Vietnam Free Expression Newsletter No. 19/2022 – Week of May 9-15

Greetings from The 88 Project We bring you news, analysis, and actions regarding human rights and civil society in Vietnam during the week of May 9-15. Two political prisoners were allowed to emigrate to the United States on the eve of Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh’s trip to Washington. There was another arrest in the case of the Zen Temple in Long An. A political prisoner who’s been in pre-trial detention for almost four years without a trial is back in jail after spending time in a mental hospital. The director of an NGO charged with “tax fraud” will have his appeal trial this week. An approved exhibit to commemorate the battle of Dien Bien Phu was canceled at the last second due to its content. Read an article on four reasons why Vietnam remains a hotbed for misinformation, as well as Vietnam’s delicate PR dance around its decision to hold military drills with Russia. Conservatives in the Politburo holding sway over the Vietnam-US relationship could complicate human rights efforts. In Washington, Prime Minister Chinh says Vietnam will prioritize U.S. investments that create new technologies such as green energy. President Joe Biden hosts the first U.S.-ASEAN summit since 2016 at the White House.

Read our annual report on the situation of political prisoners and activists at risk in Vietnam. 

HUMAN RIGHTS & CIVIL SOCIETY

Political Prisoners


Ho Duc Hoa

Journalist and political prisoner Ho Duc Hoa was put on a plane bound for the United States on May 11, just as Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh was about to depart for Washington for the U.S.-ASEAN special summit. A Catholic member of a diocese in Vinh Province, Hoa was arrested in 2011 and charged with conspiracy to overthrow the government under Article 79 of the 1999 Criminal Code. He had served 11 years of his 13-year sentence when he was released early.


Tran Thi Thuy

One day before Hoa was freed, a former political prisoner also was sent to the United States. Tran Thi Thuy was a land rights activist who was arrested in 2010 and sentenced to eight years in prison for conspiracy to overthrow the government. She had served out her sentence and was released in August 2018. The fact that Hoa and Thuy were allowed to go to the United States around the time of Prime Minister Chinh’s first trip to the United States suggests this was not a coincidence, but rather a result of deliberation and negotiation between the two governments.

A fifth person has been arrested in the case of Bong Lai Zen Temple in Long An Province. Cao Thi Cuc, 62, is the owner of the property that houses the temple. She is being investigated for possible violations of Article 331 — “abusing democratic freedoms.” In January, the non-state sanctioned Buddhist sect’s leader, Le Tung Van, 90, was arrested along with three other men and charged under Article 331 as well. However, Van was later released from jail while the other men had their pre-trial detention extended. It is not known when any trials will take place.


Le Anh Hung

Le Anh Hung was moved from the National Psychiatric Ward in Hanoi, where he was admitted in April 2019, and returned to prison last week so that the criminal prosecution against him could resume. A member of the Independent Journalist Association of Vietnam, Hung was arrested in July 2018 and charged with “abusing democratic freedoms.” However, he has yet to be tried. During his unusually long pre-trial detention period, now entering its fourth year, Hung has often complained of physical and psychological abuse and has had to go on several hunger strikes to protest the abuse.


Mai Phan Loi

Mai Phan Loi will have his appeal trial on May 17. Founder and executive director of the nonprofit Center for Media in Educating Community (MEC), Loi was arrested in June last year. In January he was sentenced to four years in prison on “tax fraud” charges and ordered to pay nearly two billion dong ($90K USD) in fines. Before his arrest, Loi was working to build a network of NGOs as allowed for and stipulated by Vietnam’s free trade agreement with the European Union — the EVFTA.

This week, we think of the birthdays and arrest anniversaries of the following political prisoners:


Nguyen Van Dien and Tran Ngoc Son

  • Democracy activist Nguyen Van Dien, birthday May 19, serving six and a half years in prison for conducting “propaganda against the state”
  • Montagnard Christian activist Rah Lan Hip, arrested May 15, 2019, and sentenced to seven years in prison for “undermining the unity policy”
  • Hoa Hao Buddhists Vuong Van ThaVuong Van Thuan, Nguyen Nhat Truong, and Nguyen Nhat Thuong, arrested on May 18, 2017, and sentenced to between six and 12 years in prison for spreading “propaganda against the state”
  • Online commentator Tran Ngoc Son, arrested May 20, 2021, and awaiting trial on charges of “abusing democratic freedoms”
  • Journalist Pham Chi Thanh, arrested May 21, 2020, and sentenced to five and a half years in prison for conducting “propaganda against the state”
  • Protesters Pham Thanh and Dang Ngoc Tan, tried on May 21, 2019, and sentenced in multiple trials to a collective 15 years and 6 months and 24 years in prison, respectively

Activists at Risk

Artist Mai Duy Minh was summoned to meet with Ministry of Culture officials to discuss his paintings about the victory at Dien Bien Phu. The exhibit to commemorate the 68th anniversary of the battle on May 7, 1954, had been approved by the ministry but was canceled at the last moment due to concerns that “the main painting of the Dien Bien Phu Exhibition had a tattered national flag and a soldier that was not handsome and not anatomically correct.” Mai Duy Minh often paints about social issues such as poverty and corruption; he even has a painting about the Dong Tam police raid in 2019 that resulted in several deaths.

NEWS & ANALYSIS

Four Reasons Why Vietnam Is A Hotbed Of Misinformation. Lee Nguyen, The Vietnamese; May 13, 2022: In March 2020, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) published a list of the 20 biggest Internet enemies, including the Force 47 of the Vietnam People’s Army. [5] These government internet commentators are comprised of tens of thousands of soldiers and have been repeatedly named as a source of government propaganda. [6] With almost unlimited resources from the State budget, Force 47 can manipulate the information environment in Vietnam’s social networks. While producing rumors and fake news to serve its own interests, the government leaves the door open for other kinds of misinformation to spread online, as long as they do not affect the interests of government officials and the power of the State.

Parsing the News About the Vietnam-Russia Joint Military Drills. Hai Hong Nguyen, The Diplomat; May 12, 2022: Reading between the lines, there are a number of conclusions that can be drawn. First, the two virtual meetings between representatives from the Vietnamese and Russian defense ministries were real, but Russia did not announce the second meeting, which focused on the Army Games. However the Vietnamese tactically and wisely combined the contents of the two meetings into one common news report, aiming to explain the meaning of “joint military exercise,” as reported by the Russian media. A possible interpretation was that the Vietnamese did not intend to publicly speak about the meetings given the sensitivity of the issue given the background of the war in Ukraine, but it then had to do so in response to public reactions and concerns both at home and abroad following Russia’s media announcement. …With the combined news report, Vietnam sent a message to the U.S. that the so-called joint military exercise was merely a game in which it has participated since 2018…

U.S. will have to work hard to win over Vietnam’s conservatives. Dien Luong, Nikkei Asia; May 11, 2022: As public sentiments in Vietnam on the Ukraine crisis suggest, America’s much-touted role as a global security guarantor has yet again been thrown into question. At least, that is how the conservatives are portraying it. Still, suspicions of the U.S. agenda by Vietnamese hard-liners are not utterly groundless. Against this backdrop, the million-dollar question for champions of U.S.-Vietnam rapprochement is how to advance bilateral ties forward without ruffling conservative feathers, a treacherous line to straddle. One approach to winning over conservatives to closer U.S.-Vietnam ties would be a relationship characterized by a more discreet and sensitive approach to differences in human rights, a serious treatment of America’s war legacy and where the regime’s security is guaranteed.

Vietnam will prioritize US-invested projects with new technologies. Hoang Thuy, VN Express; May 12, 2022: The Vietnamese government commits to creating a fair and transparent business environment and U.S. companies can have assurance in their Vietnam investment and expansion, Chinh said Wednesday at a meeting with U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo as part of his working trip in the U.S. ahead of the ASEAN–U.S. Summit. The Vietnam economy is growing and needs partnership from developed countries, including the U.S., in green finance, technology and human resources. Vietnam prioritizes projects with advanced and new technology that are clean and have high added value. The country also seeks projects with green transformation and digital transformation that contribute to the global supply chain.

