Vietnam Free Expression Newsletter No. 1/2024 – Weeks of Dec. 20-26 and Dec. 27-Jan. 2

Greetings from Project88. We bring you news, analysis, and actions regarding human rights and civil society in Vietnam during the weeks of Dec. 20-26 and Dec. 27-Jan. 2.

In case you missed it, read Project88’s newest report, detailing persecution incidents apart from arrests and trials that suggest a turn for the worse in Vietnam’s suppression of dissent, even as arrest numbers appear to be falling.


The new year sees Vietnam formally backtracking on its timeframe to reach human rights goals after being jeered for promising to implement reforms by 2099.

Meanwhile, Vietnam is seeking comprehensive strategic partnerships with even more countries as well as warming relations with its long-time nemesis the Vatican. Nonetheless, repression of freedom of speech and mistreatment of dissidents remain as a matter of course. In a somewhat surprising development, several prison guards were convicted for causing the death of a detainee, and dozens of officials have been put on trial in the massive COVID test kit fraud case.



The arrest warrant for Phan Van Bach

Project88 has confirmed that Phan Van Bach, former member of the pro-democracy channel CHTV, was taken into custody by Hanoi police on Dec 29. His wife said that as of Jan. 2, the family still had not been notified of his arrest nor told where he was being held. It wasn’t until Jan. 3 that his wife received a formal warrant notice (above), dated Dec 29, stating that the decision to arrest him was signed on Dec 19. However, when she went to the police station to see Bach, she was turned away. In 2016, Bach tried to run for a seat in the National Assembly as an independent candidate. Several former members of CHTV are currently serving prison sentences for conducting “anti-state propaganda.”

Le Huu Minh Tuan

Le Huu Minh Tuan, an independent journalist who was sentenced to 11 years in prison in 2020 for spreading “anti-state propaganda,” is reported to be too weak to even eat. According to RFA, Tuan told his family that “his health has declined to the point that he can no longer consume food without vomiting.” Tuan, 34, also told them that “he is too weak to bear any more” and “cannot hold on any longer.” His dire health situation has also been confirmed by The Vietnamese. Tuan has been diagnosed by Xuyen Moc Prison medical staff as having ulcerative colitis and hepatitis.

To raise awareness for his case, share this video interview – Le Huu Minh Tuan in his own words.

The United States Commission on Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has raised concerns about the arrest by Thai police of Hmong Protestant minister Lu A Da on Dec. 7. Lu A Da was given political asylum by the UNHCR on Dec. 14, but his wife told VOA she fears for his safety should he be extradited to Vietnam. USCIRF asks that the U.S. government urge Thailand to protect the rights of Vietnamese asylum seekers.

Music teacher and political prisoner Dang Dang Phuoc has been stripped of his job by the Dak Lak College of Pedagogy. Phuoc, 60, was convicted last June of spreading “anti-state propaganda” and sentenced to eight years in prison. His wife said that since Phuoc’s arrest, the school had been slashing his monthly pay in half; the latest decision will make their already dire economic situation even worse.


International Advocacy

On Dec. 19, Project88 released a new report highlighting key types of human rights violations by the Vietnamese state in 2022 and early 2023 that Project88 believes, when taken together, are indicative of an intensification of repression in Vietnam. These human rights violations include: government use of surveillance, intimidation, and restriction of movement to silence activists and commit reprisals; the targeting of climate defenders with false charges of tax evasion; rampant use of pre-trial incommunicado detention; and the forced psychiatric treatment of political prisoners. Read the full report here.

Reporters Sans Frontiere (RSF) is calling for the release of journalist Le Huu Minh Tuan based on reports by the family that his health is deteriorating to where he was nothing but “skin and bones” when they last visited him.

Also, read RSF’s Roundup Report on journalists who have been killed, detained, held hostage or gone missing in 2023, here.



A screenshot of Vietnam’s original UN pledge, with self-made deadlines of 2099 to implement human rights goals

Vietnam backpedaled on the details of a human rights pledge after being widely criticized for giving itself a deadline of 2099 to implement reforms. The country then turned in a new plan sans any deadlines to meet the eight human rights targets. The plans were submitted to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights for the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in December. Review the original plan, with the 2099 deadlines. And here, review the new plan.

