Vietnamese doctor receives reprieve after 'insulting' health minister

By Vo Hai, Vo Thanh, Lan Ha   October 22, 2017 | 07:54 pm PT
His Facebook post called on the minister to resign for being incapable but slander charges have been overturned.

Authorities in the central province of Thua Thien-Hue have agreed to pardon a local doctor for writing an allegedly derogatory Facebook post about Health Minister Nguyen Thi Kim Tien.

Following instructions from the Ministry of Information and Communications, the province has decided to apologize to Dr. Hoang Cong Truyen and retract its decision to fine him VND5 million ($220), according to Le Sy Minh, director of the provincial communications department.

Hoang Van Duc, chief of staff for Thua Thien-Hue's health department, also said his department would retract its decision to discipline Truyen if the information department retracted its fine.

On July 14, Truyen put a post on Facebook claiming that Tien was not capable of doing her job as health minister and should step down. The ministry subsequently asked provincial authorities to ascertain if Truyen was the author of the post, which it said was "insulting" and could "damage the minister's reputation".

Truyen, who works at a district healthcare center, was then disciplined and fined for slander, according to a decision signed by local authorities on August 15. The case was made public on Thursday and quickly caused a backlash, prompting Information Minister Truong Minh Tuan to order a review of the case.

The decision to overturn Truyen's punishment came after the review concluded that his Facebook post did not warrant sufficient evidence to accuse him of slander or insulting the minister.

"We must strictly punish all acts of insulting, slandering or offending another person's honor and dignity on social networks," Tuan said. "However, we must not wrongly punish people when there's not enough evidence." 

The health ministry has been making headlines recently over a number of scandals.

In late August, the government ordered an investigation into its role in a case that resulted in the former bosses of a pharmaceutical company going to jail for forging paperwork to distribute fake cancer drugs.

Tien's brother-in-law is an executive at the company but has not been implicated in the scam.

Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc said government inspectors must take the issue “seriously” as it concerned public health, while Deputy PM Vu Duc Dam said the case had caused the public to lose trust in the health care sector.

In April, Tien dismissed a parliamentary report that identified unsafe food as the main cause of cancer in Vietnam, saying cute and chronic infections are the main culprit. However, the public made it clear that they no longer trusted the food they ate every day.

In May, eight patients died while undergoing kidney dialysis at a hospital in the northern province of Hoa Binh, leading to many people questioning the role of the health ministry.

Similar questions have been raised following local media reports of newborn babies dying after receiving vaccinations.

In a country that is among Facebook’s top 10 countries by users, the Vietnamese government has become increasingly wary of public sentiment being shared on social media platforms.

Tien, 58, has been health minister since August 2011. Back in 2015, she was one of the first cabinet members to launch an official Facebook page to interact with the public.

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