Biden touts ‘free and open’ Indo-Pacific in summit with ASEAN rulers. RFA Staff; May 13, 2022: Experts describe “ASEAN centrality” as the concept that the 10-nation bloc serves as the driver and architect of institution-building and of relations with and among outside actors in the Asia-Pacific region. “We’re committed to a future where the rules and norms that have made possible so much growth and prosperity and stability in the Indo-Pacific are upheld and strengthened, including respect for the rule of law and for human rights,” Biden added. In a gesture seen as significant in a region that often feels neglected by Washington even as governments seek a counterbalance to China’s extensive presence, he nominated a close advisor, Yohannes Abraham, as U.S. ambassador to ASEAN, filling a post in Indonesia that has gone without a confirmed envoy for more than five years.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

On May 9, 2022 The 88 Project released its annual report on the situation of activists and political prisoners in Vietnam. The report is informed by the organization’s database – the most comprehensive and up-to-date of its kind – and details the latest chapter of the Vietnamese government’s crackdown on political dissent. Vietnam’s one-party state stepped up arrests of both media professionals (bloggers, journalists, and authors) and online commentators in 2021. In total, Vietnam arrested 12 media professionals in 2021, up from seven in 2020, and three in 2019, representing a desperate attempt to stamp out fledgling efforts to promote press freedom in the country. Read the full report, here.

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A deeper look into Vietnam’s complicated relationship with Russia and why the government might want to change its stance.

TAKE ACTION


Can Thi Theu
Family members of Can Thi TheuTrinh Ba Phuong and Trinh Ba Tu have issued a petition calling on international human rights organizations to increase pressure on the Vietnamese government to release the trio of land rights activists who were jailed after reporting on the bloody Dong Tam raid.
© 2022 The 88 Project

Vietnam Free Expression Newsletter No. 18/2022 – Week of May 2-8

Greetings from The 88 ProjectA Facebooker was sentenced to eight years in prison for “anti-state propaganda.” An activist was transferred to a mental hospital without her family’s knowledge. A political prisoner’s wife was allowed to see her husband for the first time in 10 months, another in over a year. A writer is harassed for winning an award from an independent organization. Vietnam’s ranking on the World Press Freedom Index is unsurprisingly low. The government formally responds to UN Special Rapporteurs’ reports on Vietnam’s vague cyber laws while using its cyber army to flood social media with pro-Putin propaganda against Ukraine. Tax evasion charges are being used to suppress dissent. High level officials arrested for corruption could signal a turning point, but net citizens are still not encouraged to comment on it. Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh is traveling to Washington to attend President Biden’s “Special Asian Summit.” Read our update on Le Trong Hung’s conditions in prison, as reported by his wife at a recent visit. 

Coming up, on May 9, The 88 Project will release its annual report on the human rights situation in Vietnam. The report covers arrests, trials, prison conditions, and harassment of activists at risk in 2021.

HUMAN RIGHTS & CIVIL SOCIETY

Political Prisoners


Tran Hoang Huan

Tran Hoang Huan was sentenced to eight years in prison plus three years of home surveillance for postings on Facebook that allegedly violated Article 117 of the Criminal Code. Huan, 34, was accused of making 186 posts and 60 statuses that “distort and defame the people’s government,” and 21 articles that “are lies which created confusion among the citizens.” The trial, which was televised, did not appear to show any lawyer representing Huan.


Nguyen Thuy Hanh

According to Huynh Ngoc Chenh, husband of Nguyen Thuy Hanh, Hanh has been transferred from pre-trial detention to the Central Mental Health Hospital in Hanoi after two medical examinations determined she was suffering from severe depression. Chenh said when he went to the detention center on May 6, he was told that Hanh had been admitted near the end of April. They also told him that Hanh is now under the hospital’s jurisdiction, which means she can receive visits and supplies from family members just like other patients. On May 7, Chenh and Hanh’s brother were able to visit her at the hospital. Chenh reported that Hanh looked thinner but was in a good mood. This was the first time Hanh saw any family member since her arrest in April of last year.


Do Nam Trung

Anh Tuyet, wife of Do Nam Trung, reported on her Facebook page that she and Trung’s mother were allowed to visit him for the first time since his arrest 10 months ago. Suffering from an ulcer and anxiety, Tuyet said she was relieved to see that Trung looked healthy and appeared to have even gained some weight. Trung told her he is treated well by others in jail, including the guards. He wanted to thank everyone who’s been advocating on his behalf. Trung was arrested in June last year and was sentenced in December to ten years in prison for “anti-state propaganda.”


Le Trong Hung

Do Le Na, wife of imprisoned activist Le Trong Hung, and Hung’s mother, were able to visit him for the first time since his arrest more than a year ago. Read her moving letter recounting the visit here.


Hoang Duc Binh, activist serving 14 years in prison

This week, we think of the birthdays and arrest anniversaries of the following political prisoners:

  • Banker and anti-corruption activist Trinh Viet Bang, birthday May 11, being held in pre-trial detention on charges of “abusing democratic freedoms”
  • Montagnard Christian activist Y Yich, arrested May 13, 2013, and sentenced to 12 years in prison
  • Environmental and labor activist Hoang Duc Binh, arrested May 15, 2017, and sentenced to 14 years in prison for “abusing democratic freedoms” and “resisting officers in performance of their official duties”
  • Female activists Nguyen Thi Ngoc Suong and Vu Thi Dung, tried on May 10, 2019, and sentenced five and six years in prison respectively for conducting “propaganda against the state”

Activists at Risk

Writer Nguyen Thi Tinh Thy respectfully declined a literary award from the independent (non-state run) organization Van Viet (Viet Literature). Thy asked the group to save the award, saying that she would accept it when it’s safe to do so. She cited veiled threats from security police who suggested she should not accept the award in order to keep the peace. A few months ago another award recipient, Thai Hao, was assaulted by plainclothes thugs on his way to meet members of the Van Viet group. Tinh Thy said she recently met with Thai Hao and saw that his face still bore the scars from that altercation.

International Advocacy

After being given an extension, Vietnam has finally responded to the UN Special Procedures OL 7.2021 regarding legislations limiting the activities of civil society actors. The reply, which doesn’t quite address the Special Rapporteurs’ concerns about freedom of expression and association, can be read here.

Reporters Sans Frontieres has released its annual rankings on press freedom. Not surprisingly, Vietnam ranks seventh from the bottom, sandwiched between Cuba and China.

NEWS & ANALYSIS

Vietnam unleashes the taxman on dissent. David Hutt, RFA; May 4, 2022: Increasingly wary of foreign criticism amid a warming trend with the West, the government frequently hires thugs to rough-up campaigners rather than arresting them. “Abusing democratic freedoms,” defined under article 331 of the Criminal Code, has also been wielded more commonly in recent years. Now “tax evasion” is being added to the repressive mix. There is an “emerging and disturbing pattern in the use of Vietnam’s tax laws to criminalize environmental leaders, and follows the broader targeting of civil society leaders, as well as shrinking civil society space,” said the International Federation for Human Rights and the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights in a recent report. Analysts say the reasons are two-fold.

Vietnam’s crackdown on corruption in private sector seen as potential turning point. RFA Vietnamese Service; April 29, 2022: Analysts have said that recent high-profile arrests are intended to demonstrate that Vietnam is getting tougher on corruption. At the same time, the country’s government continues to punish citizens who discuss the cases publicly. In mid-April,  authorities arrested Hanoi resident Dang Nhu Quynh for allegedly posting information on Facebook about the arrests of Trinh Ban Quyet and Do Anh Dung, and said that the Ministry of Public Security would continue prosecuting people and companies that are guilty of similar crimes. Quynh was charged with violating state interests for publishing “unverified information.” The law applied in Quynh’s case is designed to prevent the spread of false information that could damage the reputation of people and companies, legal experts said. But many people who have been punished were found guilty even if the information was true.

