Support Imprisoned Blogger Nguyen Van Hoa: Press for his release from prison

Nguyen Van Hoa is a Catholic blogger from Ha Tinh province. After the Formosa environmental disaster started in April 2016, Hoa became active in assisting fishermens’ families in demanding compensation and justice. A digital security trainer and regular contributor to Radio Free Asia, his live broadcast of footage of peaceful protests in October 2016 outside Formosa’s steel plant in Ha Tinh province went viral. Police arrested Hoa on January 11, 2017, accusing him of “motorbike theft and drug dealing.”  He was later charged with Article 88 of the 1999 Criminal Code (“propaganda against the socialist state”). In November 2017, he was sentenced to seven years in prison. 

How you can support Hoa:

Under the Defending Freedoms Project of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, US Congressman Alan Lowenthal has adopted Nguyen Van Hoa. Tweet @RepLowenthal or email him, asking him to take action to raise Hoa’s case publicly in the US and with Vietnamese officials, sponsor legislations that protect human rights in Vietnam, and encourage visiting diplomatic delegations to discuss Hoa’s case and meet with him in prison. 

Example text:

“@RepLowenthal: I support #Vietnam|ese #PoliticalPrisoner Nguyen Van Hoa and urge you to work with US lawmakers to coordinate regular visits and communication with Hoa and to push the Vietnamese government to uphold Hoa’s #HumanRights, like allowing him to be moved to a prison closer to his family, and release him from prison.”

Or, you can also share this post to raise awareness for Hoa, calling for his release from prison and asking authorities to uphold his human rights.

The latest updates on Hoa:

In October, when Hoa’s sister went to visit him at An Diem Prison, she was told that she couldn’t see him or give him anything because Hoa had been refusing to wear prison clothes. He also had recently written a petition asking to be transferred to a prison camp that is closer to his home. 

In a special virtual ceremony in November, the US-based Vietnam Human Rights Network (VHRN) awarded one of its 2020 prizes to Nguyen Van Hoa.

Background on Nguyen Van Hoa: 

During his almost four years in prison so far, Hoa has faced severe mistreatment amounting to torture, inclduing solitary confinement, denial of adequate healthcare, physical abuse, and prison conditions causing him to go on hunger strike. 

Nguyen Van Hoa was tried on November 27, 2017, without a defense lawyer present. Hoa wrote a letter to his family in 2018, detailing systemic abuse by multiple parties during his investigation and time sentenced in prison. For example, Hoa was forced into giving testimony used against fellow political prisoner Le Dinh Luong in court. He later recanted on the witness stand, saying the statements were made under duress of assault. 

In May 2019, Hoa was reported to be in solitary confinement, and his family was not permitted to visit him. News later surfaced that a detention center officer at An Diem forced Hoa to sign a report with many blank spaces. Hoa told other prisoners that he refused to sign because the authorities could later fill those blank spaces with false content to punish him. After that, public security forces and detention officers beat him harshly, and took him away without an official punishment decision. He was held in solitary confinement for four months, during which authorities threatened him that they would cut the tendons in his legs. 

Read the full background in Nguyen Van Hoa’s profile in our Database of Persecuted Activists in Vietnam. 

Further Resources:

Nguyen Van Hoa’s profile in our Database of Persecuted Activists in Vietnam


Detained Vietnamese Activist Comes out of Solitary Confinement after Four Months, Radio Free Asia, September 16, 2019

Vietnam Human Rights Award 2020 Winners Announced, Vietnam Human Rights Network, November 21, 2020

Vietnam Free Expression Newsletter No. 46/2020 – Week of November 16-22

Greetings from The 88 Project! We bring you news, analysis, and actions regarding human rights and civil society in Vietnam during the week of November 16-22. Democracy activist Tran Duc Thach will face trial on November 30, and three members of the Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam (IJAVN) are expected to face trial in January. A group of hackers suspected to be sponsored by the Vietnamese government is targeting activists and journalists in Germany. Five UN working groups are seeking information on the recent arrests and detentions of several Vietnamese political prisoners. In the news, read about a new environmental protection law in Vietnam, allegations of Vietnam pressuring Facebook to censor more content, and updates on Vietnam’s international relations. Take action in support of Vietnamese political prisoners by sharing a statement from the Delegate of the Committee for the Defence of Persecuted and Imprisoned Writers of the Pen International Suisse Romand Centre. We will not have a newsletter next week, due to the US holiday, but will resume publication on December 6.


Political Prisoners

Tran Duc Thach, a co-founder of the Brotherhood for Democracy, will have his first-instance trial in Nghe An Province on November 30, according to his lawyer, Ha Huy Son. Thach was arrested on April 23, 2020 and charged with “activities against the state” under Article 109 of the 2015 Criminal Code, for Facebook posts that allegedly sought to incite social disorder. He was arrested once before, in 2009, and spent three years in prison for “anti-state propaganda” under Article 88 of the 1999 Criminal Code.

Attorney Nguyen Van Mieng, lawyer for (pictured above from left to right) Pham Chi DungNguyen Tuong Thuy, and Le Huu Minh Tuan, said the order for their temporary detention was signed on November 12, 2020, allowing for three months and 15 days of additional detention. It is thus expected that their first instance trials will take place toward the end of January 2021. Dung said that after reading the 12-page indictment against him, “I could not see where I broke the law.” Thuy said, “Of the 45 articles attributed to me, some weren’t even mine.” He said he’d appeal the indictment within 15 days. All three men are members of the persecuted IJAVN.

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

  • Female blogger Huynh Thuc Vy, birthday November 20, sentenced to two years and nine months in prison, which she will have to serve once her youngest child turns three
  • Montagnard Christian activist A Quyn, arrested November 18, 2013, and sentenced to nine years and six months in prison
  • Blogger Phan Cong Hai, arrested November 19, 2019, and sentenced to five years in prison
  • Chairman of the Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam, Pham Chi Dung, arrested November 21, 2019, and in pre-trial detention
Activists at Risk

Vietnamese activists and journalists in Germany have been subjected to cyber attacks perpetrated by a group of suspected state-sponsored hackers from Vietnam called OceanLotus (or APT 32). The group uses techniques such as spear-phishing and watering-hole to target the expats. “Berlin-based Vietnamese blogger Bui Thanh Hieu talks of his fears that any successful malware attack on his computer could expose the identities of people in his home nation that are feeding him intelligence,” says the article about the report, which was compiled by a German broadcaster and online magazine.

Former political prisoner Tran Huu Duc has now moved to the United States, where he will effectively live in exile. Duc served three years in prison on charges of conducting propaganda against the state. According to Defend the Defenders, since his release in 2015, “Mr. Duc has been under constant persecution of authorities in the central province of Nghe An as he continues his activism.”

International Advocacy

Nguyen Nang Tinh and Nguyen Van Hoa

In a special virtual ceremony, the US-based Vietnam Human Rights Network (VHRN) awarded its 2020 prizes to IJAVN, imprisoned music teacher Nguyen Nang Tinh, and imprisoned journalist Nguyen Van Hoa. According to VHRN, the annual awards are given to “ individuals and organizations who have made outstanding contributions to and have demonstrated influence on the promotion of justice and human rights movements in Vietnam.” Family representatives and colleagues of the three recipients were present to accept the awards on behalf of the recipients.

Five working groups at the UN have written a letter to the government of Vietnam to demand specific information regarding the arbitrary arrests of a number of journalists in the past few months, including Pham Doan TrangNguyen Tuong Thuy, and several others. If there is no answer within 60 days, the groups said they will raise the issue publicly with the Human Rights Council as required by their charter.

IJAVN’s President Pham Chi Dung in a 2016 demonstration against China’s aggressions in the China Sea. Source

As co-chairs of the Media Freedom Coalition, comprising 40 countries, Canada and the UK have issued a statement calling attention to Vietnam’s arbitrary arrests of journalists such as Pham Chi Dung and Pham Doan Trang. They urged Vietnam to “ensure its actions and laws are consistent with Vietnam’s international obligations and commitments.”



Pham Doan Trang Goes to Prison, Thomas Bass, Common Dreams, November 11, 2020: “Before her arrest, Trang was investigating a violent clash between farmers and the police, something that happens regularly in Vietnam when farmland is seized by Party officials. Trang has no fixed address and moves regularly to avoid the kind of beating that in 2018 left her dumped on the roadside with a concussion and wounds to her face and legs. ‘Pham Doan Trang is a true heroine given the situation of press freedom in Vietnam, where journalists and bloggers who do not toe the line of the current direction of the Communist Party face extremely severe repercussions,’ said Daniel Bastard, who heads the Asia-Pacific Desk of Reporters Without Borders (RSF).”

