Vietnam Human Rights Recap: Arrests of Government Critics Continue the First Seven Months of 2021

It’s been an eventful year so far in Vietnamese politics. Arrests of critics of the regime have taken place against the backdrop of the 13th National Party Congress, National Assembly elections, and rising Coronavirus infections. Twenty-three critics of the regime have been arrested during the first seven months of 2021, while 20 have been sentenced to prison.

Article 331 was the most frequent charge leveled against critics, with 11 individuals arrested for “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the State.” Eight people were charged under Article 117, a broad provision which criminalizes producing or disseminating information opposing” the State.

Following the arrest of Truong Chau Huu Danh last year, three more journalists from the anti-corruption Facebook news group Bao Sach have been arrested.

Nguyen Phuoc Trung Bao

Nguyen Phuoc Trung Bao, Doan Kien Giang and Nguyen Thanh Nha were all arrested on April 20. The trio recently reported that a senior Party official had plagiarized his doctoral thesis, and implicated the president of the supreme court in “irregularities that led to the abusive imposition of a death sentence” according to Reporters without Borders (RSF). Like Danh, they have been charged with “abusing democratic freedoms.” On July 6, a fifth member of the group, Le The Thang, was charged with the same offense, although he has not yet been arrested.

Le Trong Hung

Bao Sach is not the only Facebook news group to have been targeted. At the end of June, CHTV manager Le Van Dung was arrested after evading arrest for over a month. Earlier in the year, fellow CHTV journalist Le Trong Hung was arrested just two weeks after announcing his intention to stand as an independent candidate in May’s National Assembly elections. Hung is one of the few journalists in Vietnam who cover land rights disputes, a thorny issue in the country, especially after the Dong Tam incident in January 2020, which ended with the deaths of three policemen and one village elder, Le Dinh Kinh.

Nguyen Thi Tuyet Dieu

Judges in Vietnam have also been busy jailing independent journalists. On April 23, a former state journalist from Phu Yen Province, Tran Thi Tuyet Dieu, was given an eight-year sentence for criticizing the party, promoting democracy, and advocating for human rights on social media.

Pham Chi Thanh

On January 5, three members of the Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam (IJAVN) were sentenced after being accused of writing hostile articles intended to incite the overthrow of the government. Le Huu Minh Tuan and Nguyen Tuong Thuy each received 11-year prison sentences, while Pham Chi Dung was given 15 years. On July 9, IJAVN co-founder Pham Chi Thanh was given a five-and-a half-year sentence for his work.

There should be little surprise then, that Vietnam continues to be ranked 175th in the world for press freedom according to the latest annual report by RSF.

Vu Tien Chi

As official avenues for dissent have become increasingly difficult, critics have taken to social media to express their political opinions. Thirteen online commentators have been arrested since the turn of the year. Judges show little leniency to the government’s online critics. Vu Tien Chi now faces 10 years in prison after posting 338 articles and 181 videos on Facebook, which the authorities deemed beyond the pale, while in early June, Cao Van Dung was given a nine-year sentence for creating a pro-democracy Facebook group.

Le Chi Thanh

Two social media users were also arrested after announcing their intention to run as independent candidates in the National Assembly Elections earlier this year. Former prison officer and anti-corruption live-streamer Le Chi Thanh was arrested for filming traffic police the day after his car was impounded for alleged traffic offenses. Facebook commentator and independent candidate Tran Quoc Khanh was arrested on March 10 for live-streaming criticism of the government.

Nguyen Thuy Hanh

Authorities have continued to target activists who have provided support to the families of those involved in violence at Dong Tam in January 2020. On April 7, Nguyen Thuy Hanh was arrested after years of harassment. Hanh is the founder of the 50K Fund, which provides financial support, raised through charitable donations, to the families of prisoners of conscience. In 2020, Hanh’s bank account was frozen after she collected money for the family of Le Dinh Kinh, the Dong Tam village elder who was killed during the violence. In May, mother and son land rights activists Trinh Ba Tu and Can Thi Theu were given eight-year prison sentences for conducting “anti-state” propaganda. Tu and Theu posted videos on social media publicly supporting the residents of Dong Tam, while also criticizing the government’s handling of the incident.

As a fourth wave of Covid-19 intensified in Vietnam, Facebooker Phan Huu Diep Anh, 60, was charged with “abusing democratic freedoms” for posting about the coronavirus pandemic. Anh posted images of a man who set himself on fire in the streets of Thu Duc, and claimed that he had done so in protest against the city’s strict lockdown measures. State-media also claimed that Anh had posted content onto the platform which criticized the government, suggesting that Anh may have been charged for his political commentary.

Worryingly, the regime arrested two civil society leaders involved in the independent monitoring of commitments Vietnam made as part of the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA). The Vietnamese agreed to allow an independent monitoring group (DAG) to ensure that Vietnam fulfilled its commitments towards trade and sustainable development made during the EVFTA negotiations.

Mai Phan Loi. Source: VietnamNews

Mai Phan Loi and Dang Dinh Bach, part of the EVFTA-VNGO network which sought to be approved as the official Vietnamese DAG, were both arrested for tax evasion on July 2.

Loi was one of a number of Vietnamese activists who met with Barack Obama in 2016 to discuss human rights. Just weeks later, Loi had his official journalist license revoked following a separate and (allegedly) unrelated incident on social media. While it is not yet clear why Bach was targeted, it seems that the government is trying to avoid serious scrutiny by locking-up potential critics.

It was hoped that the EVFTA would help encourage Vietnam to show greater respect for human rights. Judging by the evidence thus far, this approach appears to be failing. Arrests have not declined, and they show little sign of stopping any time soon.

Indeed, almost a third of the total arrests for the year have taken place within the last month. The recent arrests of Mai Phan Loi and Dang Dinh Bach suggest that the regime is becoming even bolder in its disregard for human rights. For proponents of free speech in Vietnam, that’s a worrying thought.


Mai Phan Loi, Le Van Dung, Dang Dinh Bach, Dang Hoang Minh, Cao Van Dung, Nguyen Thuy Hanh, Tran Ngoc Son , Nguyen Phuoc Truong Bao, Doan Kien Giang, Nguyen Thanh Nha, Nguyen Hoai Nam, Le Trong Hung, Le Chi Thanh, Nguyen Duy Huong, Tran Quoc Khanh, Nguyen Van Nhanh, Le Anh Dung, Phan Bui Bao Thy, Do Nam Truong, Bach Van Hien, Phung Thanh Tuyen, Le Trung Thu, Phan Duu Hiep Anh.


Nguyen Van Lam, Tran Hoang Minh, Nguyen Van Nhanh, Le Van Hai, Vu Tien Chi, Dinh Thi Thu Thuy, Le Thi Binh, Tran Thi Tuyet Dieu, Ngo Thi Ha Phuong, Le Viet Hoa, Pham Chi Dung, Nguyen Thi Cam Thuy, Nguyen Tuong Thuy, Cao Van Dung, Dang Hoang Minh, Pham Chi Thanh, Trinh Ba Tu, Can Thi Theu, Tran Thi Thuy.


© 2021 The 88 Project