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Authorities in Vietnam scrap penalties, apologize to three allegedly badmouthing official on Facebook

Friday, November 27, 2015, 14:12 GMT+7
Authorities in Vietnam scrap penalties, apologize to three allegedly badmouthing official on Facebook
Tran Thanh Tam, deputy director of the An Giang Province Department of Information and Communications, speaks at a press conference on November 26, 2015 to remove the penalties slapped on three people for badmouthing the provincial chairman on Facebook.

Authorities in a province in southern Vietnam on Thursday withdrew the punishments imposed upon three people for commenting on the look of a high-ranking official on Facebook, following protests from the public.

The withdrawal was announced in a press conference organized by the People’s Committee of An Giang Province in the Mekong Delta.

The three violated certain rules when using the Internet but the offences were not serious, Ho Viet Hiep, vice chairman of the provincial People’s Committee, said at the press conference.

Relevant officials did not follow existent regulations before arriving at a conclusion to slap the punishments on the three people, Hiep said.

Therefore, the committee decided to remove the penalties and give the trio warnings instead.

Le Thi Thuy Trang, a literature teacher from a high school in An Giang, shared an article on Facebook in October, in which the Government Inspectorate proposed that the chairman of the People’s Committee be disciplined, commenting that the chair looked “cocky.”

The post received likes and comments showing agreement of several people, including Huynh Nguyen Huy Phuc, an employee of An Giang Power Company.

As a result, the provincial Department of Information and Communications decided to fine Trang and Phuc VND5 million (US$223) each of  for publicly humiliating the chairman, Vuong Binh Thanh, on the social media site.

Phan Thi Kim Nga, the vice chief of the provincial Department of Industry and Trade office, was also punished in the form of a warning by the department for being involved in the so-called “verbal offense.”

Aside from the financial penalties, Trang and Phuc also faced several forms of discipline at their working institutions.

The public then expressed their strong opposition to the fines, with experts saying they might lead to concerns among the community.

Talking to Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper, Vo Duc Toan, a lawyer from a law firm under the Ho Chi Minh City Bar Association, considered the punishments, especially Nga’s, to be overly severe as the violation was not serious and did not cause any particular consequence.

The penalties might create unwanted concern among the public as any individual has the right to express their feelings, including love or hatred, toward another by different means, he said.

Apologies from authorities

Competent authorities that impose wrong and unfair punishment have to apologize to the penalized people, vice chairman Hiep said.

The An Giang People’s Committee, however, did not directly handle the case, he added.

Therefore the liability belongs to the institution that enforced the penalties, which in this circumstance is the An Giang Department of Information and Communications, the vice chairman pointed out.

On behalf of the department, deputy director Tran Thanh Tam expressed his sincere apology to the three people and pledged to learn from this mistake during the press conference.

In another case, the People’s Committee of Chau Doc City, which is located in An Giang, recently ordered the removal of a ban on the use of certain Facebook features, which some claimed was meant to prevent violations of the law and enhance work productivity.

The ban was stated in a document issued by the city’s Bureau of Education and Training to prohibit its officials, teachers, and students from liking, commenting on, and sharing posts related to politics, religion, policy and statuses that offend others.

However, the document met with strong opposition from the public, as it was exaggerated and not legally supported, the Chau Doc People’s Committee said.

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