The irony was striking, literally.
On Vietnamese Women’s Day (October 20), national media as well as social networks were forced to headline, with video evidence, the assault of a female Vietnam Airlines employee at Hà Nội’s Nội Bài International Airport.
Two men, Trần Dương Tùng, 32 and Đào Vịnh Thuấn, 37, were not allowed to board a flight from Hà Nội to HCM City last Tuesday because they reached the boarding gate late.
Seeing the two passengers insulting the staff, Nguyễn Lê Quỳnh Anh, who manages the Vietnam Airlines service team, began recording the scene on her camera.
Angered by her action, Tùng and Thuấn became aggressive. Thuấn grabbed Quỳnh Anh’s shirt and Tùng severely hit the woman several times on her head with his Ipad-sized wallet.
Fortunately for Quỳnh Anh, one of the onlookers, a man dressed in a black shirt, intervened by kicking the men and preventing further violence being inflicted on her.
Tùng and Thuấn turned their attention to the rescuer, but security guards appeared on the scene soon, and the chivalrous man left.
Quỳnh Anh was taken to the Saint Paul Hospital to be treated for dizziness and nausea.
Not being allowed to board a flight because you don’t turn up in time is no provocation for violence, least of all on a defenseless woman.
Tùng and Thuấn have been banned from flying for 12 months and six months respectively. More seriously, Thuấn was dismissed yesterday from his job as a transport inspector.
His employer, the Hà Nội Department of Transport, said his action violated office discipline, being absent from work without permission and assaulting a woman, seriously affecting the image of State employees.
Then came a surprising announcement.
Trần Hoài Phương, Director of the Northern Airport Authority told local media that his agency was in the process of identifying the man who intervened and tried to protect the woman.
This was not for rewarding his action, but because it was “not really legal and this individual might be subject to administrative punishment for causing social disorder.”
“If the matter elevated tensions and if the security guards had not arrived on time, many other people might have become involved in a fight at the airport, causing serious consequences,” he said.
Preposterous, Mr Phương!
As citizens, particularly netizens, poured praise on the man for stepping in, here was a senior official threatening him with punishment!
But lawyer Trương Xuân Tám told the Tuổi Trẻ (Youth) newspaper said that the man’s actions could be defined as “legitimate defense.”
The law on punishment for administrative violations says violations for legitimate defence purposes will not be fined, Tám said.
Agreeing with Tám, lawyer Huỳnh Văn Nông said: “The motive of the man was not to cause public disorder. He witnessed an attack and got involved to try and end the violence.
“There is no basis to conclude that his action caused public disorder. On the contrary, he helped maintain order,” he said.
Nguyễn Văn Sáu, deputy chairman, HCM City Bar Association, and a National Assembly deputy, said the man had helped prevent a “risky action for the society,” and should not be fined.
In fact, while the two men were hitting the woman, another man, Tạ Đức Giang, a Vietnam Airlines staff, tried to protect his colleague by stretching out his arms to hinder the blows. It did not work and the violence continued, seriously threatening the woman’s health.
We can only imagine her fate if the other man had not intervened. Until his intervention, nobody else did anything. Some just took out their phones to record the scene.
The fear of getting involved in a fight happening in public spaces is common among many Vietnamese citizens. It is not uncommon to see a crowd watching a fight, not intervening, except to record it and post it online.
Recently, we were “treated” to video clips posted online of a few female students fighting, tearing each other’s clothes. Sadly, fellow students were only enjoying the violence with shouts of encouragement; no one bothered to stop it.
Last year, VTC14 Digital Television Channel staged a scene in which a female was beaten up by a man on a pavement with a lot of people watching. Of the first ten people who passed by, only two stopped and asked the man to stop. One was an old woman and the other a man.
Early this month, a 14-year-old boy tried to stop two other boys from hitting a girl at the Quảng An Secondary School in Hà Nội. Tragically, he was fatally wounded as the other boys turned their brutality on him.
These stories explain why many people are scared to intervene. They could either be implicated or be hurt, even killed.
However, while we can explain inaction by onlookers, punishing those who dare to make a rightful intervention will be counterproductive, giving the public even more reasons not to get involved.
Worse still, as a society, we would be teaching our youth and children the wrong lesson, that being kind, considerate and compassionate is not wise or practical - a backhanded slap to goodness and a high-five for violence. — VNS