Vietnam Free Expression Newsletter 3/2024 – Week of Jan. 10-17

Greetings from Project88. We bring you news, analysis, and actions regarding human rights and civil society in Vietnam during the week of Jan. 10-17.

A so-called godfather of state-run media was arrested amidst false rumors of the passing of Vietnam’s Party boss. Two Montagnards face death sentences for the Dak Lak uprising. A recently released prisoner alleges abuse during detention. Vietnam pushes back against criticisms of its weak commitment to upholding international obligations on human rights. A former minister gets 18 years in prison for corruption while the government expands its investigation into another grafting scheme in the energy sector.


The government held a trial for 98 defendants involved in the June 11, 2023, attack on the headquarters of the people’s committee in two communes in Dak Lak Province that left nine people dead– four of whom were police officers. Most of the defendants, who were tried on various charges relating to terrorism, were not named, and six were tried in absentia because their whereabouts are currently unknown to the government. Two persons – H Wuen Êban and Y Sôl Niê – were recommended for the death penalty based on Article 113 of the Criminal Code.

Nguyen Cong Khe, the former editor-in-chief of state-run Thanh Nien newspaper, was arrested on Jan. 16 and charged with violating “regulations on the management and use of state assets” according to Article 219 of the Criminal Code. Also arrested was his former deputy, Nguyen Quang Thong, who succeeded him as chief editor at the paper. The case against Khe began with a land deal by Thanh Nien that got its start in 2008. Khe is highly connected to top-level party officials such as former Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc. It is not yet clear why the two men are only now being charged. This is a developing story.

Political Prisoners

Vu Quang Thuan

Nguyen Thi Nhien, the mother of political prisoner Vu Quang Thuan, told Project88 that Thuan is no longer in a critical health condition, although he still requires an operation for a lung condition. Prison officials told the family the operation would cost 300 million dong ($12,000), which the family doesn’t have. Since his arrest in 2017, Thuan has not been allowed to call home once a month in accordance with Vietnamese law. The family can only talk to him during their visits to Nam Ha Prison, hundreds of miles from his home. Thuan told his mother that he wishes to be sent abroad for medical care, and he asked his family to send him some pens and paper – the latter request has allegedly been repeatedly denied by prison officials.

Nguyen Van Hoa

Nguyen Van Hoa was released from An Diem Prison on Jan. 11 after serving seven years for “anti-state propaganda.” He must still serve three years of supervised release at his home in Ky Anh County, Ha Tinh Province. Upon his release, Hoa requested to take with him the log book that documents all the money and items he received from his family during his imprisonment, but only a copy of the log was provided. He refused to take 158,000 dong ($6.50) that was given as “money for re-integration into society,” which also included his “earnings” for good behavior.

In an initial interview with Project88, Hoa said he was physically beaten twice while in pre-trial detention. The first incident was in February 2017, during an investigation shortly after his arrest. The alleged perpetrator was Captain Trần Anh Đức. The second incident occurred in October 2017, about a month before his trial. At about 2 a.m., an official named Đức (also a captain), came into his cell and started beating him, leaving him nearly unconscious. The next afternoon he was taken to the prison clinic where he was diagnosed as having a nerve injury. He was treated for about a month before he was sent back to his cell. Before his trial, Hoa reported that an investigative officer named Nguyễn Anh Tuấn came into his cell and “made subtle hints” that he should not say anything about the beatings if he wanted to get a lighter sentence. Hoa asked for a pen and paper to make a request for lawyers, but he was not given any. No lawyers represented Hoa at his trial on Nov. 11, 2007, even though his family had retained two attorneys – Ha Huy Son and Ngo Anh Tuan – to defend him. We continue to investigate these allegations and will report more on Hoa’s time in prison soon.

Duong Manh Tien, a 42-year-old citizen with no known history of activism, was arrested by Binh Dinh provincial police on Jan. 10. Tien is charged with “abusing democratic freedoms” for resisting the reclamation of land to which the government said he had illegally staked a claim in My Duc Village in Phu My County, in 2019. In July of last year, the People’s Committee of Binh Dinh sent Tien a notice denying his appeal. During the reclamation process, Tien allegedly used language that “defames and harms the credibility of the state and some individuals.”