RCEP trade pact heralds dawn of Asian Century, David Hutt and Shawn W. Crispin, Asia Times, November 15, 2020: “With Brunei taking over the chairmanship [of ASEAN], there are already certain concerns it could be more willing to accept the terms that Beijing wants to set in a long-negotiated Code of Conduct for the South China Sea. Moreover, with Bandar Seri Begawan hosting next year’s summits, it could add one more problem for US relations with ASEAN at a time Biden will likely seek to restore alliances and ties. Successive US administrations have made peace with Vietnam’s repressive government – and have no problem showing up in Hanoi or Da Nang for summits. But they have been more willing to openly critique Brunei’s repression, including President-elect Biden’s comments last year that its treatment of homosexuals is ‘appalling and immoral.’”

Vietnam Revises Environmental Protection Law But Enforcement a Concern, Radio Free Asia, November 18, 2020: “Vietnam’s National Assembly Tuesday amended the country’s environmental protection law to give communities a bigger role in conservation and impose responsibilities on corporations, but critics say monitoring mechanisms in the country are not adequate to enforce it. Lawmakers overwhelmingly approved the Revised Law on Environmental Protection, with 92 percent voting in favor. The draft law to replace the 2014 version was presented to the assembly in May this year. The new law, which will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2022, requires owners of factories to use the best available technology to control pollution and limit environmental impact, and defines residential communities as an essential part of the environment to be protected.”

Exclusive: Vietnam threatens to shut down Facebook over censorship requests – source, James Pearson, Reuters, November 19, 2020: “Facebook complied with a government request in April to significantly increase its censorship of ‘anti-state’ posts for local users, but Vietnam asked the company again in August to step up its restrictions of critical posts, the official said. ‘We made an agreement in April. Facebook has upheld our end of the agreement, and we expected the government of Vietnam to do the same,’ said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity citing the sensitivity of the subject. ‘They have come back to us and sought to get us to increase the volume of content that we’re restricting in Vietnam. We’ve told them no. That request came with some threats about what might happen if we didn’t.’”

Vietnam shining bright as Covid crisis winner, David Hutt, Asia Times, November 20, 2020: “The Lowy Institute also found earlier this year that Vietnam had the third-highest improvement in international reputation because of its handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, trailing only Taiwan and New Zealand. The uptick in Vietnam’s international image is concomitant with a noticeable positive shift in media coverage of the Communist Party’s governance, drowning out previous reports that focused on its persistent assaults on journalists, activists and social media users. In an article published by Foreign Policy in May, the former Vietnam-based journalist Bill Hayton noted that one reason why ‘Vietnam’s disease control mechanisms have been so effective, and the reason why they are unlikely to be copied, is that they are the same mechanisms that facilitate and protect the country’s one-party rule.’”


Share Nguyen Hoang Bao Viet’s statement condemning Vietnam’s arrest of prominent journalists, the deaths of political prisoners behind bars, and forced mental health treatment of political prisoners (like Le Anh Hung, pictured above). The statement asks Vietnam to release political prisoners without the condition of exile, improve prison conditions, and facilitate fair trials. Nguyen Hoang Bao Viet is the president of Pen International Centre Suisse Romand, and a delegate of the Committee for the Defence of Persecuted and Imprisoned Writers of Pen International Centre Suisse Romand.
© 2020 The 88 Project

**Note: In the newsletter No. 46/2020 email version, we reported on Hanoi’s ex-Chairman Nguyen Duc Chung’s prosecution. We should have clarified that Mr. Chung is being prosecuted for an economic crime that is unrelated to the first Dong Tam crisis.

Vietnam Free Expression Newsletter No. 45/2020 – Week of November 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 November 9-15. Vietnam has arrested yet another Facebooker for alleged “anti-state propaganda.” There is also an update on imprisoned journalist Nguyen Tuong Thuy. This week, ASEAN is meeting to discuss regional issues and has just approved a massive free trade deal. The Vietnamese government has announced the creation of a Code of Conduct for Social Networks. In the news and analysis section, read analysis on the future of US-Vietnam relations under President-elect Joe Biden. In case you missed it, read our report on torture and inhumane treatment of political prisoners in 2018-2019. And take action for imprisoned Australian retiree Chau Van Kham.


Political Prisoners

The wife of independent journalist Nguyen Tuong Thuy has reported on her husband’s condition in prison. He said that his left arm has been in severe pain, something that he’d never suffered before the arrest. He also has to sleep on hard concrete, which hurts his back. He told his lawyer that if the family can not see him, then they should not bring him any supplies. He also told his wife not to try to attend his trial because they wouldn’t let her in the courtroom anyway. Thuy, a member of the Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam, was arrested in May 2020.

Nguyen Van Lam being arrested on November 6 (NTV screenshot)

A Facebooker named Nguyen Van Lam, from Nghe An Province, has been arrested for postings deemed to have “anti-state propaganda,” according to Article 117 of the 2015 Criminal Code. His Facebook page, Lam Thoi, contains livestreams and articles about corruption, human rights abuses, the South China Sea, and environmental issues. If convicted, Lam, 50, could face between 12-20 years in prison. His arrest is the latest in a string of dozens of arrests this year ahead of the National Party Congress in January 2021.

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

  • Montagnard Christian activist Run, tried November 2013, and sentenced to nine years in prison

  • Hoa Hao Buddhist Le Thi Hong Hanh, arrested November 13, 2017, sentenced to three years in prison; due for release from prison this month

  • Music teacher Nguyen Nang Tinh, tried November 15, 2019, and sentenced to 11 years in prison
Activists at Risk
Father Anthony Nguyen Huyen Duc, head of Thien An Monastery in Hue, still has not been allowed to return to Vietnam from Germany where he’d gone to have medical treatment. In a letter to his superior, Father Anthony said his illness started after he was given some tea at the police station, which caused him great pains in his teeth and bones and caused his hair to start falling out. He believes that was poisoned. The local government has been trying for years to take over the land where the monastery currently sits.
International Advocacy

In this study by HRMI Rights Tracker, Vietnam scores 3.4 (out of 10) in the category of Safety from the State, which includes low scores for things like: arbitrary arrest (2.0); disappearance (3.3); torture (2.2); extra-judicial execution (4.6). Compared to 28 other countries in the survey, Vietnam’s score is below average.

This week, ASEAN members are meeting in a virtual summit to discuss topics ranging from the South China Sea to covid19. The tone of the summit has been one of promoting regional cooperation. “This year, peace and security are under even greater threat as a result of compounding risks arising from the unpredictable conduct of states, rivalries and frictions among major powers,” said Nguyen Xuan Phuc, Vietnam’s Prime Minister. Vietnam is currently the chair of ASEAN.

Further, ASEAN has approved the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) as part of the summit. The RCEP is the largest global free trade deal, comprising 15 countries and nearly a third of the world’s GDP. It includes all 10 ASEAN members and other signatories like China and Australia. Meanwhile, talks are still continuing on a possible UK-Vietnam free trade deal.

EU-Vietnam November 5 meeting, Source: EU Delegation to Vietnam Twitter 

On November 5, the 1st meeting of the EU-Vietnam PCA sub-committee  on Good Governance, Rule of Law, and Human Rights took place in Hanoi, addressing issues including gender equality, human trafficking, judicial reform, ILO conventions, the UPR and ICCPR, and cybersecurity.

Internet Freedom

On November 6, during a session of Vietnam’s National Assembly, Vietnam’s Ministry of Information announced that a policy to govern social media activities is in the works. The Code of Conduct for Social Networks is expected to limit users’ abilities to criticize the state on online platforms and facilitate another means by which to persecute activists.


OceanLotus: Extending Cyber Espionage Operations Through Fake Websites, Steven Adair, Thomas Lancaster, and Volexity Threat Research, Volexity, November 6, 2020: “Volexity has identified multiple new attack campaigns being launched by OceanLotus via multiple fake websites and Facebook pages that have been set up within the last year. In addition to targeting those within Vietnam, Volexity has seen renewed targeting of OceanLotus’s neighbors throughout Southeast Asia. These websites have been observed profiling users, redirecting to phishing pages, and being leveraged to distribute malware payloads for Windows and OSX.”

US: President Should Set a Human Rights Foreign Policy. Human Rights Watch, November 10, 2020: “As the United States grapples with systemic racism and other human rights violations domestically, it is particularly important for the president to ensure that US foreign policy helps to eliminate and does not contribute to discrimination around the world, and strengthens equality in law and practice. President-Elect Joe Biden can begin by clearly stating in a public address his commitment to a human rights foreign policy. When his administration takes office in January 2021, it should take immediate steps to carry out the following commitments, which will place the United States on the right path to making human rights a foreign policy priority.”

