Vietnam Free Expression Newsletter No. 10/2022 – Week of March 7-13

Greetings from The 88 ProjectWe bring you news, analysis, and actions regarding human rights and civil society in Vietnam during the week of March 6-13. A trial has been postponed. Police responded with excessive force to another land rights dispute. Read an interview with an exiled singer-songwriter.  The invasion of Ukraine reveals a split within Vietnamese society as the government tries to take a neutral stance, and foreign ambassadors to Vietnam urge Hanoi to take a stance. Meanwhile, China quietly flexes its muscles by holding exercises in the East (South China) Sea.


Political Prisoners

Tran Thanh Phuong, a member of the Hien Phap (Constitution) group arrested in 2018 and sentenced to three and a half years in 2020 for “disturbing the peace,” has been released after completing his sentence. He has returned to his home in Hue and still has to serve two more years of probation.

Trinh Ba Tu (left) and Trinh Ba Phuong holding signs in support of their mother and fellow activist, Can Thi Theu

Thu Do, the wife of land rights activist Trinh Ba Phuong, said that his attorney visited Phuong on March 8. He reported that Phuong got his vaccination and that his health is fine. Several of his cellmates had to be quarantined because of COVID-19, but Phuong has not shown any symptoms.

Can Thi Theu, who has been imprisoned multiple times for her land rights activism

More worryingly, on February 22 Can Thi Theu, Phuong’s mother, was moved to a different prison — Camp 5 in Thanh Hoa Province, and his brother, Trinh Ba Tu, was moved to Camp 6 in Nghe An Province. hundreds of kilometers away. This will make it even harder for the family to visit all three of them. It’s not clear why they were transferred.

Do Nam Trung

Do Nam Trung met with his lawyers, Luan Le and Pham Le Quyen, on March 9. Truong is in good health and has been vaccinated. He is waiting for his appeal but doesn’t know yet when it will be. Anh Tuyet, his wife, and their daughter were allowed to visit him at the Bat Di Prison in Nam Dinh Province on February 3 and delivered outside food for the first time in seven months. On March 1, however, Trung’s mother was turned away and was told that only “cooked food” was allowed.

Bui Van Thuan

Bui Van Thuan’s wife received a letter from him for the first time since he was arrested on August 30 last year. Thuan said he’d had two shots of the Pfizer vaccine and was in generally good health due to regular exercise. But since last October he’s been having joint pains that doctors have looked at but couldn’t do anything about. Thus every 10 days or so he needs to take antibiotics and pain medication.

Activist Le Van Dung’s trial has been postponed until March 23, 2022. It was originally scheduled for March 11. Nguyen Van Son, a relative, will also be tried alongside him for “harboring a fugitive.”

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

Kunh, Lup, and Jur

  • Journalist Le Trong Hung, birthday March 18, sentenced to five years in prison for conducting “anti-state propaganda”
  • Journalist Le Huu Minh Tuan,  birthday March 20, serving 11 years in prison for conducting “anti-state propaganda”
  • Christian Hmong activists Sung A Sinh and Lau A Lenh, tried on March 18, 2020, and sentenced to life in prison on charges of subversion
  • Ha Mon Montagnard farmers KunhLup and Jur, arrested March 19, 2020, and still awaiting trial on unknown charges
Activists at Risk

Mai Khoi, personal photo via The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Read an interview with exiled award-winning activist and singer-songwriter Mai Khoi on International Women’s Day.

More than 100 villagers in Quang Nam Province demanding title to their land were beaten on Saturday by assailants wearing civilian clothes while police looked on.

International Advocacy

Pham Doan Trang will be highlighted as one of the 2022 International Women of Courage Awardees by the US State Department. The award ceremony will take place virtually on March 14 with remarks by First Lady Jill Biden. The ceremony will be hosted by Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Read this statement by Michelle Bachelet, from the Annual Report and Oral Update by the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the activities of her Office and recent human rights developments.

Rita French, the UK’s Global Ambassador for Human Rights, delivered the UK statement on human rights concerns in Russia, Cameroon, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Nicaragua, Vietnam and Ethiopia.

Nearly two dozen ambassadors from Europe and the US in Vietnam have written an open letter calling on Vietnam to support Ukraine in the war instead of trying to play it both ways.


