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Homeless man arrested after allegedly burning flag to cook dinner

Pham Cong Hung Nhan faces 3 years in prison after he posted a video of the act to Facebook.

A homeless man in Vietnam has been arrested after he allegedly posted a video to Facebook of himself burning the country’s flag as fuel to cook his dinner, state media reported.

Pham Cong Hung Nhan, 43, was detained by the Ba Ria City Police Investigation Agency on charges of “insulting the national flag” under Article 351 of Vietnam’s Penal Code, according to the People’s Public Security online newspaper. 

The violation is punishable by up to three years in jail and community service. Nhan lives in southern Vietnam’s Ba Ria-Vung Tau province.

Authorities allege that on Dec. 9, 2023, Nhan left a sack of recyclables he had gathered to sell in front of a house while he went to buy some coffee, only to find the sack gone when he returned. 

In anger, he pulled down a flag and flagpole from in front of the house and took it to his shelter in an empty lot.

Later that evening, the report said, Nhan used his mobile phone to record himself putting the flag into his wood burning stove while he cooked dinner, and posted the nearly four-minute video to his Facebook account the following day.

The report cited Nhan as testifying that he had been shunned by his family members because he was homeless and forced to earn a living by collecting recyclable garbage to sell, and felt “authorities had failed to protect him.”

The newspaper said Nhan used his Facebook account to post and share stories, photos and videos with “content insulting the national flag, distorting and defaming the honor and dignity of the founding fathers and leaders of the Party and State, distorting the truth of the revolutionary history, and defaming the people’s government and socialist regime in Vietnam.”

The Facebook account Hung Van Pham Cong, which allegedly belongs to Nhan, has more than 4,000 followers and contains a number of posts praising the flag of the former Republic of Vietnam while criticizing the current regime. The account also contains several defaced photos of Nguyen Phu Trong, the general secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam, and late President Ho Chi Minh.

While the video of the burning flag was reposted to the account several times in the following days, it garnered few interactions.

Proof of intent

Speaking to RFA Vietnamese on Wednesday, Nguyen Van Dai, who worked as an attorney in Vietnam’s capital Hanoi for several years, said that a conviction in Nhan’s case depends on whether the item in the video was indeed the national flag.

The second factor, he said, is whether authorities can prove intent.

“If a person did it out of anger, accidentally, or for some other reason, and had no intention to disrespect the national flag of Vietnam, then they did not commit the offense,” he said.

Dai noted that international human rights law and the judiciaries of most democratic countries, do not consider the desecration of a national flag to be a criminal offense, but rather a form of freedom of expression.

In recent years, Vietnamese authorities have arrested and convicted several people on charges of “insulting the national flag.”

In 2021, human rights activist Huynh Thuc Vy was sentenced to 33 months in prison for spraying paint on Vietnam’s flag. She is now serving her jail term at Gia Trung Prison in Gia Lai province.

A year earlier, the Quang Binh Provincial People’s Court sentenced three youths to a total of 15 months in prison and six months of probation for using a machete to cut down 34 flagpoles flying the national flag and the flag of the Communist Party of Vietnam.

Translated by Anna Vu. Edited by Joshua Lipes and Malcolm Foster.


This content originally appeared on Radio Free Asia and was authored by By RFA Vietnamese.


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