What Will a Biden Presidency Mean for U.S.-Vietnam Relations?, Bich T. Tran, Modern Diplomacy, November 9, 2020: “Biden makes it clear that ‘the United States does need to get tough with China…. The most effective way to meet that challenge is to build a united front of U.S. allies and partners to confront China’s abusive behaviors’. He promises to deepen partnerships to advance shared values in a region and uphold diplomacy as U.S. primary tool of foreign policy. For him, the answer to the China threat is ‘more friendships, more cooperation, more alliances’. Therefore, Biden will continue to strengthen U.S. partnership with Vietnam.”

Why Vietnam Isn’t Happy About a Biden Presidency, Michael Tatarski, Vice, November 10, 2020: “Given the last four years, it is difficult to know if there is any clear preference among Vietnam’s top party officials. Trump’s policies, especially on trade, have been hugely beneficial for Vietnam at times, but detrimental at others. ‘Trump has been a source of frustration to the Vietnamese in that his policies have been so bipolar,’ said Zachary Abuza, a professor at the National War College in Washington D.C. who specializes in Southeast Asia. ‘He’s so transactional, and they understand transactional, but he pulled out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership [trade deal], and no country did more to get into the TPP than Vietnam, so they were angry.’”

Biden in a rights dilemma in strategic SE Asia, David Hutt, Asia Times, November 10, 2020: “Moreover, some issues are well-established. Nobody expects the Biden presidency to change America’s acceptance of Vietnam’s one-party communist system and its widespread human rights abuses, a bipartisan consensus established during the Obama administration because of Hanoi’s opposition to Chinese expansionism in the South China Sea. ‘US policy has failed the Vietnamese people,’ commented Representative Christopher Smith at a hearing of the House of Representatives’ Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations in July 2018, noting the Trump administration’s continuance of Obama’s policy. ‘This is a bipartisan criticism. We have enriched Vietnam’s Communist leaders and coddled their interests at the expense of the hope and desires of the Vietnamese people for liberty and human rights.’”

In 2018, Government Restrictions on Religion Reach Highest Level Globally in More Than a Decade, Pew Research Center, November 10, 2020: “As of 2018, most of the 56 countries with high or very high levels of government restrictions on religion are in the Asia-Pacific region (25 countries, or half of all countries in that region) or the Middle East-North Africa region (18 countries, or 90% of all countries in the region)…. Out of the five regions examined in the study, the Middle East and North Africa continued to have the highest median level of government restrictions in 2018 (6.2 out of 10). However, Asia and the Pacific had the largest increase in its median government restrictions score, rising from 3.8 in 2017 to 4.4 in 2018, partly because a greater number of governments in the region used force against religious groups, including property damage, detention, displacement, abuse and killings.”


Dao Quang Thuc, a retired teacher who died in prison, at his trial on September 19. Source: Vu Thi Ha/ Vietnam News Agency via AP

Our new report focuses on incidents of torture and other inhumane treatment of political prisoners by the Vietnamese government in 2018-2019. We have documented 19 cases of possible torture of Vietnamese political prisoners during that period. Read a summary of the key findings, and our call for the Vietnamese government to uphold its obligations under international law, here.


Chau Van Kham (left) and Tran Van Quyen at trial, Source: Vietnam News Agency/AFP
Amnesty International is petitioning for the release of Australian citizen Chau Van Kham, who was arrested upon entering Vietnam in January, 2019, and who is serving a 12-year sentence for allegedly “attempting to overthrow the government.” Kham’s family says he’s in poor health, and they fear for his well-being. You can sign the petition here.

© 2020 The 88 Project

Vietnam Free Expression Newsletter No. 44/2020 – Week of November 2-8

Greetings from The 88 Project! We bring you news, analysis, and actions regarding human rights and civil society in Vietnam during the week of November 2-8. After months of detention, Tran Duc Thach has been permitted to meet with his lawyer; meanwhile, three other high-profile political prisoners still have not. There is a report that Le Dinh Cong, a son of Le Dinh Kinh and a defendant in the Dong Tam case, may be on a hunger strike. The EU Ambassador to Vietnam has shown support for detained writer Pham Doan Trang. In the news and analysis section, read analysis on Vietnam-US and Vietnam-India relations. In case you missed it, read our new report documenting cases of torture and inhumane treatment of Vietnamese political prisoners in 2018-2019. And take action in support of Pham Doan Trang and her vision.


Political Prisoners

More than six months after his arrest, writer Tran Duc Thach has finally been allowed to meet with his lawyer, even though his investigation period has previously ended. His lawyer, Ha Huy Son, was barred from copying the indictment against Thach. Thach is suffering from high blood pressure, ulcerative colitis, and gout while in prison. A member of the Brotherhood for Democracy, he was arrested on April 24, 2020, and charged under Article 109 of the 2015 Criminal Code for subversion.

Lawyers for jailed journalists Pham Chi DungNguyen Tuong Thuy, and Le Huu Minh Tuan say they have finally received paperwork that allows them to start working on the cases on behalf of their clients, after the Procuracy office finished its investigation. Attorney Nguyen Van Mieng reported that since their arrests, the three men have not yet been allowed to talk to a lawyer. He also said the men were allowed to receive supplies sent by their families on November 6, but he was not able to see them due to Covid-19 restrictions.

It has been one month since journalist Pham Doan Trang’s arrest. The only thing we know is her family has visited the detention center several times to bring her some supplies but could only see her signature on the receipt for the supplies.

The wife of Le Dinh Uy, a defendant in the Dong Tam casereported on her Facebook page that she went to the detention center on November 1 to put more spending money into the accounts of her husband, his brother Le Dinh Doanh, and their father, Le Dinh Cong. She noticed that the amount in her father-in-law’s account had not decreased since last month, right after he appealed his sentence. When she inquired about it, she was told that perhaps he had not been using the money because he’d been fasting. She is worried that he has gone on a hunger strike, but there is no way to confirm this.

This week, we remember the arrest anniversaries of the following political prisoners:

  • Facebooker Nguyen Van Nghiem, arrested November 5, 2019, and later sentenced to six years in prison

Luu Van Vinh (L) and co-defendants at trial on October 5, Source: AFP
Activists at Risk
Scottish police invited two Vietnamese security officers from Vietnam to help in their efforts to combat human trafficking. This is causing great concern among Vietnamese asylum seekers in Scotland. Many have been contacted by the two officers; some are afraid of being kidnapped and taken back to Vietnam. One person who was called by those officers said he’d escaped Vietnam after being beaten and jailed for participating in protests there, leaving behind his wife and child. It is well known that Vietnam has kidnapped asylum seekers abroad before. In January 2019 blogger Truong Duy Nhat was “disappeared” while in Bangkok seeking asylum. He’s currently serving a 10-year sentence. In 2017, Vietnamese undercover police kidnapped a high-profile official applying for asylum in Berlin; he was flown back to Vietnam via Bratislava, Slovakia, where Minister of Public Security General To Lam was also visiting.
International Advocacy

EU Ambassador to Vietnam, Giorgio Aliberti, tweeted that he raised the case of jailed journalist Pham Doan Trang with other ambassadors of EU member states and “like-minded countries.” In a separate tweet the ambassador said he had an “interesting meeting” with Vu Chien Thang, Vietnam’s Chairman of the Committee for Religious Affairs, to discuss religious freedom.


Vietnam’s Virtual Charm Offensive,  Nguyen Phuong Linh and Nguyen Khac Giang, The Diplomat Magazine, November 2020: “Upon passing the ASEAN chairmanship to Vietnam, Sihasak Phuangketkeow, a Thai senior diplomat, hoped Vietnam could address three key issues: the Rohingya crisis, the acceleration of negotiations on the South China Sea Code of Conduct (CoC), and generating a clearer outlook for the Indo-Pacific, as a response to fast changing environment of great power competition between the U.S. and China in the region. Up to now, Hanoi seems to have lacked either interest or capability to adequately handle all three. Human rights have never been an issue receiving much attention from the ASEAN members in their summits unless the consequences affect them directly. The pandemic, which has showed the advantage some authoritarian regimes have in monitoring people and restricting movement, raises concerns that it might further constrain freedoms and fundamental rights in some countries. Vietnam – as a one-party state – has never been seen as a leader in human rights issues.”

Vietnam: Citizens Must Pay Trillions Of Dong For The Party Congress, Regardless Of Party Membership, Will Nguyen, The Vietnamese, October 29, 2020: “Therefore, if I use the figure for Lang Son (85 billion dong) as the average for each province, then I can extrapolate that the total costs for organizing Party congresses in all 64 cities and provinces is nearly 5.5 trillion dong, not including the central Party organizations and the National Party Congress. And this is a conservative estimate. According to the data Luat Khoa Magazine has gathered in previously articles, this amount is enough to keep the Government Inspectorate and the Government’s Committee for Ethnic Minority Affairs operating for more than 25 years, with enough left over to fund the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development—one of Vietnam’s pivotal ministries—for up to a year (the 2020 estimate is 5.3 trillion dong).”