International Advocacy

Vietnam’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs refuted the accuracy of information about Vietnam’s human right commitments posted on the website of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Vietnamese authorities refuted their own claim that the country would meet its human rights obligations by the year 2099. We previously reported that Vietnam had backtracked on its proposed timeframe to reach human rights goals after facing widespread criticism.

The Foreign Ministry’s spokeswoman, Pham Thu Hang, has conveyed Vietnam’s regret and urged the U.S. not to place Vietnam on the Special Watch List for religious freedom.

Pope Francis met a delegation from Vietnam’s Communist Party on Thursday, and the Vatican’s foreign minister said the pontiff was keen to visit the Southeast Asian country in the wake of upgraded relations.

From the Committee to Protect Journalists’ 2023 Prison Census: Vietnam is again a top global jailer of journalists. The Prison Census also noted that almost 30% of the 320 journalists imprisoned worldwide have known health problems.

The Vietnamese government broadly repressed fundamental civil and political rights during 2023, and severely punished those who challenged the Vietnamese Communist Party’s monopoly on power, Human Rights Watch claimed in its World Report 2024.



Vietnam jails ex-health minister for 18 years. Bangkok Post; 2024-01-12: A court in Vietnam on Friday sentenced former health minister Nguyen Thanh Long to 18 years in prison after finding him guilty of taking bribes in a coronavirus test kit scandal, state media reported. Long was accused of taking bribes worth $2.25 million in the scandal, in which a local company was accused of colluding with officials to commission a state-funded research unit to produce and overstate its prices of Covid test kits.

Vietnam Set to Expand Graft Probe Into Misuse of Key Energy Fund. Bloomberg; 2024-01-12: Vietnam is preparing to widen a probe into alleged corruption among officials connected to the energy sector as the Southeast Asian country seeks to gain control over a worsening power crisis, according to officials with knowledge of the matter. An investigation that has ensnared senior trade officials in recent weeks over accusations of bribery, poor oversight and other abuses of power is set to be extended to the alleged mishandling of the nation’s nearly $300 million petroleum price stabilization fund, according to two people familiar with the situation.

Vietnam’s top leader attends parliament session after health concerns. Reuters; 2024-01-14: Vietnam’s top leader, Communist Party head Nguyen Phu Trong, on Monday attended a session of the National Assembly after concerns had been raised for days over his health. Earlier this month, contrary to normal practice, Trong, 79, had not been included in official schedules of meetings held with Vietnam’s leaders by visiting Indonesian President Joko Widodo and Laos’ Prime Minister Sonexay Siphandone.


“US President Joe Biden’s September visit to Vietnam, elevating bilateral relations to a ‘comprehensive strategic partnership’, symbolised the US view of Vietnam as a potential ally in counterbalancing China.” Vietnam’s Pivot. Marina Hue Zhang, The Interpreter; 2024-01-15.

Japan has become a critical partner as Vietnam tries to chart its own path by diversifying its economic dependencies and cultivating ties with a wide range of international actors. Will Vietnam Get Caught in the Crosshairs of Great-Power Politics Again? Dien Luong, Foreign Policy; 2024-01-09.

As an economy develops, economic policy and social policy tend to overlap. Reports of long queues of people in Ho Chi Minh City withdrawing their social insurance contributions after losing their jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic is an example. Solving Vietnam’s social protection sustainability problem.Suiwah Leung, East Asia Forum; 2024-01-12.


Ngo Thi To Nhien

On November 28, Project88 released the English version of the issue brief covering the arrest of Ngo Thi To Nhien by Vietnamese authorities and documenting how her arrest is part of Vietnam’s ongoing suppression of climate activists.

After considering the evidence, Project88 finds that the Vietnamese government deliberately and arbitrarily applied criminal law to arrest Nhien in an effort to stop her research and advocacy on energy policy and discourage others from working in this field.

You can also Project88’s analysis in Vietnamese.

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