Vietnam Free Expression Newsletter No. 10/2024 – Week of March 1-7

Greetings from Project88. We bring you news, analysis, and actions regarding human rights and civil society in Vietnam during the week of March 1-7.

On March 1, Project88 released the report, “Vietnam’s communist party declares war on human rights as a matter of official policy,” which reveals the contents of a secret national security directive issued by Vietnam’s top leaders that articulates a disturbing plan to deal with  perceived threats to national security. Directive 24 aims to subvert democratic control over public policy and the economy, while shoring up one-party rule. If implemented as intended, the directive will lead to systematic and widespread human rights violations.


Directive 24 proves that Vietnam has no genuine intention to fulfill its human rights commitments. Rather, the country’s leaders merely want to project the appearance of respecting rights on the world stage in order to advance other interests.

Still, just this week, Vietnam held a diplomatic dialogue with the US and formally upgraded relations with Australia. Human rights makes only a brief appearance in the list of topics included in the Australia-Vietnam upgrade, at item 24. Vietnam also arrested at least three activists in one week and labeled two overseas Montagnard rights groups as “terrorist” organizations.


Nguyen Vu Binh, Source: RFA

Independent journalist and former political prisoner Nguyen Vu Binh has been arrested again. On the morning of Feb. 29, the 56-year-old Binh was summoned to the police headquarters in Hanoi to discuss the YouTube channel TNT Media Live, which he and lawyer Nguyen Van Dai (currently in exile) worked on together from 2021 to 2022. After the meeting with the police, Binh was taken back to his apartment where the police formally arrested him and searched his residence. Nguyen Thi Phong, his sister, who witnessed the arrest, told Project88 that when she went to the police station on March 4 to retrieve Binh’s motorbike, she was told verbally that he had been charged with conducting “anti-state propaganda” under Article 117. She said she was not shown anything in writing. The police said Binh will be held at Detention Center No.1 in Hanoi for four months while they investigate his case.

Four months is the maximum amount of time by law that authorities can detain a suspect; however, they can file for multiple extensions which can stretch the detention period to years, as has happened to many political prisoners in the past. Phong said that her brother had been “invited” to visit the police many times in the past year. She added that it was thus reasonable to assume that the police have been following his activities for some time now, and that the need to “investigate” Binh was just a legal fig leaf in order to detain him for as long as the law allows. Binh is no stranger to the Ministry of Public Security. He worked for The Communist Magazine for 10 years before joining RFA in the early 2000s. He was convicted in September 2002 and sentenced to seven years in prison for “espionage” – that is, for exposing the party’s dirty secrets. Under international pressure, Binh was released early in 2007. He was awarded the Hellman-Hammett Prize by Human Rights Watch in 2002 and again in 2007 for his courageous activism.

Another Facebooker has been charged with violating Article 117. Lam Dong provincial police arrested Hoang Viet Khanh (b. 1983) on March 1 and accused him of posting articles and videos that allegedly “defame the party, the state and chairman Ho Chi Minh.” Along with Nguyen Vu Binh and Hoang Viet Khanh, blogger Nguyen Chi Tuyen (Anh Chi), was also arrested on Feb. 29, as we reported last week.

Ngo Oanh Phuong

Ngo Oanh Phuong, a successful entrepreneur and fearless rights defender better known as Phuong Ngo, has been issued a third summons by the Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) Police. Phuong has not responded to the latest invitation and has gone underground. According to human rights lawyer Dang Dinh Manh, the Facebook page Phuong Ngo has “an enormous number of followers” but has been locked to all users except its account holder. Phuong began her activism in 2019, exposing corruption and government abuse in the BOT toll road scheme. She also helped disseminate information about the Dong Tam raid in 2019. Phuong’s relentless activism has led to her being banned from leaving the country. Manh believes that this latest “invitation” from the police is the result of Phuong’s postings about Vingroup – the largest conglomerate in Vietnam, whose CEO is a powerful multi-billionaire.

Huynh Truong Ca

Political prisoner Huynh Truong Ca finished his prison sentence of five and a half years and was released from Xuan Loc Prison on March 4. A member of the Hien Phap constitutional rights group, Ca was convicted of spreading “anti-state propaganda” in 2018. In an interview with RFA after his release, Ca vowed that he will fight on. We are contacting him for more information.


Tenth U.S.-Vietnam Asia-Pacific Dialogue. U.S. State Department; 2024-03-05. Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel J. Kritenbrink and Vietnam Standing Vice Foreign Minister Nguyen Minh Vu recently concluded the 10th Asia-Pacific Dialogue in Hanoi, the first held under the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership between the two countries.  The two sides discussed a range of regional and global issues, including ASEAN, transnational threats, economic security cooperation, and advancing our shared goals of a free, open, connected, prosperous, secure, and resilient Indo-Pacific region.