Southeast Asia eyes US democracy stress test, Nile Bowie, Asia Times, November 5, 2020: “Southeast Asian nations have been impacted in various ways under Trump, with countries like Vietnam benefiting from his trade war against China as a result of supply chain diversification, while other trade-geared nations like Singapore were pushed toward the brink of recession in part as a disruptive consequence of unilateral American tariffs. A new Cold War atmosphere has taken hold partly by virtue of Trump becoming the first US president to comprehensively challenge China, which has raised pressure on ASEAN members to choose sides between the two superpowers and take firmer stances on issues of concern, stoking fears of the region being split into rival US and China-aligned blocs. ‘If Biden wins, Southeast Asian countries will be looking for a president that is more engaged with multilateralism and less transactional. But they will not welcome a strong human rights and democracy agenda, and will be very apprehensive about the intensification of Sino-US rivalry,’ said ISEAS’ Storey.”

Vietnam’s rising stature: Chinese palpable nervousness, SD Pradhan, The Times of India, November 4, 2020: “The year 2020 has witnessed substantial raise in the Vietnamese stature in the region and also at the international platform. Vietnam witnessed high level visits recently. Japanese PM Suga’s first foreign visit after taking over was to Vietnam. His predecessor Abe also made his first foreign trip to Vietnam. Recently US Secretary of State Pompeo wrapped up his South East Asian tour in Vietnam.”

Three views on the US election, Andrew Yeo, Global Counsel, November 6, 2020: “An emerging arena of strategic competition is the Mekong delta, which the Trump administration recognised by launching the Mekong-US Initiative. Pompeo’s recent trip to Vietnam also discussed Chinese development activities along the Mekong River which has affected the access of Vietnamese to freshwater. While it is unclear how a Biden administration plans to engage with the region, a narrow win scenario means domestic priorities will likely take precedent. Biden is also unlikely to fundamentally differ from Trump on China, leaving pragmatic countries in the region adopting a stance that is more wait-and-see than enthusiastic.”


Our new report focuses on incidents of torture and other inhumane treatment of political prisoners by the Vietnamese government in 2018-2019. We have documented 19 cases of possible torture of Vietnamese political prisoners during that period. In addition to documented cases of torture, we describe cases in which political prisoners are subject to prolonged incommunicado pre-trial detention, denial of legal representation, unfair trials, solitary confinement, and other types of inhumane treatment.


Pham Doan Trang and her books in Vietnam. Source: Pham Doan Trang Facebook

We have added a post to the “Take Action” section of our website where you can find relevant actions in support of Pham Doan Trang. We will update the post as more actions become available.
© 2020 The 88 Project

Report: Vietnam’s Inhumane Treatments in Prison

Our new report focuses on incidents of torture and other inhumane treatment of prisoners detained under national security provisions, i.e. political prisoners, by the Vietnamese government. In addition to documented cases of torture, we highlight examples of cases in which the denial of legal safeguards facilitates the use of torture.

We describe cases in which political prisoners are subject to:

  • Prolonged incommunicado pre-trial detention
  • Denial of legal representation and unfair trials
  • Denial of adequate medical treatment
  • Harsh physical and administrative conditions in prison
  • Denial of family visits/punitive transfers
  • Infliction of physical and psychological pain
  • Solitary confinement

In focusing on the absolute right of freedom from torture and ill-treatment, and with the leverage that results from Vietnam’s recent ratification of UNCAT, we aim to highlight the harsh conditions imposed upon political prisoners and push the Vietnamese government to:

  • Implement concrete actions that have clearly been stated in the Committee Against Torture’s Concluding Observations in the Initial Report of Viet Nam (December 2018)
  • Implement relevant UPR recommendations Vietnam accepted in 2019
  • Observe the CCPR General Comments No. 20 which lays out specific recommendations for State members to implement the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
  • Accept visits by the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, as well as visits by State members’ consular representatives to conduct investigations of prison conditions in multiple localities.

Read the full report here.


© 2020 The 88 Project

Vietnam Free Expression Newsletter No. 43/2020 – Week of October 26-November 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 October 26-November 1. After being released from prison unexpectedly last week, US citizen Michael Nguyen held a press conference to speak about his treatment while in jail in Vietnam. Nguyen’s release came just days before US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Vietnam. Imprisoned blogger Nguyen Van Hoa’s family called on Pompeo to push for Hoa’s release from prison as well. Human Rights Watch has condemned Japan for financially aiding Vietnam’s police. In the news and analysis section, read a piece contrasting Michael Nguyen’s release with the arrest of famous dissident writer Pham Doan Trang, as well as reflections on what the upcoming US election could mean for US-Vietnam relations. In case you missed it, watch a short but succinct interview with Pham Doan Trang that was filmed prior to her arrest. And take action this week by signing Amnesty International’s petition to free jailed Australian citizen Chau Van Kham, who is in poor health.


Political Prisoners

In a surprise move by Vietnam, US citizen Michael Nguyen was released from prison and returned to the United States last week. He was arrested in June, 2018 while on his way from Danang to Ho Chi Minh City and was held incommunicado for weeks before his family was notified. He was charged with “conspiracy to overthrow the government of Vietnam” and sentenced to 12 years in prison. Vietnam’s Foregin Ministry said on Thursday that his release last week was for humanitarian reasons. His co-defendants, Huynh Duc Thanh Binh and Tran Long Phi, remain imprisoned.

In a press conference, Michael Nguyen spoke about the conditions he faced in a Vietnamese prison, including having no privacy in his personal correspondence and never being fully told the reasons for the charges against him. He also claims he was kidnapped by unidentified men, only later identified as police officers, during his arrest. Nguyen was denied a lawyer until a day before his trial. “They had written out a statement for me to sign and the public defender’s main job was to get me to sign a statement of words that were not even my own,” he said. Read more about his experience here.

Representative Harley Rouda (D-CA) said his office had been working closely with representative Katie Porter (D-CA) and the State Department to secure the release of Michael Nguyen ahead of the visit by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Hanoi this week. It is not known whether Pompeo talked to General To Lam, head of the Ministry of Public Security, about the case of journalist Pham Doan Trang, who was arrested hours after the two countries concluded their annual Dialogue on Human Rights on October 6.

Imprisoned blogger Nguyen Van Hoa’s family also urged US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to press for Hoa’s release during Pompeo’s visit to Vietnam this week. In October, the family was denied a visit with Hoa because he refused to wear a prison uniform. Hoa’s request for medical attention for a possible ear infection, as well a request for a transfer to a prison closer to his family, were also denied. “Our family wants the European Union and the United States to speak out about my brother’s case,” Nguyen’s sister, Nguyen Thi Hue, told Radio Free Asia.

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

  • Montagnard Chrisitan leader Y Yem Hwing, arrested October 29, 2012, and expected to be released from prison on October 29, 2020
  • Montagnard Protestant missionary Ksor Ruk, arrested October 30, 2018, and sentenced to 10 years in prison
  • University lecturer and Facebooker Pham Xuan Hao, arrested October 31, 2019, and expected to be released from prison on October 31, 2020
  • Facebooker Nguyen Van Phuoc, tried on October 29, 2019, and sentenced to five years in prison

Defendants ion October 31, 2018, Source Vn Express
  • The 30 June 2018 protesters tried in a massive trial in Binh Thuan Province on October 31, 2018, and sentenced to between two and 3.5 years in prison each
International Relations

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo elbow bumps Minister of Public Security To Lam (left) in Hanoi last Friday. Photo:

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has urged Japan to stop aiding Vietnam’s police after the Japanese Foreign Ministry announced that it would give Vietnam’s Public Security Ministry a grant of nearly US$3 million to buy “counterterrorism” equipment, which the ministry said would help “stabilize society.” Phil Robertson, deputy director of HRW’s Asia Division, argues that Vietnam security police should not receive any funding from Japan because it is “a notorious violator of human rights with a long track record of torturing criminal suspects and human rights defenders.”


Vietnam Justice Works in Strange Ways, David Brown, Asia Sentinel, October 27, 2020: “After he’d spent two years in a Vietnamese prison, though in no way representative of Vietnam’s community of political dissidents, [Michael] Nguyen became a pawn in the Hanoi regime’s annual dialogue with the US on civil liberties. Just two weeks earlier, US and Vietnamese officials had met for their annual bilateral discussion of human rights (this year it was held virtually). Securing Nguyen’s release was surely one of the principal objectives of the US side. And ironically, at almost the same time that the two sides were wrapping up, Pham Doan Trang was arrested on a charge of ‘making anti-state propaganda.’ And, unlike Michael Nguyen, when home-grown Vietnamese dissidents are arrested, they are denied visitors or packages from home unless they confess their guilty intent.”

