Vietnam Free Expression Newsletter No. 11/2021 – Week of March 15-21

Greetings from The 88 Project! We bring you news, analysis, and actions regarding human rights and civil society in Vietnam during the week of March 15-21. We have several updates on the health of political prisoners behind bars, including Nguyen Thu Ngoc Suong and music Nguyen Nang Tinh, who are both in poor health, and Nguyen Van Duc Do, who had a police dog released on him while in solitary confinement. Other updates are available about Nguyen Bac Truyen, Doan Thi Hong, and Trinh Ba Phuong. Former state journalist Tran Thi Tuyet Dieu will be tried on March 22 and faces up to 12 years in prison; Brotherhood for Democracy member Tran Duc Thach faces his appeal trial on March 24. In the news and analysis section, read about Vietnam’s international relations with the US and China, as well as the prospect of it joining the UN Human Rights Council. Plus, check out our analysis of gender equality in Vietnamese politics; despite all of the sugar-coating provisions in many legislations concerning women rights, the fact remains that the system is inherently misogynistic. Take action for Vietnam’s female political prisoners and activists at risk by sharing their stories on social media or taking an action from our website.


Political Prisoners

Tran Thi Tuyet Dieu, a freelance journalist who used to work for a state-run paper in Phu Yen Province, will have her first instance trial on March 22. She has been charged with “anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 of the 2015 Criminal Code and has been held incommunicado since her arrest in August 2020 until very recently, when she was finally allowed to see her lawyer. Dieu is accused of using her Facebook accounts to criticize the government. If convicted, she faces up to 12 years in prison.

We have received news that female activist Nguyen Thi Ngoc Suong is seriously ill. She has requested medical treatment, but her requests have been ignored. We are awaiting further updates and urge the Vietnamese government to immediately and unconditionally release Suong. Suong was arrested in 2018 and later sentenced to five years in prison for conducting “anti-state propaganda.”

Nguyen Nang Tinh’s wife, Maria Nguyen Thi Tinh, was able to visit him in prison on March 13 and updated The 88 Project on his condition. She had been unable to visit him for the last few months due to the pandemic. She said his health is poor; his teeth hurt because of tooth decay and he has backaches due to kidney stones. Tinh is only taking medication that is sent from home. His wife asked if he was able to exercise. He said he can’t exercise for long due to the pain in his hips and joints. Tinh is also fighting for his right to practice his faith. He requested a meeting with a Catholic priest, but the prison authorities haven’t responded to his requests. Tinh said he will wait until after Easter, and if the authorities still don’t respond, he will go on a hunger strike. Tinh is a music teacher who was sentenced in 2019 to 11 years in prison for conducting “anti-state propaganda.”

Nguyen Bac Truyen’s wife was able to visit Truyen last week and set an update to The 88 Project on his condition. She said he has not been feeling well but is physically stable. However, he is under a lot of psychological stress caused by prison guards. He told her they have been using other prisoners to harass and provoke him so that they could “isolate and demean him.” In the morning, whenever he tries to study English, they deliberately make a lot of loud noises so that he can’t concentrate. She said he seemed to be very stressed. Truyen is a democracy activist serving 11 years in prison on charges of “subversion.”

Doan Thi Hong, who is alleged to be a member of the Hien Phap “Constitution” group, was released from prison after spending two and a half years behind bars for protesting against a law on cybersecurity and a special economic zone law that seemed to favor Chinese businesses. She is the first in the group of seven arrestees to be released. Hong is in poor health and has a tumor in her chest. She was reunited with her daughter, who was only three years old when she was arrested. The police confiscated Hong’s motorbike when they arrested her; she said they have not given it back, making it difficult for her to find work.

Prison guards released a dog on political prisoner Nguyen Van Duc Do to keep him quiet. Do is serving 11 years for protesting the Formosa environmental disaster in 2016 and for his alleged affiliation with a pro-democracy civil society group. He has been held in solitary confinement without access to fresh air and exercise, causing his health to deteriorate. He was experiencing chest pain and had difficulty breathing when he tried to call for help by banging on his cell door. Instead of helping him, the guards brought out the dog, according to Duc’s brother. Fortunately, the dog did not attack Duc.

Trinh Ba Phuong’s wife reported that when she brought some supplies to the prison in Hanoi on March 18, she was told that Phuong had been moved, but no one was able to tell her where he was. They also gave her back the money she had deposited at the prison for her husband’s use, without any explanation. When she called the Investigation Bureau to inquire about this transfer, she was told that the officer in charge was not available. According to the law in Vietnam, whenever a prisoner is moved, the family must be notified. Phuong’s mother, Can Thi Theu, and his brother, Trinh Ba Tu, were both arrested last year for helping Dong Tam villagers in the wake of the violent police raid there in January 2020.