Vietnam ‘opinion workers’ push Russian fake news on Ukraine on social media. Truong Son, RFA; May 2, 2022: Vietnamese “opinion workers” who promote the Communist Party and protect its image on social media now have a new role: spreading fake or misleading reports that support Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Facebook. Facebook groups like “Đơn vị Tác chiến Mạng” (Cyber CombatUnit), “Truy quét Phản động” (Elimination of Reactionary Forces), “Bộ Tư lệnh Tác chiến” (Combat Command), and “Trung đoàn 47” (Regiment 47) that have worked to counter criticism of the Communist Party all now post information in favor of Russia. For example, Trung đoàn 47, which is believed to be part of a cyber combat force in the Vietnam People’s Army, posted this justification for the invasion: “Mr. Putin said: ‘Moscow has done everything it can to maintain Ukraine’s territorial integrity as well as protect the interests of Donetsk and Lugansk’s people but Kiev had blocked Donbas, suppressing local residents and shelling Donbas.’”

Viet Premier’s Delicate Pilgrimage to Washington. David Brown, Asia Sentinel; May 5, 2022: Chính and his colleagues must tread very carefully in Washington. Attention there is riveted on the Ukraine crisis. Many who are directing the proxy confrontation with Russia lack a nuanced appreciation of America’s Asia-Pacific interests. In support of Ukraine, Vietnam (though for its own good reasons) has been out of step with the rest of America’s friends, and that does not sit well with the Eurocentrists in the US foreign policy establishment. The Vietnamese prime minister’s very presence in Washington may prompt negative comment. Aggressive interlocutors may ask why the US shouldn’t sanction Hanoi’s purchases of Russian weapons systems and decry Hanoi’s failure to join UN votes condemning Putin’s war. Chinh is considered a very possible successor to his patron, Nguyễn Phú Trọng whenever the 78-year-old Communist Party chief decides to retire or, just as likely, another stroke renders it impossible for Trọng to stay on the job.

Vietnam protests as China declares annual South China Sea fishing ban. RFA staff; May 2, 2022: China has once again announced a unilateral fishing moratorium in the South China Sea, to vigorous protests by Vietnam but the Philippines has so far not reacted. The three-and-half-month ban began on Sunday and covers the waters north of 12 degrees north latitude in the South China Sea which Vietnam and the Philippines also call their “traditional fishing grounds.” Hanoi spoke up against the fishing ban, calling it “a violation of Vietnam’s sovereignty and territorial jurisdiction.” The moratorium applies to part of the Gulf of Tonkin, and the Paracel Islands claimed by both China and Vietnam.

TAKE ACTION

Vietnam Human Rights Network has issued an online petition asking UN member nations not to elect Vietnam to the UN Human Rights Council due to its ever worsening record on repression and its recent vote against suspending Russia from the Council. You can sign the petition here.
© 2022 The 88 Project

Human Rights Report 2021

On May 9, 2022 The 88 Project released its annual report on the situation of activists and political prisoners in Vietnam. The report is informed by the organization’s database – the most comprehensive and up-to-date of its kind – and details the latest chapter of the Vietnamese government’s crackdown on political dissent.

Vietnam’s one-party state stepped up arrests of both media professionals (bloggers, journalists, and authors) and online commentators in 2021. The year started and ended with trials of some of the best known activist journalists in Vietnam: Pham Chi Dung, Le Huu Minh Tuan, Nguyen Tuong Thuy, and Pham Doan Trang, prosecutions that effectively crushed the only association of independent journalists in the country and forced one of the few remaining underground publishing houses to cease operations. In total, Vietnam arrested 12 media professionals in 2021, up from seven in 2020, and three in 2019, representing a desperate attempt to stamp out fledgling efforts to promote press freedom in the country.

Vietnam also targeted civil society leaders engaged in environmental activism. In June, three leaders of non-governmental organizations, Mai Phan Loi, Bach Hung Duong and Dang Dinh Bach, were arrested after being charged with tax evasion. Loi and Bach were members of an independent advisory group established to monitor the government’s compliance with human rights clauses in the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement. The arrest of a fourth environmental leader in January this year, Nguy Thi Khanh, suggests that Vietnam is increasingly unwilling to tolerate any organized activism, even on issues that it formally recognizes as political priorities such as climate change.

While the number of arrests and trials in 2020 and 2021 were similar, a notable development of 2021 was an increase in the severity of sentences handed down to activists compared to a year earlier. Forty-eight percent of those tried in 2020 were sentenced to five years or longer; in 2021, this rose to 72 percent. Notably, nine women were sentenced to prison in 2021, with seven of them receiving sentences of five years or more.

As Vietnam prepares its bid to lead the UN Human Rights Council, The 88 Project’s annual report is a stark reminder of why the country is unfit for this leadership role. Not only does the report contribute further evidence to support the widely-held view that Vietnam is one of the world’s worst abusers of press freedom and freedom of expression, it also identifies troubling new trends that we should all be concerned about.

 

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Read the full report here. For public inquiries or media requests, please contact us at contact@the88project.org.

 

© 2022 The 88 Project

Family Permitted Visit After Political Prisoner Forced to Attend Appeal Trial: An Update on Le Trong Hung’s Life in Prison

Political prisoner Le Trong Hung (pictured above), sentenced on New Year’s Eve 2021 to five years in prison, was forced to attend an appeal trial without his consent and with no lawyers present. Hung was an independent journalist for four years at Chen Hung Viet Nam TV (CHTV), a social media TV channel, where he focused on supporting land petitioners and disseminating information to the public.

In early 2021 Hung tried to run as an independent for a seat in the National Assembly. He was arrested in March 2021 and charged with “anti-State propaganda” according to Article 117 of the Criminal Code.

Do Le Na, Hung’s visually impaired wife, told RFA she was not aware that the appeal trial was to take place on April 19. Consequently, she did not have a chance to alert Hung’s three lawyers, one of whom, Ha Huy Son, said that Vietnamese law does not require the State to notify family members when a trial is scheduled.

However, many families say they can always sense something is afoot anytime they see plainclothes police hanging around their homes for surveillance. But Na said she didn’t see anything that day because she was indoors the whole day. She told RFA:

“On April 19, I didn’t have any business to go outside so I didn’t know that we were being watched. But around 11am, when my son came home from school, he said there were men guarding our house.

After my son and I had lunch, I got a text message from one of Hung’s friends asking me if today was Hung’s appeal trial.”

Hung’s friend told Na that his house was also under surveillance, and that one of the men told him the reason was because of Hung’s trial. Upon learning this, Na began searching the internet for some news about the trial but she could not find anything.

It wasn’t until April 22, when she went to Prison No.1 in Hanoi to find out what was going on, that prison officials confirmed to her that Hung indeed had an appeal trial on April 19 and that his sentence was upheld by the court. Na said she was very angry upon learning this but was also told she would be allowed to visit Hung, for the first time since his arrest on March 27, 2021, in a few days.

After the visit, Na described the emotional meeting on her Facebook page:

“This morning, after 389 days apart, Tu Dinh Huong (her Facebook name) was allowed to visit Le Trong Hung in Prison No.1 in Hanoi, together with his 79-year-old mother. The visit went smoothly. I’d like to summarize it here for you:

  1. On the morning of April 22, I went to the prison to send Hung some supplies. There I was told that his appeal trial had taken place on April 19, and I was given instructions on how to visit him. That same afternoon, I went to get my Covid test and took care of some needed work, then I let Hung’s family know.
  2. Evening of April 23: Hung’s mother and his sister rushed to Hanoi. It was an emotional meeting between us. We could barely sleep.
  3. Morning of April 24: We were at the gate early. At exactly 8 am our family (Hung’s mother and sister, plus his wife and children) filled out all the necessary paperwork. Around 8:30 Hung’s mother and I were allowed in first. Our meeting lasted about 40 minutes.

Hung told us:

Healthwise he was doing fair. His vision was still having some issues (not better, not worse). He had been injected with Russian Covid vaccines, after which his hearing deteriorated a little bit.

Inside prison: He shares a cell with 34 other prisoners of all social stripes and professions, even some security police and local policemen. In general, he treated everyone kindly and was treated nicely in return. Except one time he had some things stolen and insisted that the thief return his property because Hung knew who the thief was and why he did it.