Why Vietnam wouldn’t mind if Trump loses to Biden, David Hutt, Asia Times, October 29, 2020: “Another question is whether a Biden administration would seek to press Hanoi harder on its woeful human rights record, which has worsened during Trump’s time in office. Within the first months of Trump taking office in 2017, it was clear that his administration would de-emphasize human rights promotion and democracy-building in Southeast Asia. However, even if a Biden administration were to make human rights more of a priority for US foreign policy, most analysts expect Vietnam to escape the worst of Washington’s wrath. Under Obama and George W. Bush, as well as Trump, US administrations have overlooked Hanoi’s domestic abuses, raising the issue in front of the cameras but tacitly accepting the Vietnamese Communist Party’s severe repression.”

What Will Vietnam Look for From the Next U.S. Administration?, Hanh Nguyen, The Diplomat, October 30, 2020: “In light of China’s growing power and assertiveness, the U.S. continues to be one of the most critical partners of Vietnam, and Hanoi hopes to maintain the upward trajectory of bilateral relations. But Vietnam hopes that the next U.S. administration offers a more nuanced form of engagement balanced toward stronger cooperation in non-military fields. Washington’s Indo-Pacific Strategy is often viewed with skepticism in the region due to its security-focused agenda and its characterization of Beijing as an unalloyed threat to the region. In this respect, the Vietnamese government is no exception.”

Hong Kong’s Next-door Ally, Asia Democracy Chronicles, via The Vietnamese, October 28, 2020: “Many Vietnamese citizens hold Hong Kong freedom fighters Joshua Wong, Nathan Law, and Agnes Chow Ting in high regard. The Vietnamese cheer when a government expresses support for the former British colony’s fight for freedom. And they mourn whenever there is a crackdown—or a pro-democracy activist gets arrested or dies.”


In this short but succinct interview that was filmed prior to her arrestPham Doan Trang discusses her activism in starkly personal detail. Trang explains her goals and wishes, not just for herself but also for the groups she’s been involved with. She describes certain negative patterns she sees with many human rights organizations in Vietnam and suggests ways to improve.


Amnesty International is petitioning for the release of Australian citizen Chau Van Kham, who was arrested upon entering Vietnam in January, 2019, and who is serving a 12-year sentence for allegedly “attempting to overthrow the government.” Kham’s family says he’s in poor health, and they fear for his well-being. You can sign the petition here.
© 2020 The 88 Project

Vietnam Free Expression Newsletter No. 42/2020 – Week of October 19-25

Greetings from The 88 Project! We bring you news, analysis, and actions regarding human rights and civil society in Vietnam during the week of October 19-25. Authorities in Dong Nai Province have arrested yet another online commentator. Nguyen Quang Khai was arrested on October 20 for his Facebook posts critical of the state. State media is ramping up a smear campaign to discredit imprisoned dissident writer Pham Doan Trang, and the government has finished its investigation into three detained members of the Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam. US citizen Michael Nguyen was released early from prison. Imprisoned pastor Nguyen Bac Truyen has won the Stefanus Prize 2020. And Japan is strengthening its strategic relations with Vietnam, despite human rights concerns. In case you missed it, read our analysis of the Dong Tam trial in light of Vietnam’s commitments under international law. And take action by sharing this inspiring video interview with Pham Doan Trang.


Political Prisoners

Nguyen Quang Khai, Source: RFA

On October 20, authorities in Dong Nai Province arrested Nguyen Quang Khai under article 337 of the 2015 Criminal Code (“distributing or collecting state secrets and other materials”) for his Facebook posts about national issues and criticism of the Communist regime. Khai had previously been questioned by police about his online commentary and an alleged connection to pro-democracy overseas group Viet Tan. If convicted, he faces between two and 10 years in prison.

Pham Doan Trang being taken away during her October 6, 2020 arrest, Source: Will Nguyen

The People’s Police newspaper has begun a smear campaign against Pham Doan Trang, calling her a reactionary agitator who authors “dirty books” and who is involved with, as well as receives money from, foreign entities such as Viet Tan and VOICE. It says her illegally published books misrepresent the truth about freedom and human rights in Vietnam. The article also links Doan Trang to the Hanoi-based environmental group Green Trees and accuses its members of spreading anti-state materials as well. It also calls Can Thi Theu and her sons, already arrested in June, accomplices in Doan Trang’s alleged network of abusers of free speech. Doan Trang was arrested on October 6, the same day that the US and Vietnam held their annual Human Rights Dialogue.

In this short but succinct interview that was filmed prior to her arrest, Pham Doan Trang discusses her activism in starkly personal detail. Trang explains her goals and wishes, not just for herself but also for the groups she’s been involved with. She describes certain negative patterns she sees with many human rights organizations in Vietnam and suggests ways to improve.

In a surprise move by Vietnam, US citizen Michael Phuong Minh Nguyen was released from prison and returned to the United States this week. His wife has confirmed that her husband arrived safely in Orange County, California, on October 22. Phuong Nguyen was arrested in June, 2018 while on his way from Danang to Ho Chi Minh City and was held incommunicado for weeks before his family was notified. He was charged with “conspiracy to overthrow the government of Vietnam” and sentenced to 12 years in prison. It is not yet known why he was released early. This is a developing story.

Nguyen Tuong Thuy, Le Huu Minh Tuan, and Pham Chi Dung

The government has finished its investigation of Nguyen Tuong Thuy and Le Huu Minh Tuan. The two independent journalists, who have been detained since their arrest in May, along with Pham Chi Dung, who was arrested in November last year, have been charged under Article 117, “making, storing or distributing information against the state.” Thuy’s wife said their lawyer will be Nguyen Van Mieng. All three are affiliated with the Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam. Some observers expect that the trial against the three will be held soon.

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

  • Le Trong Cu, An Dan Dai Dao Buddhist, birthday October 20, sentenced to 12 years in prison

  • Facebooker Nguyen Van Nghiem, birthday October 25, sentenced to six years in prison

  • Blogger Phan Kim Khanh, tried on October 25, 2017, and sentenced to six years in prison
Activists at Risk
Activist singer Nguyen Tin and his family are being forcibly evicted from their home after local police pressured their landlord to end their lease for alleged “security reasons.” The family has also been prevented from leaving home in recent days by a group of plainclothes police stationed outside their residence. Tin and his wife have a toddler; Tin has been subjected to police harassment in recent years, including a violent attack on his concert in 2018.
International Advocacy

Lawyer and political prisoner Nguyen Bac Truyen has been awarded the Stefanus Prize 2020. According to the organization, “The Stefanus Prize was established by the Norwegian missions- and human rights organization Stefanus Alliance International. It is awarded to a person or persons who has made a great contribution to the human right of freedom of religion and belief.” Truyen is serving an 11-year sentence for allegedly “carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the government.” He is currently being kept in solitary confinement.

Human Rights Watch called for Japan to speak out about human rights violations in Vietnam during Prime Minister Suga’s trip there this week. Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director, said: “Japan should use its significant leverage as a major donor to the Vietnamese and Indonesian governments to press both to stop violating human rights.” Read news reports and analysis of the trip in the section below.


Background Brief: Japan’s Prime Minister Suga to Visit Vietnam, Carlyle A. Thayer, October 15, 2020: “Q4. What does PM Suga’s visit to Vietnam mean for Japan’s approach to Quad? ANSWER: PM Suga will promote both bilateral and multilateral relations with Vietnam under the loose framework of the Quad. Suga seeks greater flexibility to demonstrate independent Japanese leadership to influence regional developments other than reliance on military arrangements under U.S. leadership in the Quad.”

Japan, Vietnam reach broad agreement on transfer of defence gear, Channel News Asia (Reuters), October 19, 2020: “Japan and Vietnam agreed on Monday (Oct 19) to strengthen security and economic ties, including an agreement in principle for Japan to export military gear and technology to the Southeast Asian nation, amid concerns about China’s regional assertiveness.”

Facebook touts free speech. In Vietnam, it’s aiding in censorship, David S. Cloud and Shashank Bengali, Los Angeles Times, October 22, 2020: “Facebook has also barred Hanoi’s critics — including a Southern California-based opposition group — from buying ads to boost readership and has failed to stop pro-government trolls from swamping the platform to get dissidents’ posts removed. Instead of using its leverage as Vietnam’s biggest media platform to hold the line against censorship, Facebook has, in effect, become an accomplice in the government’s intensifying repression of pro-democracy voices, critics say. ‘I think for Zuckerberg the calculus with Vietnam is clear: It’s to maintain service in a country that has a huge population and in which Facebook dominates the consumer internet market, or else a competitor may step in,’ said Dipayan Ghosh, a former public policy advisor at Facebook who co-directs the Digital Platforms & Democracy Project at Harvard’s Kennedy School.”