Australia and Vietnam upgrade relations. Reuters; 2024-03-07. Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said on Thursday the country was raising ties with Vietnam to the level of a comprehensive strategic partnership, with an annual dialogue on minerals amid a push to diversify supply chains away from China. The partnership will support expanded cooperation on a range of issues, including climate, environment and energy, defense and security, and economic engagement and education, a joint statement by the two countries said.

Read the full joint statement on the elevation to a comprehensive strategic partnership between Vietnam and Australia.

Shifting Dynamics: Vietnam, Laos Face Scrutiny Over Democracy and Rights Amid ASEAN Leadership. BNN Breaking; 2024-03-04. As Vietnam garners interest from Western entities seeking to diversify away from China, and Laos takes the helm of ASEAN for the year, the political landscapes within these nations are drawing critical attention. Both countries, maintaining their governance under the Communist Party without the facade of independent elections, are at a pivotal juncture. The spotlight on these nations is not just due to their geopolitical significance but also because of the increasing concerns over human rights and democracy backsliding, issues that hold profound implications for regional stability and international relations, particularly with the Australian government expressing apprehension over China’s expanding influence in Southeast Asia.


As Vietnam grows ties with U.S., a secret directive seeks to gird the Communist Party. NPR; 2024-03-01. Last summer, as the United States and Vietnam finalized plans to upgrade the bilateral relationship, the Communist leadership in Hanoi issued a secret directive that aimed to limit outside influences and protect the party’s grip on power in the face of growing exposure to the U.S. and its allies. Analysts say the six-page document — known as “Directive 24” and issued by the ruling Communist Party’s elite Politburo — offers a window into the motivations and concerns of party leaders as they committed to deepen Vietnam’s links with an erstwhile enemy and leverage shifting geopolitical sands to upgrade the country’s economy. The directive outlines a set of broad measures designed to protect national security and limit threats to the country’s political system “in the context of comprehensive and deep international integration.”

Vietnam is lying to its friends. A secret document proves it. The Washington Post; 2024-03-06. As China struggles, Vietnam has positioned itself as a counterbalance to its larger neighbor and an alternative global manufacturing hub, forging new diplomatic and economic ties. President Biden visited in September,formally elevating Vietnam’s relationship with the United States. Vietnam now has 18 active or planned free-trade agreements. The opening has led to hope that more international contact might spur political change inside the country, which is run by an authoritarian regime. But Vietnam’s leaders do not want that change. In July, two months before Mr. Biden’s arrival, the Politburo of the Communist Party of Vietnam issued a secret order, Directive 24, seeking to continue its harsh control over the population. A copy of the directive was made public on March 1 by Project88, a group seeking free speech in Vietnam.

HCMC launches social listening software. Saigon Giai Phong News; 2024-02-27. The HCMC Department of Information and Communications on February 27 launched social listening software, Socialbeat, with AI integration to monitor, track, and analyze over one billion items of information a day. The real-time tool covers a wide variety of sources, including all major social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and other social media channels.

Vietnam tightens grip on social media influencers. Deutsche Welle; 2024-03-04. Nguyen Chi Tuyen, also known as Anh Chi, was detained in Vietnam under anti-state charges on Thursday. The YouTube influencer is being investigated for disseminating information against the Vietnamese state and will spend four months in detention in Hanoi while authorities conduct their inquiries. Tuyen is one of Vietnam’s most known civil society activists. He was part of the “No-U group,” an anti-China group that rejected Beijing’s U-shaped line in its attempts to control territory in the South China Sea.

Vietnam lists overseas dissident groups as ‘terrorist organisations’. Reuters; 2024-03-06. Vietnam has listed two political groups operating in the United States as “terrorist organisations”, accusing them of orchestrating attacks and promoting a secessionist agenda, its internal security agency said on Wednesday. The groups are the North Carolina-headquartered Montagnard Support Group Inc (MSGI) and Montagnard Stand for Justice (MSFJ), which was established in Thailand, the Ministry of Public Security said in a statement. Both operate in the United States and are accused of involvement in deadly attacks in the Central Highlands region in June 2023 that killed nine people, including four policemen.

Trial begins in Vietnam’s largest, multi-billion-dollar financial fraud. Reuters; 2024-03-05. The trial in Vietnam’s largest financial fraud case on record began on Tuesday, with nearly 90 defendants accused of being part of a $12 billion scam, for which some of them risk the death penalty. The trial, expected to last until the end of April at the People’s Court of Ho Chi Minh City, is part of a much wider campaign against corruption in the country which the leader of the ruling Communist Party, Nguyen Phu Trong, has pledged for years to stamp out, with no tangible results yet. The anti-graft drive has led in recent months to multiple high-profile arrests and the resignation of top figures, including the country’s former president last year, but the trial for the chairwoman of real estate developer Van Thinh Phat Holdings Group is unprecedented for its scale, with thousands expected to be summoned and about two hundred lawyers participating in the proceedings, according to state media.

© 2024 The 88 Project