About the appeal trial on April 19: Hung said he was kidnapped and taken to the courthouse. He strongly protested the illegal act but they didn’t care. And so, when it came time to make his statement in his defense, Hung did not care to make one and just let them do whatever they wanted. Since the prison guards kept reminding us not to ask Hung about the trial or they would have to cut short our visit, that was all we were able to learn.

Hung especially wanted to know what was happening to Pham Doan Trang, Nguyen Thuy Hanh and several other political prisoners. He also mentioned that his room is only two doors down from where Le Dung Vova was being held. They crossed paths every day and always tried to cheer each other up.

  1. Finally, Hung would like to send his thanks to all the human rights organizations and the foreign embassies in Hanoi who have been advocating for him during his campaign and supporting him since his arrest. He would also like to thank everyone who has been giving support to Tu Dinh Huong all this time. He said not to worry, while in prison he’s been praying for everybody.

The biggest regret is that Bao An and Bao Minh were not allowed to see their father; they have been missing him so much.”

Translation © 2022 The 88 Project

Vietnam Free Expression Newsletter No. 17/2022 – Week of April 25-May 1

Greetings from The 88 Project. We bring you news, analysis, and actions regarding human rights and civil society in Vietnam during the week of April 25 – May 1. Yet another Facebooker was sentenced to years in prison for conducting “anti-state propaganda.” After completing his prison sentence, an activist was shipped to a city 900 km away from his family for home surveillance. An activist was forced to attend a secret appeal trial that he did not request and which produced no changes to his sentence. Vietnam’s proposed bill to shut down social media sites for certain violations raises alarms. The EU faces pressure as Vietnam continues to flout human rights provisions in the EVFTA. The United States helped strengthen Vietnam’s maritime security. On the pandemic front, tourists coming into Vietnam no longer have to have proof of negative COVID-19 status. And finally, we share a remarkable escape-from-Vietnam story by the most celebrated Vietnamese actress to commemorate the Fall of Saigon.

HUMAN RIGHTS & CIVIL SOCIETY

Political Prisoners


Dinh Van Hai

Dinh Van Hai, 48, was sentenced by a court in Lam Dong Province to five years in prison for spreading “anti-state propaganda.” Hai posted 13 video clips and 79 posts that allegedly “defamed the regime and [deceased] leader Ho Chi Minh.” A handicapped person and an activist since at least 2018, Hai was apprehended in October last year while he was taking refuge inside a Buddhist temple. He had no lawyer at trial but defended himself by saying that his postings did not aim to defame the state but only to help make society better. It is not known if Dinh Van Hai will appeal.

Tran Thanh Phuong, a member of the civil society group Hiến Pháp (Constitution), has finished his three and a half year prison sentence for “disrupting security” and was released into home surveillance for another two years, according to the original sentence. However, instead of allowing him to return to his home in Ho Chi Minh City, the police took Phuong to Hue, a city in central Vietnam, without any explanation. Phuong’s wife, Le Khanh, has posted a message on Facebook asking for help resolving the issue since her husband currently doesn’t have a job and is sheltering temporarily with a relative. Phuong’s children were harassed by police when he was arrested in 2018 and have not been able to see their father since his release.


Le Trong Hung

On April 19 Le Trong Hung was forced to attend his own appeal trial, a hearing he never requested. Hung’s wife, Do La Na, only learned about it a few days later. There were no lawyers present. The secret trial resulted in no change to Hung’s five-year sentence for conducting “anti-state propaganda.” However, a few days later Na was allowed to visit him for the first time since his arrest.

This week, we think of the birthdays and arrest anniversaries of the following political prisoners:


Bui Van Thuan and Dang Thi Hue

  • Brotherhood for Democracy activist Bui Van Thuan, birthday May 1, currently in pre-trial detention on charges of conducting “anti-state propaganda”
  • Driver Nguyen Bao Tien, arrested May 5, 2021, and sentenced to six and half years in prison; Tien was accused of shipping books on behalf of the independent Liberal Publishing House
  • Can Thi Theu and Trinh Ba Tu, mother and son land rights activists, tried on May 5, 2021, and sentenced to eight years each in prison for spreading “anti-state propaganda”
  • Anti-corruption activist Dang Thi Hue, tried on May 8, 2020, convicted of “abusing democratic freedoms,” and currently serving 39 months in prison for that and a prior charge

International Advocacy

Amnesty International has expressed deep concerns over Vietnam’s proposed new regulations that would allow the state to shut down social media sites within 24 hours for postings that “endanger national security,” which often is interpreted to mean criticizing the party and/or its leadership. “In Vietnam, social media, including Facebook, is one of very few places for local people to express their opposition,” said Ming Yu Hah, deputy regional director of campaigns in East and Southeast Asia.

NEWS & ANALYSIS

EU under pressure to get tough on Vietnam rights record. David Hutt, Deutsche Welle; April 26, 2022: Worse, in July last year, the journalist Mai Phan Loi and lawyer Dang Dinh Bach were arrested on alleged trumped-up charges of tax evasion. They were sentenced to four and five years in jail, respectively, in January. Both were executive board members of the VNGO-EVFTA Network, an unofficial version of the DAG formed by several Vietnamese civil society groups. Perhaps adding insult to injury, the Vietnamese authorities in January also arrested the prominent environmentalist Nguy Thi Khanh, whose five-year EU-funded project had just ended. Claudio Francavilla, the EU advocate at Human Rights Watch, called the DAG a “smokescreen, a fairy tale.”

US helps Vietnam strengthen maritime security. Thanh Tam, VNExpress; April 29, 2022: The U.S. has handed over to the Vietnamese Coast Guard a fourth center for training personnel and maintaining ships and a drone. … The U.S. defense attaché to Vietnam, Colonel Thomas Stevenson, said at the training centers the U.S. has installed simulators for Vietnamese sailors to improve their ability to sail ships to better serve their patrolling activities and protecting their country’s sovereignty. The U.S. has also delivered to Vietnam 24 Metal Shark high-speed patrol boats and two Hamilton-class patrol boats, and is considering delivering a third, he said. The U.S. Department of Defense said in June that Boeing subsidiary Insitu had received an order for six drones from Vietnam.

Tourists using Vietnam’s int’l airport no longer have to prove Covid-19 status. New Straits Times; April 26, 2022: Tan Son Nhat airport now categorises people entering the country into two groups – those who have completed a medical declaration and those yet to do so. Passengers with a health declaration QR code can go to the counter for immigration procedures while those without it will have to move into a separate aisle to complete the process. The move also comes after Tan Son Nhat continuously suffered overloads recently, with the number of passengers passing through the airport steadily increasing as the country eased Covid restrictions for air travel since March 15.

‘Homeless among the clouds’: My journey from movie star to faceless Fall of Saigon refugee. Kieu Chinh, USA Today; April 29, 2022: As soon as we landed in Singapore, I was immediately taken by immigration police to … jail! According to them, my diplomatic passport was issued by a government that no longer existed. President Nguyễn văn Thiệu had already resigned. That night I sat in a cell among all types of people, worried about what would happen to me next. The following  morning, on our way to the bathroom, I saw a guard reading a copy of Female magazine, which had a large photo of me on the front cover. (The magazine did an interview and cover story on me after we finished filming “Full House.”) I excitedly pointed to the magazine and told the guard that the woman on the cover was me, and asked him to let me make a phone call. He gave me an incredulous stare from head to toe, then went back to his reading without saying a word.

TAKE ACTION


Trinh Ba Tu and Trinh Ba Phuong holding signs to support their mother, Can Thi Theu, during one of her prior arrests 
Family members of Can Thi TheuTrinh Ba Phuong and Trinh Ba Tu have issued a petition calling on international human rights organizations to increase pressure on the Vietnamese government to release the trio of land rights activists who were jailed after reporting on the bloody Dong Tam raid.
© 2022 The 88 Project

Vietnam Free Expression Newsletter No. 16/2022 – Week of April 18-24

Greetings from The 88 ProjectAn activist’s appeal trial took place without any legal representation; his family was not notified. A freelance writer was jailed for reasons unclear. Another activist will be put on trial for anti-state propaganda. Several more international organizations have published studies, papers, and reports on the human rights situation in Vietnam. Arrests of high-profile corporate leaders continue as the government tries to show it is serious about corruption. A proposed new law will allow the government to take down social media sites within 24 hours for “illegal contents.” Vietnam nudges toward nuclear power as a long-term solution for energy needs. The upcoming ASEAN meeting in the United States could present an awkward situation for the Biden administration in terms of human rights advocacy.