Dong Tam defendants at trial, Source: Reuters
In case you missed it, check out our analysis piece of the failure of Vietnam to comply with its obligations under international human rights law, as demonstrated by the recent arrests, detentions, and trial of the defendants in the Dong Tam land dispute case. The article highlights how the government has used extrajudicial forces, as well as the judicial machinery, to suppress not only the freedom of information of its citizens, but also many other basic political and civil rights, including the right to a fair trial, the right not to be subjected to torture, the right to liberty and security of the person, and the right to freedom from inhumane treatment.


Take action in support of Pham Doan Trang’s vision for a freer and fairer Vietnam by sharing this interview, which was filmed shortly before her arrest. In it, Trang reiterates what she wants for Vietnam and asks the international community to not treat her case with any higher priority than other political prisoners in the country.
© 2020 The 88 Project

Pham Doan Trang’s Interview Before Her Arrest: Our Freedom Is Not A Commodity

In this short but succinct interview that was filmed prior to her arrest, journalist Pham Doan Trang discusses her activism in starkly personal detail. Trang explains her goals and wishes, not just for herself but also for the groups she’s been involved with. She describes certain negative patterns she sees with many human rights organizations in Vietnam and suggests ways to improve.

Trang also exposes the cynical attempts by the regime to exploit activists like herself and rejects the idea of their being used as pawns by the government. In a letter left behind before her recent arrest, she implores others to carry on and not give up. Most importantly, Trang reiterates what she wants for Vietnam and asks the international community to not treat her case with any higher priority than other prisoners of conscience in the country.

Video source: Chuyen Cua Thinh

English subtitles: The 88 Project 

Phạm Đoan Trang – Monologue

00:00 “I don’t need freedom just for myself; that would be too easy. I want something much greater: freedom and democracy for all of Vietnam. That may sound too big or far-fetched, but it really is possible if everyone lends a hand.”

00:11 My truest wish is to lift people up.

00:18 I often joke with myself that I’m a person who spends her youthful years lifting others up.

00:24 What does that mean? Provide them with knowledge, skills, information and respect. Lift them up and let them know they’re respected.

00:36 Make them feel they are human, have worth and deserve to live a good life.

00:44 I want to change Vietnam in a way that people are respected more, treat each other with more love, compassion and trust.

00:58 Sometimes that’s enough to show signs of progress. Not just economic development, but progress for the country as a whole.

01:08 But even economic progress requires mutual trust. Without trust it’d be difficult to work together. It’d be difficult to do business, to cooperate, to produce.

01:19 The people don’t trust the government and the government doesn’t trust the people. People don’t trust each other. Thus we can’t do things together. We can’t accomplish big things..

01:27 Therefore we must improve communication, improve our media, education, and publishing.

01:34 So even though I do many things, they tend to be miniscule, detailed, and hard to talk about because they are just small things.

01:45 But taken as a whole, there’s a common thread throughout, and that’s the desire to lift people up and bring the readers knowledge.

01:55 Give them information and an understanding of what it’s like to live with a spirit of democracy, with common decency and accountability.

02:06 Perhaps it’s possible to do this via books and newspapers, especially books of different types – print, audio, video, etc.

02:20 Although we cannot control whether or not we’ll be arrested or go to prison, remember: your freedom is not something they can exploit for their own gains. If you get imprisoned, try to make the risks to them for jailing you greater than the rewards they might gain.

02:34 I’ve noticed there’s a particular characteristic of the democracy movement in Vietnam.

02:42 And that is, an activist would do his or her things for some period of time then get arrested and be thrown in jail.

02:47 Then the community, both inside and outside the country, would start a campaign to free them.

02:56 Free X! Free Y! Free Z! And so on.

03:00 After a while they’re released and allowed to leave the country. And that’s the end of it.

03:07 I think for an activist, especially someone who is strong and committed, to spend some time in jail and then go abroad and just end it there, this is something of a waste.

03:20 I feel that the life cycle of an activist is too short, however meaningful it might be; it’s not enough to effect any real changes.

03:31 I’ve also come to realize that the Vietnamese government knows this and takes advantage of it.

03:40 Instead of bringing real and meaningful reforms to the legal framework overall, revolutionizing the system, changing specific laws, or increasing basic freedoms for citizens,

04:00 instead of doing those things, the government just arrests and then releases some individual activist.

04:06 In that way it can score points for respecting human rights and  international covenants and so on.

04:10 In other words, using catch-and-release in a calculated manner, they can ignore the need to make real and fundamental changes,

04:16 avoid addressing issues that are a matter of life and death for the country, or key to the country’s development.

04:28 The state has been taking advantage of this. It doesn’t suffer anything for arresting us, but can look good to the world for releasing us. All the while ignoring reforms.

04:41 To them it’s very beneficial, so why not do it? Just arrest people and then release them.

04:45 In exchange, they will be able to get trade deals, sign contracts to buy weapons and so on and so forth.

04:56 As for the activists themselves, after paying the price by spending time behind bars, they deserve to have a respite from suffering and even emigrate abroad, even if it means the end of their activism.

05:16 I don’t criticize them for that, they deserve it. But in the end it’s Vietnam and the Vietnamese people who are short-changed.

05:26 Because after all these years of struggle there’s still no progress.

05:33 That’s why I hope that if I or some other activist must go to jail, it will actually mean something. It has to create a certain pressure against the government, forcing the regime to change.

05:49 It must not be something for them to abuse and exploit. We are not a commodity for the government to barter, or to make trade deals with other nations

06:03 to benefit only those in power, but not the common people. We reject being treated as a commodity like that.

06:11 I feel if we have to go to jail, our sacrifice must be meaningful, that it must be a goal and we must achieve that goal.

06:20 That goal could be to increase pressure on the Communist government to change.

06:27 Should I go to prison, I hope that all the things I’ve been working on will continue as before, if not even stronger.

06:37 I’m not in favor of seeing any organization lay low whenever a member gets arrested.

06:48 On the contrary, what’s most needed is for everyone to act more forcefully.

06:52 There’s nothing worse than watching an organization disintegrate like a busted beehive when its leader is arrested.

07:00 Because when that happens, the police see that their tactic is effective. They can hurt many by capturing just one, so why not do it?

07:08 It’s like cutting off the head of a snake and getting the whole nest. And so they keep doing it.

07:16 Therefore, I think it’s extremely important to organize our work and prepare our personnel psychologically and with the proper skill set so that they can continue to function if one of us is arrested.

07:32 If they can’t continue then that’s our fault for not preparing them and helping them be strong enough to stand up for themselves.

07:46 I can’t blame it on suppression from the authorities — that’s always a given. As long as the Communist regime is in power, oppression will never end.

07:55 If I’m arrested, I’d like everyone to campaign for me via individual channels. If you support me, please disseminate the following messages:

08:08 “I support new election rules, I’ve read books by Doan Trang,” or “I support Doan Trang, therefore I support new election rules and her books,” or “We demand free and fair elections for Vietnam,” or “Independent candidates must be allowed to run for Parliament…”

08:26 1. Please take care of my mother for me, don’t let her feel that she’s alone. Security police have been harassing my brothers and sisters-in-law also; please help protect them too.

08:50 2. I will not plead guilty; I won’t beg for clemency. Anything said otherwise by the police will be fabrications and lies.

08:58 3. But I do admit: I am the author of the books “Politics for the Common Man,” “Taking Care of a Prisoner,” “Non-violent Resistance,” as well as all the other books and articles written under my real name. I also affirm that I’ve always wanted to abolish Vietnam’s authoritarian system of government. I want to be mentioned as a writer who’s striving to help her people understand the intrinsic values of freedom and democracy, and who’ll always fight to change society for the better.

09:20 4. If possible, please help me get my guitar. To me, my guitar is like the Bible to a Christian.

09:34 5. I’m not concerned about the number of years I might have to spend behind bars, therefore I don’t need any lawyers to argue for a lesser sentence for me — this is something that’s beyond their capability in today’s Vietnam anyway. Instead, I’d like for my lawyers to set up a channel of information exchange between me and those on the outside.

09:50 6. Don’t give me preferential treatment over other prisoners of conscience.

10:00 7. If you’d like to campaign for my release, please start from the third or fourth year (from the time of my arrest), and please associate the campaign with the objectives I’ve set above. My ideal scenario is one where I’m freed without being forced into exile and where my stated goals are realized.