Phil Robertson, Deputy Asia Director at Human Rights Watch, told Newsweek that the “global community’s ‘uncritical engagement’ with Vietnamese authorities has emboldened them, ‘leading to the kind of flippant arrogance that produced this outrageous year 2099 pledge.’”

On Dec. 27, state-run Vietnam News reported on its purported commitment to human rights, saying: “the country has made great efforts to build a legal system ensuring harmony between national law and international law. In particular, the 2013 Constitution can be considered the pinnacle of constitutional activities on protecting human rights in Việt Nam, affirming consistency in the issue of human rights and citizen rights mentioned in the Constitutions of 1946, 1959, 1980 and 1992.”


Vietnam’s ‘bamboo diplomacy’ shifts into higher gear. Reuters; 2023-12-28: In 2024, Vietnam is expected to upgrade ties with Australia to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership. A visit to the country next year by French President Emmanuel Macron is also being considered, as the former colonial power seeks to boost ties on security and infrastructure development.

Outspoken lawmaker expelled from Communist Party. RFA; 2023-12-20: A former lawmaker widely known for speaking out against law enforcement agencies has been expelled from Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party, state media reported. Luu Binh Nhoung was expelled for allegedly aiding and abetting extortion. He was arrested last month for his connection to the case of convicted criminal Pham Minh Cuong.

Vietnamese court sentences 3 ex-officers in detainee’s beating death. RFA; 2023-12-28: The Thai Binh People’s Court sentenced Pham Quang Hung to 11 years in prison, Trinh Thanh Hung to 10 years and Giap to 15 months, state media said. Over the recent years, civil society organizations and international human rights organizations have condemned the increasing use of violence by the police against citizens in Vietnam. At a United Nations Committee Against Torture hearing in Geneva in 2018, the Vietnamese government’s representative denied that torture is used by police at detention centers and police stations.

Asia’s child exploitation risk worsened by climate change, UN expert warns. Nikkei Asia; 2023-12-25: According to a UNICEF report released in October, titled “Children displaced in a changing climate,” as many as 43.1 million children were displaced globally during 2016-2021 due to floods, storms, droughts and wildfires. The Philippines had the world’s highest number, at 9.7 million, followed by India (6.7 million) and China (6.4 million). Bangladesh (3.3 million), Indonesia (960,000) and Vietnam (930,000) also made the world’s ten worst countries for child displacement.

Vatican Names Resident Papal Envoy for Vietnam as Ties Improve. Bloomberg; 2023-12-24: The Holy See named Archbishop Marek Zalewski as the resident papal ambassador to Vietnam, according to the Vatican News. Zalewski was based in Singapore as the non-resident representative to Vietnam since 2018 and was allowed to make working trips with government approval.

Company owner jailed for Covid test kit fraud. VN Express; 2023-12-30: A businessman was imprisoned for 25 years Friday for abuse of power and fraud in a case related to making a new Covid-19 test kit. Besides Phan Quoc Viet, CEO and chairman of Viet A Company, the Hanoi Military Court also sentenced several officials from the science and defense ministries for enabling the company to fraudulently get a license for the test kit as a state product.


Roman Catholicism in Vietnam can be traced back to the 16th century when Spanish members of the Franciscan order and Dominicans from Malacca, or the Philippines, began evangelizing the country. A Journey Through Time: The Rise of Catholicism in Vietnam. Lee Nguyen, The Vietnamese; 2023-12-14.

Indonesia and Vietnam will need to balance their sustainability ambitions and financing with the reality that many of the power systems already approved for construction will be coal-fired. Can Southeast Asia afford to retire its coal plants? David Hutt, Deutsche-Welles; 2023-12-23.


John Pilger obituary, Anthony Hayward, The Guardian; 2024-1-1: Displaying his talent for putting a human tragedy into a political context, he laid part of the blame on the US, which had secretly and illegally bombed Cambodia, creating the turmoil that allowed Pol Pot to seize power. Also, said Pilger, western governments were unwilling to give substantial aid to those now running Cambodia for fear of displeasing the US, which had been defeated in the Vietnam war only four years earlier.

© 2023 The 88 Project