Patient #1342, a criminal?

Yesterday, Ho Chi Minh City’s (HCMC) police department, a public security department for the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV), announced it is launching a comprehensive investigation into the Vietnam Airlines flight attendant, patient #1,342, and Vietnam Airlines to determine if either party committed crimes.

At the press conference, Colonel Nguyễn Sỹ Quang, its deputy director, elaborated on the investigation into the flight attendant but failed to do the same for Vietnam Airlines. He admitted this is the first time that any individual has been accused of committing a crime for ignoring COVID-19 prevention regulations or any violation under Article 240, “Spreading dangerous infectious diseases in human”, of Vietnam’s Criminal Code 2015, and further stated that only a fine was imposed against all prior offenders.

According to VNExpress on August 10, 2020, HCMC authorities had fined 841 people for not wearing a mask in public. This figure does not include the 25 year old woman caught fleeing home quarantine in Hanoi in a failed attempt to leave the country after returning from the U.K. in late-March. Hanoi authorities imposed a VND 10 million fine (USD $423). She was not held criminally liable. The government of Vietnam has not released any updated statistics regarding COVID-19-related infractions.

At the direction of Vietnam’s Prime Minister, Nguyễn Xuân Phúc, during a meeting of the government held on December 1st, the CPV publicly took a hardline against the flight attendant by using him as a nationwide symbol of disobedience and its consequences in calling for strict punishment. He can face up to 12 years in jail if found guilty.

Though different from other Vietnamese individuals “accused” of more heinous crimes, such as murder or rape, the identity of the flight attendant has not been made public. For example, in June, August and October of this year, three women — Pham Thi Thanh (31), Chu Thi My Le (51) and Pham Thi Hao (26) — were accused of killing children, two of which were infants; and in August, four minors — Dinh Xuan Dai (14), Ha Dai Giang (17), Nguyen Hai Duong (17) and Nguyen Quoc Duy (17) — were accused of raping a 15 year old girl.

Why has the CPV neglected to release the identity of the flight attendant? If protecting the identities of those innocent, including their families and friends, were a real concern, the names of all accused individuals shouldn’t have been released until conviction. But it could be because he comes from a well-connected family or paid a large bribe, both privileges of the wealthy in Vietnam. I have yet to be able to determine whether this is an actual criminal pursuit or a grand performance by the CPV.

Rather than focusing on this case, consider that the CPV didn’t hold Công ty TNHH Hai thành viên Lối sống mới (Loi Song Moi Company) criminally accountable for killing one person and critically poisoning at least 16 others this year after its vegan pate product was found to contain a lethal bacteria, clostridium botulinum, as a result of negligence — failing to meet food safety requirements. The government of Vietnam imposed a meager VND 17.5 million (USD $755) fine, a slap in the wrist, in September.

Or let’s not forget about when Công ty TNHH Gang Thép Hưng Nghiệp Formosa (Formosa Ha Tinh Steel Company) was caught spewing toxic chemicals via an underwater sewage pipe into Vietnam’s coastal waters a few years ago. The CPV didn’t hold it criminally accountable despite the widespread damage still felt today, but eventually demanded monetary compensation of VND 11.6 trillion (USD $500 million).

Comparatively, BP has paid USD $70 billion (VND 1.620 quadrillion) since 2012 for its Deepwater Horizon incident in the Gulf of Mexico, USA, that occurred 66 km (41 miles) from the nearest coastline.

Công ty TNHH Hai thành viên Lối sống mới and Công ty TNHH Gang Thép Hưng Nghiệp Formosa would have been prosecuted for involuntary manslaughter — even murder — in the first world.

Based on the facts presented thus far, if this is an actual criminal pursuit, the flight attendant’s acts weren’t malicious in nature albeit naive. A similar argument for criminal activity could be made against all of the Vietnamese car and motorbike drivers who willfully fail to obey traffic laws.

Should the flight attendant be reprimanded? Yes.

Should the flight attendant be penalized? Yes.

Should the flight attendant face a prison sentence of up to 12 years? No.

Whoever the flight attendant is, he is not a criminal.

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Chris Nguyen

Chris Nguyen

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