© 2020 The 88 Project 


The Dong Tam Trial: Vietnam’s Violations of International Commitments Continue

Local leader, Le Dinh Kinh, who was killed in the raid. Source: BBC News Vietnamese

The Dong Tam incident, in which one village elder – Le Dinh Kinh – was brutally killed (he was shot twice in the back and also mauled by a police dog) and three other public security officers were allegedly killed by villagers, has become the most recent illustration of incompetence and abuse of authority in the history of Vietnam’s public land disputes. 

However, the deadly and chaotic event seems only to have strengthened the government’s determination to assert complete control over the information related to the incident. Moreover, the investigation and trial against 29 defendants also violated many international commitments that the Vietnamese government itself has claimed it respects. 

This article will analyze and highlight how the government has used extrajudicial forces, as well as the judicial machinery, to suppress not only the freedom of information of its citizens, but also many other basic political and civil rights, including the right to a fair trial, the right not to be subjected to torture, the right to liberty and security of the person, and the right to freedom from inhumane treatment. 

The suppression of freedom of information before, during, and after the trial

The right to freedom of information is vital for a functioning society. It also contributes greatly to the principle of the right to a fair trial that is a requirement  in every criminal code of members of the United Nations (UN). Article 19 of the International Convention on Political and Civil Rights (ICCPR) sets out that “everyone shall have the freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.”

In criminal cases, while several types of information must be kept from the public to protect the privacy and equitable treatment of parties involved, a fair and public hearing shall also give the public all the relevant information, protect the rights of journalists to access non-confidential sources, and make sure that distorted and partial views of the case cannot be propagated for political purposes. These principles were not followed during the Dong Tam trial. 

Just days after the incident, state media (such as Thanh Niên, Người lao động, Tiền Phong, and others) had already published stories and framed this deadly incident as a case of “resisting and obstructing officers in their public duty.” These pieces quickly depicted the citizens as culprits with evil intentions, but provided practically no evidence other than statements from the Ministry of Public Security. 

Meanwhile, the family’s side of the story was never reported in the state-sanctioned media. For example, the testimony of Du Thi Thanh (Le Dinh Kinh’s wife) regarding the police attack in Dong Tam on January 9, 2020, which showed how unexpected and dangerous the police attacks against Le Dinh Kinh’s family were, was conveniently left out from any official discourse about the case. 

More importantly, right after the incident, the entire Hoanh Village of Dong Tam was put under a complete curfew. Non-residents (including journalists, reporters, and activists) were not allowed to enter the village for any independent investigation. People outside of the village were also barred from attending Dinh’s funeral, and the event was put under heavy surveillance by public security. Phones and recording devices were confiscated. 

The practices effectively gave the government a monopoly on information concerning the Dong Tam Incident. Civil society, however, did not let this slide easily. 

Nguyen Anh Tuan, a prominent activist with a long history following the Dong Tam public land dispute, tried his best to inform the public about the dispute and the unnecessary violent attack against Dinh’s family. 

Other petitioners, such as Can Thi Theu, Trinh Ba Phuong, Trinh Ba Tu and Nguyen Thi Tam, who have also been fighting for their own land in the Duong Noi public land dispute, showed their strong support for the victims in Dong Tam. Trinh Ba Phuong was very active in advocating with international organizations and foreign embassies to raise awareness about Dong Tam. He also tried to highlight the government’s mistreatment of Kinh’s family. 

Other members of the public and academia, such as Chung Hoang Chuong, Nguyen Thuy Hanh, Dr. Nguyen Xuan Dien, Huynh Ngoc Chenh, Dr. Hoang Xuan Phu, and Nguyen Quang Vinh, participated in the Dong Tam discourse using different approaches. 

Nguyen Thuy Hanh called for the public to provide financial support to Kinh’s family since all major laborers of three generations of the family had been arrested. Chung Hoang Chuong and Dr. Nguyen Xuan Dien used their Facebook accounts to give their opinions and update the public on the case. 

Dr. Hoang Xuan Phu published a detailed analysis, which resulted from his independent investigation of what happened on the morning of January 9 in Dong Tam. 

Yet regardless of their way of contributing to transparency surrounding the case, many of them were subjected to various forms of abuse and harassment from the authorities. 

Nguyen Anh Tuan and Nguyen Xuan Dien have been threatened at their homes and briefly detained by plainclothes public security officers. 

Hanh’s bank account, which was able to raise hundreds of millions of dong in just one month to support Kinh’s family, was frozen and the money was confiscated by the Ministry of Public Security. The ministry alleged that the money could be used for “terrorism.”

Most severely, Can Thi Theu, her sons Trinh Ba Tu and Trinh Ba Phuong, along with Nguyen Thi Tam, were arrested in June for “making, storing and disseminating information to oppose the people’s regime” (Article 117 of the Criminal Code). 

And the suppression of information continued. 

The Dong Tam defendants at trial, September 8, 2020. Source: State media via RFA.

Just several days before the trial, in an attempt to influence the public (or to remind them not to react too much to the judgment), General To An Xo of the Ministry of Public Security publicly insulted Le Dinh Kinh, calling him a member of the new generation of “village bully” (cường hào) – a pejorative term coined by the Communist Party in the past to justify the government’s brutal policy against landlords and local officials in old rural Vietnam.

In the trial, vital information, such as how and why Kinh was killed and its legality, the details of “Plan 419A,” the pre-approved plan of attack against Dong Tam, and a proper crime scene investigation to examine how three security officers died under such peculiar conditions, was denied with no justification. 

It could be said that there was a black curtain surrounding the trial, leading to a reasonable observation that no truth or justice was protected or upheld in the judgment. 

Violations of 2019 UPR commitments

The 88 Project has published a comprehensive analysis with suggestions on how the Vietnamese government can keep its promises made in the 2019 Universal Periodic Review (UPR). A brief consideration shows that it, again, failed to comply, or even start to realize, its own UPR commitments, as exemplified in the Dong Tam trial. 

  • In the accepted UPR Recommendation No. 147, the Vietnamese government agreed to ensure that evidence obtained through torture is inadmissible in trial, in line with obligations under the Convention against Torture (CAT). Yet the promise seemed to hold no meaning in the Dong Tam trial. 

Nineteen out of 29 defendants confirmed directly in the trial that they were subjected to torture and degrading treatment. Le Dinh Cong, who was sentenced to death, told his attorney that he was beaten with a rubber baton every day during the investigation. 

Bui Viet Hieu, a 77 year-old who was shot and also beaten up to the point that he lost all his teeth in the raid, also asserts that he was forced to read out loud his “confession script” on national television. 

These allegations were never considered by the court. The court did not even bother to show the video records of the police interrogation, even though the current criminal legal framework requires it to do so. 

  • UPR Recommendation No. 157 from Slovakia asked for a proper investigation into the excessive use of force by the police and other human rights violations by official authorities; the Vietnamese government, with no reservation, had agreed that it would carry out “prompt, impartial, independent and effective investigations, including through full cooperation with third countries, into reports of unnecessary or excessive use of force by the police as well as violations of human rights by official authorities, and bring the perpetrators to justice.”

However, what led to the death of Le Dinh Kinh (and other misconduct during the investigation period) remains unresolved. Requests such as summoning Du Thi Thanh to give public testimony and opening an investigation into Kinh’s death were all denied. 

An analysis published by Luat Khoa tap chi, based on the information provided by the People’s Procuracy itself, shows that the decision to use deadly force in attacking Kinh’s family on the morning of January 9, 2020, was not only ill-advised, but also in violation of the basic aspects of policing science. The analysis proposes that the attack was unnecessary and also excessive. 

Defense attorneys on September 10, 2020. Source: Facebook, via Radio Free Asia 

  • The spirit of UPR Recommendations Nos. 158 and 164, to demand the immediate presence of a lawyer following a person’s arrest and other fair trial guarantees, was also violated. 

While the struggle for prisoners to meet with lawyers during the pre-trial detention is nothing new in Vietnam, arbitrary and unlawful arrangements also occurred during the trial. 

For instance, the attorneys were barred from communicating with their clients, with the chair judge insisting that “it would be unnecessary.” The lawyers were not allowed to copy and present their own documents. In the last days of the trial, they were also harassed and attacked by an unidentified group believed to be government supporters. 


The Dong Tam trial is another example of the Vietnamese government’s blatant contempt for the law and judicial processes, clearly violating both domestic and international commitments. The suppression of information and the violation of legal safeguards promised by the Vietnamese government clearly undermines the integrity of the trial process and the soundness of the court decision. Despite the high profile trial, which resulted in heavy prison sentences, two death penalties, and one life imprisonment, the government, and the courts it controls, still displayed gross arbitrariness and incompetence. The prospect of Vietnam’s compliance with its human rights obligations under the 2019 UPR and other international law instruments for the benefit of the citizens, in their everyday life, is grim. 

