Vietnam is a one-party state, dominated for decades by the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV). Although some independent candidates are technically allowed to run in legislative elections, most are banned in practice. Freedom of expression, religious freedom, and civil society activism are tightly restricted. The authorities have increasingly cracked down on citizens’ use of social media and the internet to voice dissent and share uncensored information.
- In January, Nguyễn Phú Trọng was reelected to a third term as the CPV’s general secretary, despite reports of Trong’s significant health issues and rules within the ruling party preventing general secretaries from serving more than two terms. In April, the National Assembly formally confirmed Pham Minh Chinh, a longtime hardline security official, as prime minister and Nguyễn Xuân Phúc as president.
- The government further limited internet freedom during the year, pushing forward a draft law in July that would restrict livestreaming and launching a national code of conduct for people using social media in June. The rights group Vietnamese Human Rights Network noted that Facebook, Google, and YouTube have increasingly complied with the government’s “escalating demands to censor dissidents.”
|Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?||0.000 4.004|
The president is elected by the National Assembly for a five-year term, and is responsible for appointing the prime minister, who is confirmed by the legislature. However, all selections for top executive posts are predetermined in practice by the CPV’s Politburo and Central Committee.
In January 2021, Nguyễn Phú Trọng was reelected to a third term as the CPV’s general secretary, a post with significant power, despite reports of Trong’s significant health issues and rules within the ruling party preventing general secretaries from serving more than two terms. In April, the National Assembly formally confirmed Pham Minh Chinh, a longtime hardline security official, as prime minister and Nguyễn Xuân Phúc as president.
|Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?||0.000 4.004|
Elections to the 499-seat Quoc Hoi, or the National Assembly, are tightly controlled by the CPV, which won 485 seats in the May 2021 largely rubber-stamp elections. Candidates who were technically independent, but were in fact vetted by the CPV, took the other 14 seats. Fewer independent candidates stood in the 2021 elections than in the 2016 poll.
|Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?||0.000 4.004|
The electoral laws and framework ensure that the CPV, the only legally recognized party, dominates every election. The party controls all electoral bodies and vets all candidates, resulting in the disqualification of those who are genuinely independent.
|Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings?||0.000 4.004|
The CPV enjoys a monopoly on political power, and no other parties are allowed to operate legally. Members of illegal opposition parties are subject to arrest and imprisonment.
|Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?||0.000 4.004|
The structure of the one-party system precludes any democratic transfer of power. The Vietnam Fatherland Front (VFF), responsible for vetting all candidates for the National Assembly, is ostensibly an alliance of organizations representing the people, but in practice it acts as an arm of the CPV.
|Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means?||0.000 4.004|
The overarching dominance of the CPV effectively excludes the public from any genuine and autonomous political participation.
|Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities?||1.001 4.004|
Although members of ethnic minority groups are nominally represented within the CPV, they are rarely allowed to rise to senior positions, and the CPV leadership’s dominance prevents effective advocacy on issues affecting minority populations. Vietnam has enacted policies and strategies aimed at boosting women’s political participation, but in practice the interests of women are poorly represented in government.
|Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?||0.000 4.004|
The CPV leadership, which is not freely elected or accountable to the public, determines government policy and the legislative agenda.
|Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?||1.001 4.004|
CPV and government leaders have acknowledged growing public discontent with corruption, and there has been an increase in corruption-related arrests in recent years, as fighting graft has been a priority for the general secretary. Multiple senior officials, including two members of the Central Committee, have faced discipline including jail time.
Despite the crackdown, enforcement of anticorruption laws is generally selective and often linked to political rivalries. Many top officials who have been detained or jailed belonged to a different political faction than Trọng. The CPV does not tolerate journalistic investigations, independent courts, or other autonomous bodies that might serve as a check on corruption.
|Does the government operate with openness and transparency?||1.001 4.004|
The CPV leadership operates with considerable opacity. The National Assembly passed an access to information law in 2016, but its provisions are relatively weak. Information can also be withheld if it is deemed to threaten state interests or the well-being of the nation. Independent journalists and civil society groups are not permitted to scrutinize or critique government activities, and authorities jailed numerous people in 2021 who criticized its COVID-19 response.
|Are there free and independent media?||0.000 4.004|
Although the constitution recognizes freedom of the press, journalists and bloggers are constrained by numerous repressive laws and decrees. Those who dare to report or comment independently on controversial issues also risk intimidation and physical attack.
The criminal code prohibits speech that is critical of the government, while a 2006 decree prescribes fines for any publication that denies revolutionary achievements, spreads “harmful” information, or exhibits “reactionary ideology.” Decree 72, issued in 2013, gave the state sweeping new powers to restrict speech on blogs and social media. The state controls all print and broadcast media.
A cybersecurity law that was adopted in 2018 and took effect in 2019 includes several provisions that could restrict access to uncensored news and information. It requires companies like Facebook and Google to store information about Vietnamese users in Vietnam and allows the government to block access to a broad range of content that could be defined as allegedly dangerous to national security. In 2021, the government further limited internet freedom, pushing forward a draft law in July that would restrict livestreaming and in June launching a national code of conduct for people using social media. The Vietnamese Human Rights Network noted in a 2021 report that Facebook, Google, and YouTube have increasingly complied with the government’s “escalating demands to censor dissidents.”