HUMAN RIGHTS & CIVIL SOCIETY

Political Prisoners


Le Trong Hung

An appellate court upheld Le Trong Hung’s five-year sentence in a trial that took place on April 20 without his family’s knowledge. Hung is a constitutionalist who was arrested after announcing his intention to run for an independent seat in the National Assembly in 2021. Hung’s wife, Do Le Na, didn’t know that there would be an appeal trial, so she never made arrangements for Hung’s lawyers to be there. Visually impaired, Na had to go to the prison three days later to confirm the news.

According to lawyer Ha Huy Son, Vietnam’s current law does not require the court to notify the family of the accused about trial dates. Typically, family members of political prisoners can tell something is up if they suddenly see police posted around their house to prevent them from leaving. In Do Le Na’s case, however, she didn’t see anything and was only alerted about it later by a relative whose house was guarded. Hung’s wife was later told by her husband during the most recent visit, the first time they had seen each other since he was arrested 389 days before, that he was forced to have this appeal trial against his will.


Le Thi Thu Huong, Source

Le Thi Thu Huong, 49, a freelance writer, was sentenced by a Hanoi court to 21 months in prison for “abusing democratic freedoms” under Article 331. Huong is accused of making Facebook posts that allegedly defamed leaders of the newspaper Bao Ve Phap Luat (Protecting the Law), where she once worked. The prosecution at the first instance trial said she also sent letters with similar content to government agencies and Party leaders. It is not clear what exactly Huong wrote or whether she had a lawyer at trial.


Dinh Van Hai

Dinh Van Hai, a disabled activist who was arrested in November 2021, will have his first instance trial in Lam Dong Province on April 26. Hai is charged with conducting “anti-state propaganda” for his Facebook postings. An activist knowledgeable about international human rights laws, Hai has had many run-ins with the police since at least 2017. He had to take refuge in a pagoda last year before he was captured.

This week, we think of the birthdays, arrests, and trial anniversaries of the following political prisoners:


Tran Hoang Phuc and Phan Cong Hai

  • Founder and President of Vietnamese Students for Human Rights Association, Tran Hoang Phuc, birthday April 30, serving six years in prison on charges of conducting “anti-state propaganda”
  • Activist Doan Viet Hoan, arrested April 25, 2019, and sentenced to three years in prison for “disrupting security.” He is expected to be released from prison this week.
  • Montagnard Catholic activist Dinh Ku, arrested April 26, 2016, and sentenced to seven years in prison for “undermining the unity policy”
  • Montagnard Christian activist Thin, arrested April 26, 2016, and sentenced to six years in prison for “undermining the unity policy.” He is expected to be released from prison this week.
  • Blogger Phan Cong Hai, tried on April 28, 2020, and sentenced to five years in prison for spreading “anti-state propaganda”

International Advocacy


Dang Dinh Bach and Trinh Ba Phuong

The International Federation on Human Rights (FIDH) has published a briefing ahead of the EU-Vietnam human rights dialogue listing Vietnam’s persistent violations of its obligations under the EVFTA. Among the many cases highlighted, of particular concern is that of Dang Dinh Bach, an environmentalist and steering member of VNGO-EVFTA.

On April 20, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and the International Federation on Human Rights jointly issued an urgent appeal for international intervention in the case of land rights activist Trinh Ba Phuong, whom they say has suffered from torture and ill-treatment while in detention.

The Journal of Human Rights Practice has published a detailed study of Vietnam’s Cybersecurity Law that went into effect in 2019. The paper also proposes ways to amend the law to make it more compatible with international norms.

The UN Office of the High Commission for Human Rights and the UN Environment Programme are expressing “grave concerns” about the recent spate of arrests of environmental advocates and on “tax evasion” charges, especially now that NGOs are being targeted as well.

NEWS & ANALYSIS

Vietnam’s Deputy FM Arrested Over Pandemic Flight Bribe Scandal. Voice of America; April 15, 2022: In recent months the communist nation has ramped up an anti-corruption drive, targeting government officials and business people. On Thursday, the Ministry of Public Security issued a statement saying To Anh Dung and two other officials had been arrested as part of an investigation into a bribery scandal connected to repatriation flights for Vietnamese citizens since 2020. Police searched the residences and workplaces of the three on Thursday. No other details on the case were revealed.

Vietnam Arrests Former Coast Guard Chief Over ‘Embezzlement’ Case. Reuters; April 18, 2022: Vietnam’s Defence Ministry has detained a former commander of its coast guard on suspicion of embezzlement, the government said on Monday, the latest arrest as the ruling Communist Party intensifies its long-running crackdown on graft. Lieutenant General Nguyen Van Son was arrested last Wednesday along with six other senior coast guard officials for their involvement in an “embezzlement case”, the government said in a statement, which did not elaborate on the alleged offence. … Among those arrested recently have been several business people, including the chairmen of property firm FLC and Bamboo Airways and Tan Hoang Minh Group.

Vietnam plans 24-hour take-down law for “illegal” social media content -sources. Phuong Nguyen and Fanny Potkin, Reuters; April 20, 2022: Vietnam is preparing new rules requiring social media firms to take down content it deems illegal within 24 hours, three people with direct knowledge of the matter said. … The 24-hour time frame to take down “illegal content and services” will not have a grace period, while active “illegal livestreams” must be blocked within three hours, the people said. Companies that do not meet the deadlines could see their platforms banned in the country, they added.

How Does Inviting Autocrats to the White House Make Asia More Free? John Sifton, The Diplomat; April 22, 2022: The Biden administration needs to adopt more coherent principles for supporting nations in Asia without sacrificing the promotion of human rights. A key problem in the Biden administration’s Asia rhetoric is that it too often conflates human freedoms and rights with the “freedoms” and “rights” of governments not to be coerced by other governments (i.e., by the Chinese government). When Blinken in December cited a “rules-based order” in Asia meant to “protect the right of all countries to choose their own path, free from coercion, free from intimidation,” he was not talking about human freedoms. He was dressing up “countering the Chinese government” in the language of liberty.

Nuclear moves up the list of Vietnam’s power mix. Govi Snell, The Southeast Asia Globe; April 18, 2022: Nuclear energy is growing as an enticing solution, [Le Hong Hiep, a fellow at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore] explained, due to a massive hike in fuel costs. Previously, gas-fired power plants were considered an alternate power source once Vietnam dropped nuclear energy plans in 2016. While not as clean as nuclear, gas-fired power plants would be cheaper and not produce as much pollution as their coal-fired counterparts. Now the cost is becoming prohibitive for gas-fired power plants and is nearly on par with pursuing nuclear energy, Hiep noted, adding that the country’s path towards nuclear power will be a “long story.”

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT


Cao Vinh Thinh

This week in honor of Earth Day, we celebrate all the environmental activists in Vietnam. One of them is NGO worker Nguy Thi Khanh. The arrest and imprisonment of Khanh and three other NGO leaders within the past year has sent shockwaves through Vietnamese civil society. The right to enjoy a clean environment and to speak up for it are protected by international law. In Vietnam, however, people are harassed and jailed for doing such things. Read more about the situation of environmental activists in Vietnam.

TAKE ACTION

Following the disturbing news of Le Trong Hung’s sudden, closed door appeal trial, please watch and share this video interview with his wife, Do Le Na, in which she discusses Hung’s work and the challenges of being married to an activist. Hung is an independent journalist who has supported local activists in their disputes with the government over land rights; he was arrested in early 2021 after attempting to run for an independent seat in the National Assembly.
© 2022 The 88 Project

How environmental activists fare in Vietnam

The right to enjoy a clean environment and the right to speak up for it are protected by international law. In Vietnam, however, people who attempt to exercise these rights are harassed, intimidated, and jailed.