 © 2020 The 88 Project

Vietnam Free Expression Newsletter No. 41/2020 – Week of October 12-18

Greetings from The 88 Project! We bring you news, analysis, and actions regarding human rights and civil society in Vietnam during the week of October 12-18. Pham Doan Trang now has lawyers to represent her, though she is not permitted to meet with them. Two political prisoners are currently on hunger strikes– Tran Huynh Duy Thuc and Le Dinh Luong. In international advocacy, US representatives have spoken out against the Dong Tam trial and Vietnamese lawyers have called for the repeal of Article 117 of the 2015 Criminal Code, which broadly criminalizes activities deemed to be “anti-state.” In the news and analysis section, read about Japan-Vietnam defense relations and a new government decree aiming to further suppress freedom of publication in Vietnam with increased administrative punishments. Take action for Pham Doan Trang– we’ve compiled a list of actions you can take for her on our website.


Political Prisoners 

Pham Doan Trang’s family has retained attorney Dang Dinh Manh to represent her. Manh says the authorities have issued a limit on how many lawyers are allowed to work on this case, and that they cannot have access to the defendant until after the authorities have completed their investigation because this is “a matter of national security.” Besides Manh, the other attorneys are Nguyen Van Mieng, Trinh Vinh Phuc, Luan Le, Nguyen Ha Luan, and Ngo Anh Tuan. Most of these lawyers also worked on the Dong Tam trial, something that Trang wrote extensively about prior to her arrest. Trang was arrested just hours after the US-Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue on October 6.

On October 8, political prisoner Tran Huynh Duy Thuc told his family that he had begun a hunger strike for the last three days to demand that the High Court review his request to have his sentence reduced based on changes in the Penal Code of 2015. His brother, Tran Huynh Duy Tam, says the issue is that Thuc was charged with “preparing to commit a crime,” which in the new Penal Code only carries a maximum sentence of five years. Instead, his brother was sentenced to 16 years, and is currently in his 11th year behind bars. The family is working to have this sentence repealed so that Thuc can be freed according to the law.

Political prisoner Le Dinh Luong‘s family visited him on October 4, and Luong told them that he would go on a hunger strike starting on October 11. His family is very concerned about his health. Luong said he hasn’t been allowed to read his Bible. The prisoners are also suffering from polluted air and unsanitary water. Therefore, he decided to go on a hunger strike to demand basic rights for himself and other prisoners. An environmental and democracy activist, Luong was arrested on July 24, 2017, and later sentenced to 20 years in prison. Luong is currently at Ba Sao Prison Camp in the northern Ha Nam Province.

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

  • Engineer and activist Nguyen Ngoc Anh, birthday October 12, serving six years in prison

  • Anti-corruption protester Dang Thi Hue (pictured) and driver Bui Manh Tien, arrested October 16, 2019, and sentenced to one year in prison each

  • Catholic female activist Tran Thi Xuan, arrested October 17, 2017, and sentenced to nine years in prison

  • Facebooker and protester Le Van Phuong, arrested October 17, 2018, and sentenced to seven years in prison

  • Protesters and factory workers (pictured above from left to right) Vo Van TruLe Trong Nghia, and Pham Thi Thu Thuy, tried October 17, 2018, and sentenced to between two years and three months and three years and three months in prison each

  • Anti-corruption female activist Nguyen Thi Hue, tried October 17, 2019, and sentenced to two years and six months in prison
Community at Risk

A months-long investigation by Die Zeit and Bayerischer Rundfunk of Germany has revealed that the hacker group known as APT32, suspected of being illegal but supported by the government of Vietnam, has stepped up attacks against the Vietnamese diaspora community in Germany. Its main targets appear to be those who support human rights for Vietnam, especially journalists who write articles unfavorable to Hanoi. APT32 has also been known by other names, such as Ocean Lotus, APT-C-00, SeaLotus, and OceanBuffalo. In April of this year, cybersecurity company FireEye reported that APT32 hacked into China’s Office of Emergency Management and the Wuhan municipal government to get information on Covid-19.

After a lengthy investigation, the US Trademark Office finally rejected the application by the Cao Dai Buddhist Sect 1997, a Vietnamese state-run quasi-religious entity operating in the US, for a trademark it appropriated from the original Cao Dai denomination, which has been prohibited since the Communist takeover, and whose members have often been harassed and/or imprisoned. The office of Sect 1997 in the US has had to shut down after its leader was sued. Its cyber propaganda team has also gone silent for the past six months according to Boat People SOS, the organization that initiated the lawsuit.

International Advocacy 

A group of Vietnamese lawyers living abroad have written an open letter addressed to the Politburo and Parliament of Vietnam requesting the abolition of Article 117 of the Penal Code (“making, storing, spreading, or propagating information, materials, items for the purpose of opposing the State”), which criminalizes “anti-state” activities broadly. They claim that the article is unconstitutional, that its language is too vague and has been wrongly used to penalize legitimate grievances and suppress free speech. They suggest the article be repealed and replaced with something that is more in line with international norms and which only criminalizes acts that promote violence or terrorism.

The Dong Tam defendants at trial, September 8, 2020. Source: State media via RFA.

Fifteen US representatives have written a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo expressing their concerns about the Dong Tam land dispute and the trial of 29 villagers. The letter points out irregularities during the trial and calls the resulting sentences inhumane, with the intent to destroy whole generations. It urges the United States to include this incident in future bilateral talks with Vietnam and to demand a full investigation on what actually took place.

Trinh Ba Phuong and Nguyen Nang Tinh

A group of Vietnamese in Tokyo protested in front of the residence of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga ahead of his visit to Vietnam on October 18-20. They carried pictures of political prisoners such as Trinh Ba PhuongTran Huynh Duy ThucPham Doan TrangLe Dinh Luong, and Nguyen Nang Tinh. The group also went on a 24-hour hunger strike to call attention to the government’s continued crackdown on peaceful dissent and violations of freedom of speech.


The Jailed Activist Left a Letter Behind. The Message: Keep Fighting.Richard C. Paddock, The New York Times, October 14, 2020: “Ms. Pham is one of the most prominent critics to have been arrested in recent years by Vietnam’s Communist regime, which has long made a practice of harassing, beating and imprisoning outspoken activists. The widespread use of smartphones and the internet in Vietnam has meant that daring activists and journalists like Ms. Pham can independently publish stories in which they uncover corruption or expose malfeasance. But that also puts a huge target on their backs.”

Vietnam Seeks to Further Limit Press, An Hai, Voice of America, October 14, 2020: “Under the latest decree, signed Oct. 7 by Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, anyone sharing information that authorities deem harmful but not serious enough for a criminal penalty could face steeper fines and a longer, 12-month suspension. For example, the penalty for ‘posting or disseminating information unsuitable for the interests of the nation and people’ carries an administrative fine of up to 200 million Vietnamese dong (U.S. $8,600).”

“Law of the Jungle” for Pham Doan Trang, Y Chan, The Vietnamese, October 16, 2020: “But what is no less crucial is that along the same journey, we have also experienced a depiction of Vietnamese law, a legal system that is used by the state as ‘joss paper’ to be burnt in traditional ritual and sanctimonious duties, which in essence is completely meaningless. Pham Doan Trang has unwittingly somehow become the main character in a tragic story that unveils, through her blood and tears, the nature of that so-called legal system. I have uncovered that brief personal struggle of hers and found three markers that could have predicted many recent events.”

Vietnam Wrestles to Install New Leadership, David Brown, Asia Sentinel, October 16, 2020: “The aforementioned blogger, a retired senior official, reported on October 3 that ‘as the end of Trong’s term approaches, his power has ebbed along with his health. His stroke has left him wobbly and mumbling.’ It’s looking more and more, said the blogger, like a reprise of the epic battle before the 12th Congress between Trong and his would-be successor, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung. Or maybe not quite so epic. This time the battle is unlikely to spill into the public domain, and it is strongly rumored that in place of Trong’s man Tran Quoc Vuong, incumbent Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc (above) already commands the support of most Central Committee members.”

With eye on China, Japan’s Suga seeks tighter ties with Vietnam, Indonesia, Linda Sieg, Reuters, October 15, 2020: “Beefing up defence cooperation will be a ‘key point’ of Suga’s trip to Vietnam following last week’s port call of three Japanese vessels at the country’s Cam Ranh naval base, said Ha Hoang Hop of the Singapore-based ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute. China claims swathes of Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone as well as the Paracel and Spratly Islands while Indonesia has been angered by Chinese coast guard intrusions into its exclusive economic zone off its Natuna Islands. Japan plans to sign an agreement with Vietnam to allow it to export defence equipment and technology to the country, the Nikkei newspaper reported this week.”


We have added a post to the “Take Action” section of our website where you can find relevant actions in support of Pham Doan Trang. We will update the post as more actions become available.
© 2020 The 88 Project