Arrests, assaults, and criminal convictions of journalists and bloggers continued to be reported in 2021. In January, authorities sentenced three journalists to over a decade in prison each, on charges of “making and disseminating propaganda.” In April, the government sentenced a journalist to eight years in jail for posting “anti-state” writing. In August, five journalists were charged with “abusing democratic freedoms” for, among other stories, writing articles critical of the government’s land use policies.
|Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private?||1.001 4.004|
Religious freedom remains restricted. All religious groups and most individual clergy members are required to join a party-controlled supervisory body and obtain permission for most activities. The 2016 Law on Belief and Religion reinforced religious registration requirements, allowed extensive state interference in religious groups’ internal affairs, and gave authorities broad discretion to penalize unsanctioned religious activity. Unregistered and unrecognized religious groups face routine harassment, including violence, criminal charges, and property damage.
|Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination?||1.001 4.004|
Academic freedom is limited. University professors must refrain from criticizing government policies and adhere to party views when teaching or writing on political topics. A university in Danang fired one of its lecturers for “wrong statements” about the government’s lack of aid to help citizens weather the economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. A student had taken a video of the lecturer arguing with a student and criticizing the lack of government relief efforts for those affected by the pandemic, which they then posted online.
|Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution?||1.001 4.004|
Although citizens enjoy more freedom in private discussions than in the past, authorities continue to attack and imprison those who openly criticize the state, including on social media. The government engages in surveillance of private online activity.
In 2021, authorities fined and jailed ordinary citizens for critiquing the state’s COVID-19 response. In July, multiple Facebook users were arrested and detained in July for posting articles critical of the government. The Vietnam Human Rights Network claimed that in 2021 authorities held nearly 300 prisoners of conscience, an increase from 2020.
|Is there freedom of assembly?||1.001 4.004|
Freedom of assembly is tightly restricted. Organizations must apply for official permission to assemble, and police routinely use excessive force to disperse unauthorized demonstrations. After nationwide anti-China protests in 2018, during which dozens of participants were assaulted and arrested, the courts convicted well over a hundred people of disrupting public order, and many were sentenced to prison terms.
|Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work?||0.000 4.004|
A small but active community of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) promotes environmental conservation, land rights, women’s development, and public health, including extensive work on COVID-19 in 2021. However, human rights organizations are generally banned, and those who engage in any advocacy that the authorities perceive as hostile risk imprisonment.
|Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations?||0.000 4.004|
The Vietnam General Conference of Labor (VGCL), the only legal labor federation, is controlled by the CPV. The right to strike is limited by tight legal restrictions.
A 2019 revision of the labor code, adopted to comply with international trade agreements, would theoretically allow workers to form their own representative bodies after it took effect in January 2021, but it remained clear that labor organizations were harshly repressed in practice.
|Is there an independent judiciary?||1.001 4.004|
The judiciary is subservient to the CPV, which controls the courts at all levels. This control is especially evident in politically sensitive criminal prosecutions, with judges sometimes displaying greater impartiality in civil cases.
|Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters?||1.001 4.004|
Constitutional guarantees of due process are generally not upheld. Defendants have a legal right to counsel, but lawyers are scarce, and many are reluctant to take on cases involving human rights or other sensitive topics. Defense lawyers do not have the right to call witnesses, and often report insufficient time to meet with their clients. In national security cases, police can detain suspects for up to 20 months without access to counsel.
Amendments to the penal code that took effect in 2018 included a provision under which defense lawyers can be held criminally liable for failing to report certain kinds of crimes committed by their own clients.
|Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies?||1.001 4.004|
There is little protection from the illegitimate use of force by state authorities, and security personnel are known to abuse suspects and prisoners, sometimes resulting in death or serious injury. The death penalty can be applied for crimes other than murder, including drug trafficking.
|Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?||1.001 4.004|
Members of ethnic minority groups face discrimination in Vietnamese society, and some local officials restrict their access to schooling and jobs. They generally have little input on development projects that affect their livelihoods and communities. Members of ethnic and religious minorities also sometimes face monitoring and harassment by authorities seeking to suppress dissent and suspected links to exile groups.
Men and women receive similar treatment in the legal system. Women generally have equal access to education, and economic opportunities for women have grown, though they continue to face discrimination in wages and promotions.
The law does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, and societal discrimination remains a problem. In a 2020 report, Human Rights Watch noted that “Pervasive myths about sexual orientation and gender identity in Vietnam contribute to violence and discrimination which is felt strongly among lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth.” Nevertheless, LGBT+ pride events are held annually across the country.
|Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education?||2.002 4.004|
Although freedom of movement is protected by law, residency rules limit access to services for those who migrate within the country without permission, and authorities have restricted the movement of political dissidents and members of ethnic minorities on other grounds. Vietnamese citizens who are repatriated after attempting to seek asylum abroad can face harassment or imprisonment.
|Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors?||1.001 4.004|
All land is owned by the state, which grants land-use rights and leases to farmers, developers, and others. Land tenure is one of the most contentious issues in the country and is the subject of regular protests. The seizure of land for economic development projects is often accompanied by violence, accusations of corruption, and prosecutions of those who voice objections.
|Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance?||3.003 4.004|
The government generally does not place explicit restrictions on personal social freedoms. Men and women have equal rights pertaining to matters such as marriage and divorce under the law. In 2015, Vietnam repealed a legal ban on same-sex marriage, but the government still does not grant such unions legal recognition.
Domestic violence against women remains common, and the law calls for the state to initiate criminal as opposed to civil procedures only when the victim is seriously injured.
|Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation?||2.002 4.004|
Human trafficking is a problem in Vietnam, The US State Department reported in its 2021 Trafficking in Persons report that although the government has taken some steps to boost antitrafficking efforts, it was not meeting minimum standards for combating the practice. Internationally brokered marriages sometimes lead to domestic servitude and forced prostitution. Male and female Vietnamese migrant workers are vulnerable to recruitment for forced labor abroad in a variety of industries. Enforcement of legal safeguards against exploitative working conditions, child labor, and workplace hazards remains poor.
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Global Freedom Score19 100 not free
Internet Freedom Score22 100 not free