Cao Vinh Thinh

Activist Cao Vinh Thinh, for example, has been kidnapped, interrogated and evicted for her efforts to combat climate change. Nguyen Anh Tuan was arbitrarily detained by the police after he mobilized people against the commercial development of Son Tra Peninsula. And Le My Hanh was brutally attacked by pro-government thugs while live-streaming about the Formosa environmental disaster

Being an environmental activist in Vietnam can also land you in jail. Hoang Duc Binh, a well-known activist who reported on the catastrophic poisoning of marine life by the Hung Nghiep Formosa Ha Tinh, Ltd. (FHS) in 2016, was sentenced to 14 years in prison for “abusing democratic freedoms.” Nguyen Van Hoa was slapped with a seven-year sentence after he live-streamed videos of peaceful protests outside the Formosa plant. More recently, Dinh Thi Thu Thuy, an aquaculture engineer and ecological activist, was convicted of spreading “propaganda against the state” and is also serving a seven-year sentence. Thuy is well known for her work to address the environmental damage that results from poorly regulated foreign investment. 


Nguyen Van Hoa. Source: Pham Thanh Nghien Facebook

As these activists languish in prison, others have been forced to leave the country. In 2018, Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh (a.k.a. Mother Mushroom) went into exile in the United States after serving two years of a 10-year sentence for conducting “propaganda against the state.” Quynh is a co-founder of the Network of Vietnamese Bloggers, which wrote about a range of issues, including environmental degradation. While such harsh penalties are usually reserved for seasoned activists, in recent months the government’s crackdown has expanded to include leaders of officially-registered non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

Nguy Thi Khanh

The arrest and imprisonment of four well-known NGO leaders earlier this year – Mai Phan Loi, Bach Hung Duong, Dang Dinh Bach, and Nguy Thi Khanh – sent shockwaves through Vietnamese civil society. All four leaders were arrested and jailed for “tax evasion,” a tactic used by the government to silence critics who cannot persuasively be tried under national security provisions of the criminal code. Loi, Duong, and Bach are now serving prison sentences while Khanh awaits her trial in arbitrary detention. Many suspect that the charges brought against them are politically motivated and, at least in part, due to their attempts to monitor the government’s compliance with human rights clauses in the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA)

These stories illustrate how speaking out to protect the environment in Vietnam is a dangerous endeavor. Harassment, intimidation, and imprisonment are just some of the tactics Vietnam uses to silence environmental activists. On World Earth Day 2022, we should celebrate these brave activists and condemn their persecution by the Vietnamese government.

© 2022 The 88 Project

Vietnam Free Expression Newsletter No. 15/2022 – Week of April 11-17

Greetings from The 88 ProjectWe bring you news, analysis, and actions regarding human rights and civil society in Vietnam during the week of April 11-17. A former prison official’s appeal of his prison sentence was denied. A state media journalist and a businessman were sentenced to re-education. A Facebooker was arrested for writing about the arrests of two high-profile business moguls. There are several important international papers and reports on Vietnam’s human rights situation, including from the UN, the U.S. State Department, PEN International, and Reporters Without Borders. Read a highly detailed legal analysis of author Pham Doan Trang’s trial by TrialWatch. Vietnam’s vote against a resolution on Russia in the UN Human Rights Council might have doomed its bid to lead the Council. China used the Ukraine crisis to remind Vietnam to stand together with it against the United State’s Indo-Pacific strategy, while other countries in the region were seeking clarity from the United States on exactly what that strategy is.

HUMAN RIGHTS & CIVIL SOCIETY

Political Prisoners


Le Chi Thanh

An appellate court in Ho Chi Minh City upheld the two-year sentence for Le Chi Thanh, a former official at Ham Tan Prison. Thanh was fired from his job in July 2020 after accusing his supervisors of corruption. Afterwards, he began livestreaming videos that monitored traffic police, exposing their wrongdoings. Thanh was initially charged with “resisting officers on official duty” after he was arrested in April 2021 for a minor traffic violation and held incommunicado. After his first instance trial in January 2022, another charge of “abusing democratic freedoms,” was added, which Thanh unsuccessfully appealed.


Phan Bui Bao Thy

After five days of deliberation, a court in Quang Tri Province sentenced journalist Phan Bui Bao Thy and businessman Le Anh Dung to one year each of “non-custodial re-education” for allegedly defaming government officials. The two men posted dozens of posts on several Facebook pages that supposedly infringed on the “reputation, honor and dignity” of provincial leaders.

Facebooker Dang Nhu Quynh was arrested in Hanoi for postings about the recent arrests of two highly connected businessmen. The first is financial mogul Trinh Van Quyet, chairman of the FLC Group, and the other is Do Anh Dung, chairman of the Tan Hoang Minh Group. The Minister of Public Security said that Quynh’s posts contained “unverified information” that had a negative impact on Vietnam’s stock market. In 2020, Quynh was summoned by the police for his hundreds of posts on COVID-19.

This week, we think of the birthdays, trials, and arrest anniversaries of the following political prisoners:


Dinh Thi Thu Thuy and Nguyen Van Phuoc

  • Land rights activist Trinh Ba Tu, birthday April 24, serving eight years in prison for spreading “anti-State propaganda”
  • Engineer and female activist Dinh Thi Thu Thuy, arrested April 18, 2020, and sentenced to seven years in prison for spreading “anti-State propaganda”
  • Online commentator Nguyen Van Phuoc, arrested April 19, 2019, and sentenced to five years in prison for spreading “anti-State propaganda”
  • Journalists and members of the Clean News group, Nguyen Thanh NhaDoan Kien Giang, and Nguyen Phuoc Trung Bao, arrested April 20, 2021, and sentenced to two, three, and two years in prison respectively for “abusing democratic freedoms”
  • Montagnard Christian Runh, arrested April 23, 2012, and expected to be released from prison later this month

Nguyen Chi Vung and Le Thi Binh
  • Hoa Hao Buddhist Tran Thanh Giang, arrested April 23, 2019, and sentenced to eight years in prison for spreading “anti-State propaganda”
  • Online commentator Nguyen Chi Vung, arrested April 23, 2019, and sentenced to six years in prison for spreading “anti-State propaganda”
  • Author Tran Duc Thach, arrested April 23, 2020, and sentenced to 12 years in prison for “subversion”
  • Female activist Le Thi Binh, tried April 22, 2021, and sentenced to two years in prison for “abusing democratic freedoms”
  • Former state journalist Tran Thi Tuyet Dieu, tried on April 23, 2021, and sentenced to eight years in prison for conducting “anti-State propaganda”

Activists at Risk

In Thailand, an activist who was charged in 2017 for “anti-state propaganda” and had to flee Vietnam was arrested for not having a passport. Chu Manh Son was later released on bail along with another political refugee, Nguyen Van Luyen. Luyen’s wife, Nguyen Thi Them, and his child are still in detention for having tested positive for COVID-19.

International Advocacy


Nguyen Hoai Nam and Pham Doan Trang

Reporters Without Borders has called for the immediate release of journalist Nguyen Hoai Nam, jailed for exposing corruption. Their thorough analysis of his situation can be read here.

The UN Special Rapporteur on Human Trafficking has issued a communique on “alleged cases of trafficking of Vietnamese migrant workers to Serbia.” The report can be viewed here.

The Clooney Foundation for Justice has published a highly detailed legal analysis of the trial of author Pham Doan Trang. Its TrialWatch expert has given the proceedings a grade of “F”. Read the highly recommended and superbly written exposition here.

PEN International has published its 2021 global report, the Freedom to Write Index.

The U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor has also issued a scathing country report on Vietnam’s human rights practices in 2021. Read the executive summary and download the report here.

NEWS & ANALYSIS

Vietnam’s vote for Russia on UN council could damage campaign to lead it. RFA; April 8, 2022: Vietnam’s vote against a U.S.-led resolution to remove Russia from the U.N. Human Rights Council on Thursday likely ends any hope Hanoi had to lead the body, one analyst told RFA. Vietnam has publicly voiced its intention to run for chairmanship of the council for the 2023-2025 term, but experts told RFA’s Vietnamese Service that Hanoi will now find it difficult to gain support from Western countries. “I should say that Vietnam has shot itself in the foot,” Carl Thayer of New South Wales University in Australia told RFA.