The appeals trial for former military officer Tran Duc Thach is set for March 24. Thach was convicted of “subversion” in a short trial last December. He is a co-founder of the Brotherhood for Democracy and was previously imprisoned for three years in 2009 for “anti-state propaganda.” On March 19, his wife went to the detention center to bring him some food, but she was not able to see him. She said he had not been allowed to call home, so she had no way of knowing how he was doing. If his appeal is denied, Thach, 70, faces 12 years in prison.

This week, we remember the arrests and trial anniversaries of the following political prisoners:

  • Journalist Huu Minh Tuan, birthday March 20, serving 11 years in prison for conducting “propaganda against the state”
  • Montagnard Christian missionary Ksor Ruk, tried on March 15, 2019, and sentenced to 10 years in prison for “undermining the unity policy”
  • Blogger Bui Hieu Vo, arrested March 17, 2017, and sentenced to four years and six months in prison for conducting “propaganda against the state”

Sinh and Lenh
  • Hmong Christian activists Sung A Sinh and Lau A Lenh, tried on March 18, 2020, and sentenced to life in prison on charges of “subversion”

Kunh, Lup, and Jur
  • Montagnard Ha Mon activists KunhLup, and Jur, arrested March 19, 2020, and awaiting trial
  • Blogger Phan Kim Khanh, arrested on March 21, 2017, and sentenced to six years in prison for conducting “propaganda against the state”


The different pictures of gender equality in Vietnam politics, The 88 Project, March 19, 2021: “Nine out of 26 activists arrested in 2020 were female. That is a surprising 1:2.8 ratio against the male counterpart. Even in 2018, the most serious year of state persecution against human rights defenders in recent years, women activists still accounted for 20 percent of all the arrests. The 88 Project has also documented a record number of female activists who faced administrative fines and other forms of harassment. From former political prisoners to the wives of jailed activists to ordinary citizens, many women have been subjected to mistreatment and harassment one way or another. According to our research, 22 percent of at-risk activists in Vietnam are women.”

Vietnam, ASEAN, and the US-China Rivalry in the Indo-Pacific, Jongsoo Lee, The Diplomat, March 13, 2021: “Vietnam aims to become an upper-middle-income economy by 2030 and a high-income economy by 2045. This means that the next 10 years are crucial for Vietnam. It remains to be seen how well the new leadership will implement the country’s socioeconomic development plans, but at least setting such ambitious goals means that they have no choice but to continue pursuing further economic reforms to bring their plans to fruition. Politically, certain reforms may also be explored, but mainly to streamline and increase the efficiency of the political system, not to democratize it. Vietnamese leaders believe that political stability is a precondition for economic development, and they will not tolerate any developments that may destabilize the political system. Their conviction is further strengthened by recent developments in the region, such as the coup in Myanmar last month.”

Should Vietnam become a member of the UN Human Rights Council?, Umair Jamal, ASEAN Today, March 17, 2021: “The UNHRC, responsible for promoting and defending human rights globally, has 47 members who are elected for three-year terms, according to quotas by region. The UNHRC elected 15 members in its last election in October 2020. The next round of elections will take place later this year. Despite Vietnam’s announcement, evidence suggests the government has done little to improve its poor human rights record over the years and remains one of the most oppressive states in Southeast Asia. Electing the country to the UNHRC would virtually give Vietnam’s government a permit to continue its oppressive policies.”

Vietnam Must Be Pleased With the Biden Administration… For the Most Part, Derek Grossman, The Diplomat, March 16, 2021: “The Biden administration appears to emphasize not only shared national interests, but values as well, such as democracy, freedom, and human rights. For Hanoi, there is likely a certain amount of trepidation regarding the potential consequences of engaging with a more vocal Washington on these issues, which are extremely sensitive for Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP) leaders. Additionally, Hanoi likely has concerns about whether the Biden administration will take action against Vietnam for Trump-era allegations that it is a currency-manipulator as well as potential U.S. sanctions against Vietnam for purchasing Russian military equipment under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act.”


All month, we have been highlighting the stories of female activists on our website and in social media. Check out the latest posts on our Twitter and Facebook accounts, or follow us on Instagram @the88project. Learn more about these brave activists and share their stories. Find out what other actions you can take to support imprisoned female activists by exploring the Take Action page of our website.
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