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Ho Chi Minh City vigilantes on Facebook

Saturday, March 19, 2016, 11:01 GMT+7

The Facebook pages of a group of vigilantes in Ho Chi Minh City have been capturing the attention and support of local citizens, who have been following their accomplishments in the fight against crime in the city.

Two Facebook pages with the names ‘Stolen Property Report’ and ‘HCMC Thief Hunter’ have been increasingly popular with local people, gathering over 90,000 followers.

The social media pages are the places where the group members post information on the theft cases they have solved as well as photos of the detained offenders.

They are also a hub for local citizens looking to stay updated on the security situation in Ho Chi Minh City, share their experience of places vulnerable to thieves, and express their appreciation for the ‘street heroes.’   

“Many thanks to the vigilantes for helping me retrieve my stolen cellphone. I am beyond happy and admire your courage in facing the criminals to return civilians’ property,” Ha Nhu Quynh, 22, said on one of the pages.

Meanwhile, M.S. considered the self-appointed law enforcers her saviors after they helped S. and her family to take back what she was scammed out of by a con artist.

S. recounted that her older sister was tricked and had her motorbike, smartphone, jewelry and other belongings stolen by the suspect via Zalo, a Vietnamese mobile-based free texting and calling app, in 2015.

She decided to contact the group of vigilantes as no progress had been made after reporting the case to local police.

Within 10 days, the 'heroes,' in coordination with S., succeeded in solving the case and handing the suspect over to police officers, according to the woman.

Lam Hieu Long, 26, has confirmed to Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper that he is the representative of the vigilantes and administrator of the Facebook pages.

“We only arrest the criminals when they are caught red-handed. In each case, the whole team usually discusses the safest and most effective as well as legal approach to catch the thieves,” Long said.

As the thefts have been affecting the lives and safety of local citizens, Long and his friends decided to establish the social media pages to update information regarding the suspects, Long explained.

The pages are solely aimed at providing the members with information that facilitates the fight against crime, Long said, adding that they did not create the pages for attention or popularity.

The group currently has seven members, with ages ranging from 23 to 26, who come from all walks of life, including one cab driver, a businessman, deliveryman, college student, and others, according to Long.

Since the group was formed in 2010, the vigilantes have solved over 200 cases of theft and robbery.

He added that they receive about 20 reports of security issues from civilians daily, of which 60 percent are about theft.

Encountering legal issues

The activity of the vigilantes is a double-edged sword, according to Truong Van Vy, a criminology lecturer at the Vietnam National University - Ho Chi Minh City.

On the positive side, they offer support in the fight against crime to competent authorities, Vy said.

However, these 'heroes' could potentially act beyond their rights and commit violations due to insufficient knowledge of the law, the academic added.

Nguyen Van Hau, vice president of the Ho Chi Minh City Lawyers Association, suggested that the team members strictly comply with the law to avoid any complication or abuse of power.

Publicizing their activities as well as criminals’ information on Facebook without a final conclusion by police could cause several issues related to one’s private life, Hau added.

The team could also encounter other legal problems if they receive false reports from their followers, according to the lawyer.

Colonel Nguyen Nhat Thanh, deputy chief of police in District 1, recommended that the vigilantes organize their team thoroughly with the proper skill of arrest and ways to gather evidence and statements from victims and witnesses.

Police cannot investigate or bring charges against suspects if there is no proof of any violation, Col. Thanh elaborated.

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