Vietnam’s new conglomerates in crosshairs of corruption crackdown. Tomoya Onishi, Nikkei Asia; April 13, 2022: Several of Vietnam’s fast-growing new conglomerates have been caught in the government’s corruption dragnet, signaling a turning point for the cozy relationships with the Communist Party that helped many of these companies grow.

China warns of Ukraine-style ‘tragedy’ for Asia in US Indo-Pacific plan. Kinling Lo, South China Morning Post; April 25, 2022: Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has told Vietnam the Ukraine crisis is an important time for the two countries, which together can “make contributions to regional peace” in the face of the “damage” caused by the US Indo-Pacific strategy. In a phone conversation on Thursday with his Vietnamese counterpart Bui Thanh Son, Wang said the Ukraine issue “has once again made Asian countries realise that maintaining peace and stability is precious and indulging in group confrontation will lead to endless risks”. China has been under pressure from the United States and Europe for refraining from calling Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in late February a war. Instead, China has backed Russia’s “reasonable security concerns” and accused the US and Nato of driving the conflict.

Regional Partners Seek Clarity on Biden’s Indo-Pacific Economic Framework. Matthew Goodman, Aidan Arasasingha, The Diplomat; April 15, 2022: Ever since the United States withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) five years ago, Indo-Pacific partners have called for an affirmative U.S. economic strategy for the region. Last October, President Joe Biden answered that call by proposing “a new Indo-Pacific economic framework.” Unlike a traditional trade agreement, the IPEF is envisioned as a platform for negotiations on a variety of economic issues arranged in four pillars: fair and resilient trade; supply chain resiliency; infrastructure, clean energy, and decarbonization; and tax and anti-corruption.

When a Monk Joins the Communist Party. The Vietnamese; April 13, 2022: In 2018, the public was surprised when a senior leader of the Vietnam Buddhist Sangha, Venerable Thich Thanh Sam, was revealed to have been in the Party for around 50 years before he passed away. Although the official number of dignitaries from the Vietnam Buddhist Sangha religion who are Party members has yet to be announced, being accepted into the Party has become a thing of pride for the Sangha monks.

TAKE ACTION

Please consider sharing the TrialWatch report on her trial to raise awareness for the case of Pham Doan Trang. And share PEN International’s Freedom to Write Index, which again lists Vietnam as a top ten global jailer of journalists.
© 2022 The 88 Project

Vietnam Free Expression Newsletter No. 14/2022 – Week of April 4-10

Greetings from The 88 Project. We bring you news, analysis, and actions regarding human rights and civil society in Vietnam during the week of April 4-10. Another former state media journalist was sentenced for writing about corruption. An advocate for the families of political prisoners remains in pretrial detention one year after her arrest. The government approved a list of religious texts for prisoners to read. The EU prepares to have its human rights dialogue with Vietnam. The war in Ukraine is exposing divisions within ASEAN over support for Russia. Vietnam voted against a UN resolution to suspend Russia from the Human Rights Council. The complicated relationship between Vietnam and Russia is explained. Does Vietnam hold the trump card when it comes to its partnership with the United States? For the first time, a Vietnamese company seeks to have an IPO in the United States.

HUMAN RIGHTS & CIVIL SOCIETY

Political Prisoners


Nguyen Hoai Nam

Investigative journalist Nguyen Hoai Nam, who wrote for state media until he was dismissed in 2015, was sentenced on April 5 by the People’s Court of Ho Chi Minh City to three and a half years in prison for “abusing democratic freedoms” based on Article 331. According to the prosecution, in 2018 Nam posted a series of articles online which accused several officials of the Vietnam Inland Waterways Administration of corruption. After refusing to heed warnings to cease posting, Nam was arrested in March 2021.


Nguyen Thuy Hanh

This week marks one year since activist Nguyen Thuy Hanh was arrested. Hanh operated the 50K Fund whose purpose is to ease the financial burdens shouldered by the families of political prisoners. She also tried to run as an independent for a seat in the National Assembly. As is typical of political prisoners, Hanh has been held in pretrial detention without access to legal counsel or family visits.

Several ministries collaborated to approve a list of 17 religious books that prisoners are allowed to read, in what many former prisoners call a PR move aimed at deceiving the public about the true state of religious suppression inside Vietnamese jails. Besides the Bible and some Buddhist texts, the list also includes at least two books on Ho Chi Minh’s thought and philosophy. The authorities plan to distribute 4,400 copies of the approved books to 54 prisons throughout the country.


Huynh Thuc Vy

Huynh Thuc Vy wrote home to say she’s healthy and is treated well in prison. She asked that her supporters help out by supporting her family’s home businesses. The letter was posted to Vy’s Facebook page.

This week, we think of the birthdays and arrest and trial anniversaries of the following political prisoners:


Tran Thi Xuan and Nguyen Viet Dung

  • Blogger Nguyen Van Hoa, birthday April 15, currently serving seven years in prison for spreading “anti-State propaganda”
  • Former police captain and blogger Le Chi Thanh, arrested April 14, 2021, and sentenced to two years in prison for “abusing democratic freedoms” and “resisting officers”
  • Catholic activist and member of the Brotherhood for Democracy Tran Thi Xuan, tried on April 12, 2018, and sentenced to nine years in prison on charges of “subversion”
  • Political activist Nguyen Viet Dung, founder of the Republican Party of Vietnam, tried on April 12, 2018 and sentenced to six years in prison for conducting “anti-State propaganda”

International Advocacy

Pham Doan Trang (pictured above) has been featured in an informative and detailed article by Women in Journalism. Read it here.

Ahead of the EU-Vietnam dialogue on human rights, Human Rights Watch submitted its summary report on the worsening situation in Vietnam and called on the EU to apply pressure on Vietnam to comply with human and labor rights provisions of the EVFTA.

NEWS & ANALYSIS

Putin’s war in Ukraine has deepened ASEAN disunity. Thitinan Pongsudhirak, Nikkei Asia; April 5, 2022: When it comes to China’s interests in the South China Sea and the coup in Myanmar, Cambodia has remained supportive of Beijing and the Tatmadaw but has refused to support Russia, while Laos has appeared to back all three — China in the South China Sea, the Tatmadaw and Moscow. Vietnam has been critical of China, silent on Myanmar’s coup and sympathetic to Russia. Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore have remained aligned in their concerns about China’s role in the South China Sea, Myanmar’s military takeover and Russia’s war in Ukraine. Thailand has been soft on China’s South China Sea belligerence and Myanmar’s coup but has taken a measured stand against Russia’s invasion.

UN General Assembly votes to suspend Russia from the Human Rights Council. UN News; April 7, 2022: The resolution received a two-thirds majority of those voting, minus abstentions, in the 193-member Assembly, with 93 nations voting in favour and 24 against. Fifty-eight abstained from the process. Russia, China, Cuba, North Korea, Iran, Syria, Vietnam, were among those who voted against. . . Gennady Kuzmin, Deputy Russian ambassador, in remarks before the vote, called for countries to “vote against the attempt by Western countries and their allies to destroy the existing human rights architecture.”

Russia and Vietnam: An alliance of convenience. Nikola Mikovic, The Interpreter; August 2021: Formally, Russia and Vietnam are strategic partners, committed to helping each other in terms of defence and security. It is no secret that Vietnam is interested in purchasing the BrahMos medium-range ramjet supersonic cruise missile produced by the Russian-Indian joint venture BrahMos Aerospace. In November 2020, Russian Deputy Chief of Mission Roman Babushkin said that India and Russia are planning to export the BrahMos cruise missile to the Philippines and several other countries. It remains unclear if Vietnam is among them…. Beyond defence relations, Russia is also seeing to boost its economic ties with Vietnam, especially in the energy arena.