Vietnam’s crackdown target: citizens who can inspire others, Zachary Abuza, RFA, March 7, 2022: “But the government will also target individuals before they have the chance to gain a bigger following. In 2021, Vietnam arrested nearly 40 bloggers and persons who disseminated “anti-state” material online. Most of them were little-known but all were activists on hot-button issues, such as China, the government’s mishandling of the pandemic, land disputes, and corruption. Clearly, some initiative is taken by local-level security forces and prosecutors in pursuing these cases. Vietnam has also started to use tax evasion charges against dissidents. It remains to be seen if it will take a leaf out of China’s playbook and start targeting other social influencers, including movie stars and musicians, who use their platforms to address pressing social issues.”

Vietnam Says China’s Sea Drills Violate Its Economic Zone, Mai Ngoc Chau and Philip Glamann, Bloomberg, March 7, 2022: “China should not take actions that complicate the South China Sea situation but rather help maintain regional peace, security and stability, Hang said in a statement on the ministry’s website. The exercises are taking place between the Hainan province and Vietnam from March 4 to March 15, Tuoi Tre newspaper reported on Monday, citing an earlier announcement of China Maritime Administration. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said Tuesday at a regular press briefing in Beijing that the drill is lawful. ‘China’s military exercise on its own doorstep is reasonable and lawful. It is beyond reproach.’”

All eyes on Ukraine, China flexes in South China Sea, Javad Heydarian, Asia Times, March 9, 2022: “Amid Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine, China has begun flexing its muscles in a clear show of force to regional rivals. Over the weekend, Beijing announced that it will increase its defense spending by 7.1% to US$229 billion, up from 6.8% last year. This brings official Chinese defense spending to $229 billion, a whopping figure dwarfing all other regional rivals’ defense budgets combined and second only to the United States globally. China’s actual defense spending is likely significantly higher, with some measurements putting it as high as $600 billion in recent years.”

Many Vietnamese Civil Society Groups Support Ukraine, An Hai, VOA, March 9, 2022: “Independent civil society organizations in Vietnam are condemning Russian President Vladimir Putin for invading Ukraine, a stance at odds with Hanoi’s abstention vote at the United Nations. Cultural researcher Nguyen Khac Mai and Professor Nguyen Dinh Cong, representing six independent civil society organizations in Vietnam and more than 150 individuals, presented a letter expressing their ‘support for the Ukrainian people’ to Ukrainian Charge d’Affaires Nataliya Zhynkina at the Ukrainian Embassy in Hanoi on March 3. ‘We have great sympathy and compassion for the people of Ukraine who were invaded by Russia,’ said Nguyen Cong, 86, who taught at the National University of Civil Engineering in Hanoi. He gave up his Vietnam Communist Party membership in 2016 and now is a dissident and political observer.”

The Two Halves Of Vietnam’s Vote, Trinh Huu Long, The Vietnamese, March 8, 2022: “The words in the resolution are completely consistent with the spirit of Ambassador Giang’s speech; the only difference is that the resolution mentions Russia by name and directly calls the country’s actions ‘aggression.’ So, instead of talking the talk and walking the walk, the Vietnamese government voted to abstain, which is essentially no vote at all. To simplify Vietnam’s response, we can ‘translate’ it as follows: We, Vietnamese, generally condemn and oppose acts of aggression, but if someone behaves aggressively, we have no opinion. In other words, Vietnam did not abstain; it actually cast two halves of a vote: half-‘for’ and half-‘against’.

Recommended reading:

Reading Southeast Asia on Ukraine.

China Has Forced Vietnam Into America’s Arms.

Australia Defense to grow to largest size since Vietnam War


Founder of the 50k Fund, Nguyen Thuy Hanh, was arrested on April 7, 2021

The recent spate of arrests of female activists, most of whom are well known and successful women in their fields, points to a disturbing yet deliberate trend in Vietnam. Read our latest report on the situation here.


Cao Vinh Thinh

Take action during this Women’s History Month by watching and sharing one of our interviews with women activists. Our interview collection covers a wide range of women from different backgrounds and areas of activism, including discussing land rights and family ties with Can Thi Theu, book editing with writer Nguyen Thi Khiem Nhu, and the challenges of running an environmentally-friendly business with Cao Vinh Thinh. See all of the videos, here.

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