media. On Facebook many people criticized the establishment of the association, saying the generals were too proud and did not want society to forget their names.

Others wondered if the association was like other groups which act in support of the regime and operate using funds from the state budget.

Vu Minh Tri, who was stripped of his role in the General Department of Defense and expelled from the Communist Party in 2009, said critics did not see that the establishment of the Generals Association was legal and beneficial to the development of civil society.

He said criticizing the establishment of the association was like "cutting off your own feet" because it gave the government more grounds to continue to violate the basic liberties of citizens.

In 1957, Ho Chi Minh, then president of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, issued a decree stipulating that everyone has the right to form associations, except those who have lost their citizenship or are being prosecuted by the law.

In 2016, Vietnam's Ministry of Home Affairs presided over drafting the draft Law on Associations, but the National Assembly has repeatedly delayed its discussion or approval.