Why Vietnam Holds the Trump Card in the US-Vietnam Partnership. Khang Vu, The Diplomat; April 5, 2022: In major aspects, the convenient U.S.-Vietnam partnership is similar to the U.S.-China “quasi alliance” in the 1970s and 1980s, during which Washington and Beijing worked together to check the Soviet Union. Hanoi still perceives Western influence as posing challenges to its regime security. And to complicate matters further, under the pressure of the anti-communist Vietnamese American community, the U.S. condemns Vietnam’s poor human rights practices and may sanction Vietnamese officials under the Global Magnitsky Act. However, it is exactly these weak spots in U.S.-Vietnam relations that afford Vietnam a strong bargaining leverage in the bilateral relationship. Although Vietnam is an autocratic state like China, the United States perceives Vietnam to be too important to its Indo-Pacific strategy to let issues concerning human rights or political differences derail the upward trajectory of the partnership.

VinFast, the Latest EV IPO, Comes to U.S. From Vietnam. Luisa Beltran, Barron’s; April 7, 2022: VinFast Trading & Investment, an EV auto maker, has confidentially filed to go public in what would be the first U.S. IPO of a Vietnamese company. VinFast, a unit of Vietnamese conglomerate Vingroup, said Thursday it had submitted ​​a draft registration statement to the Securities and Exchange Commission for a proposed initial public offering of its ordinary shares. VinFast said it hadn’t determined how many shares it would offer or their price range. A VinFast IPO would be the first traditional offering on a U.S. exchange from a Vietnamese company, according to Dealogic.

TAKE ACTION

The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and its member organization Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (VCHR) released a statement this week calling on the EU to hold Vietnam accountable to its human rights agreements made as part of the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement. Of the upcoming human rights dialogue between the EU and Vietnam, they said: “FIDH and VCHR urge the EU to seriously reconsider the merits of the human rights dialogue, which is portrayed by the Vietnamese government as a demonstration that it fully complies with the country’s human rights obligations.” Read the full statement and share it.
© 2022 The 88 Project

Vietnam Free Expression Newsletter No. 13/2022 – Week of Vietnam March 28-April 3

Greetings from The 88 ProjectWe bring you news, analysis, and actions regarding human rights and civil society in Vietnam during the week of March 28-April 3. It was a relatively quiet week, with only three persons put on trial for defaming high-level government officials. The CEO of a large conglomerate and powerful ally of top Party members was arrested for “economic crimes.” A vice minister let it be known that the State has been planting Party members in religious organizations for monitoring and manipulation purposes. For the first time ever, a Vietnamese company plans to invest billions to make electric vehicles and batteries in the US. A Ukrainian representative in Hanoi speaks out about Vietnamese reactions to the invasion of the country and the role of Russian propaganda in Vietnam.

HUMAN RIGHTS & CIVIL SOCIETY

Political Prisoners


The defendants at trial on March 30, 2022, Source: Toui Tre

On March 30, a court in Quang Tri Province put three men on trial for the second time for “abusing democratic freedoms.” Their first trial in October 2021 was adjourned prematurely so that the prosecution could gather more evidence to press more charges. The men are accused of making online postings that “discredit, violate the prestige, honor and human dignity of a number of Quang Tri leaders.”

The defendants are: Phan Bui Bao Thy, 50, former journalist with the publication Education Of The Times; ex-police officer Nguyen Huy, 44, who worked for Quang Tri Public Security; and Le Anh Dung, 56, a businessman in Ho Chi Minh City. The plaintiffs include: Nguyen Van Hung, former chairman of the Quang Tri People’s Committee and current Minister of Culture, Sports, and Tourism; Vo Van Hung, chairman of the Quang Tri People’s Committee; Tran Duc Viet, former Chief of Public Security in Quang Tri; and several others. According to Tuoi Tre Online, none of the plaintiffs appeared at the trial, but it was still allowed to proceed.

This week we think of the arrests and trial anniversaries of the following political prisoners:


Truong Minh Duc and Nguyen Van Tuc

  • Nguyen Thuy Hanh, fervent supporter of political prisoners and their families, arrested April 7, 2021, and still awaiting trial on charges of conducting “anti-state propaganda”
  • Human rights and democracy activists Nguyen Bac TruyenPham Van TroiTruong Minh Duc, and Nguyen Trung Ton, tried on April 5, 2018, and sentenced to between seven and 12 years in prison each on charges of “subversion”
  • Brotherhood for Democracy activist Nguyen Van Tuc, tried on April 10, 2018, and sentenced to 13 years in prison for “subversion”

 

NEWS & ANALYSIS

Vice Minister of Home Affairs wants to develop a force of religious party members to grasp the state of religious followers, The Vietnamese, March 31, 2022. In an article published by State Organizations Magazine in January 2022, Vice Minister of Home Affairs Vu Chien Thang slightly mentioned the directions that the state management of faiths and religions would take, containing a number of notable points regarding increasing control over religious organizations. [9] Most noteworthy are the instructions to “develop Party members who are religious and assign these Party members to monitor and effectively carry out public relations work with religious followers and the public.” The Vietnamese government has acknowledged using Party members in the past to control religious activities, confirming in 2020 that the State and the Party secretly assigned Party members to religious organizations.

Vietnam arrests chairman of FLC, Bamboo Airways over alleged market manipulation, Reuters, March 29, 2022. Vietnamese police on Tuesday arrested the chairman of one of the country’s largest private groups on suspicion of manipulating the stock market, the Ministry of Public Security said. Trinh Van Quyet, chairman of property and leisure company FLC Group (FLC.HM) and its Bamboo Airways subsidiary, is also accused of hiding stock transaction information, the ministry said in a statement. FLC, which owns dozens of resorts and golf courses throughout the country, said Quyet had been cooperating with investigators and no final decision had been reached.

Vietnam’s Vinfast to build $2 bln electric vehicle factory in U.S., Phuong Nguyen and Hyunjoo Jin, Reuters, March 30, 2022. Vietnam’s automaker VinFast said on Tuesday it has signed a preliminary deal to initially invest $2 billion to build a factory in North Carolina to make electric buses, sport utility vehicles (SUVs) along with batteries for EVs. The unit of Vietnam’s biggest conglomerate Vingroup (VIC.HM), said it plans to have a total investment of $4 billion in its first U.S. factory complex. Construction should begin this year as soon as the company gets necessary permits, and is expected to finish by July 2024. The plant’s initial capacity will be 150,000 units per year, Vinfast said.

US State Department concludes Indo-Pacific visit. Promod Tandan, Foreign Brief. April 2, 2022. While the concern about increasing Chinese influence in the region is a shared one, the US also remains interested in keeping the Sea’s access unrestricted. Specifically, so that it can gain access to those islands that serve as strategic military choke points with the potential of contesting regional trade routes. In the interest of the regional strategic partnership, the visit marked the US commitment to its bilateral and multilateral partnership with Indo-Pacific alliances. Equally, it demonstrated the US’ need for assistance in maintaining the unrestricted freedom of navigation within the South China Sea. For the moment, the US looks like it will focus on shoring up security and economic cooperation with these countries to counter the Chinese advancement. In the event of Chinese aggression in the South China Sea, the US may call upon these partners for a unified response.

Interview: ‘I can see how the Russian propaganda machine works here’. RFA’s Vietnamese Service. March 30, 2022. So are you aware of this ongoing war of information in Vietnamese social media and how do you feel about it? Zhinkyna:  Of course I’m aware of that. Just yesterday, I saw a reader taking my picture and totally distorting the words that I say, so I can see how the Russian propaganda machine works here and how much money Russia puts into those efforts, into spreading disinformation and to spreading fake news into transferring their own narratives here. This is to some extent a good point. Let them spend their money on propaganda, but not on new rockets and tanks. But of course, it makes our work here difficult.

TAKE ACTION

This week, on the first anniversary of her arrest, share this interview with Nguyen Thuy Hanh, conducted before her arrest, to bring attention to her case and call for her release. Hanh is a prominent human right activist and the founder of the 50k Fund, which collects donations and provides financial support to the families of human rights political prisoners. In this interview, Hanh shares her struggle with depression, her relationship with the police, and the joy that the fund brings to her life.
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