Vietnam Free Expression Newsletter No. 11/2024 – Week of March 8-14

Greetings from Project88. We bring you news, analysis, and actions regarding human rights and civil society in Vietnam during the week of March 8-14.

Project88 writes about increasing cyber repression in a joint report with the ASEAN Regional Coalition to #StopDigitalDictatorship. Meanwhile, US businesses plan to sell equipment to Vietnam’s police, and Vietnam’s Ministry of Information and Communications has proposed increasing penalties for “untrue” online posts.

An activist is forced to shut down his organization that trained young people on civil society participation. One political prisoner alleges he was held in solitary confinement for 18 months; another alleges the prison is purposely depriving him of food. An activist has been granted refugee status in Switzerland. Vietnam asks the Dutch royals to postpone their visit.


Nguyen Duc Hung

Political prisoner Nguyen Duc Hung has allegedly been held in solitary confinement for 18 months at Nam Ha Prison, according to his father who’s been trying unsuccessfully to visit him. Hung was arrested in 2022 for conducting “anti-state propaganda” and sentenced to five years and six months in a trial without a lawyer.

Hoang Thi Minh Hong

Environmental NGO leader Hoang Thi Minh Hong was moved to Bo La Detention Center in Binh Duong Province on Feb. 27. There have been no updates on her health or wellbeing. Hong was arrested in May 2023 and charged with “tax evasion,” a tactic the government has been using in recent years to suppress policy activism. Four other NGO leaders have been charged with the same crime since 2021 and another with allegedly appropriating state documents.

Dang Dinh Bach

Dang Dinh Bach’s wife, Tran Phuong Thao, has sent a heartfelt open letter asking the international community to help her husband. She alleges that prison authorities are blatantly violating Bach’s right to food security by withholding supplies.

On March 11, Do Minh Hien was given a six-year prison sentence by a Hanoi court for conducting “anti-state propaganda.” Arrested in July, 2023, The 67-yr old Hien was accused of posting and sharing anti-government articles through his social media accounts.

Phan Dinh Sang, 57, was arrested on March 12 by Ha Tinh provincial police for disseminating “anti-state propaganda. State media did not provide any specifics.

On March 1, two lawyers were convicted by a court in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) of violating cybersecurity laws. Dang Thi Han Ni received an 18-month sentence, and Tran Van Sy was given a 24-month sentence for allegedly “abusing democratic freedoms” based on Article 331. They are accused of publishing online personal details of Nguyen Phuong Hang, who is serving a three-year sentence also for “abusing democratic freedoms.” Phuong Hang’s appeal trial, originally scheduled for Mar 11, has been postponed to May due to the absence of several key witnesses.

Nguyen Vu Binh, Source: RFA

Nguyen Vu Binh, a former journalist for The Communist Magazine, was finally allowed to receive a package of supplies and some money from his sister, Nguyen Thi Phong, after her first attempt to supply him on March 4 was denied. As we reported last week, Binh was arrested two weeks ago and is being held in pre-trial detention for allegedly spreading “anti-state propaganda.”

Activist Nguyen Ho Nhat Thanh and his students are facing increasing harassment by HCMC Police. Thanh began his activism in 2011, starting with peaceful protests against China. In 2018, he started an organization named Fred Hub (Freedom Education Hub) to train young people on civil society participation. Hundreds of people have gone through the classes Fred Hub provides, the majority of whom are college students. Police began to harass them after they held a class on social development in November 2023. In December, many associates were “invited” to police stations for interrogation; some were questioned for two days straight. Most questions center around the organization’s internal structure, who funds it, and the training curriculum. As the pressure from the police mounted, Thanh closed Fred Hub in order to shield its associates from trouble. But the harassment persisted. Thanh believes the police are building a case against him, perhaps to arrest and charge him with “anti-government activities.”

Nguyen Thi Chau, the wife of political prisoner Nguyen Ngoc Anh, was fined by Ben Tre provincial cyber police on March 5 in the amount of 7.5 million dong ($300) for posting a picture of Anh with the caption “Innocent man convicted by idiots.” Chau told the police that she would agree to sign the paperwork just to acknowledge that they “indeed are idiots.” However, she said she would only be able to pay once Anh is released and can work. The police gave her 10 days to pay, otherwise the fine will start accumulating interest. Arrested in August 2018, Anh is serving a six-and-a-half year sentence for spreading“anti-state propaganda.”

Three Ede ethnic Protestants were released by Dak Lak provincial police after being detained without a warrant more than a week ago. According to RFA, the Evangelical Church of Christ and the independent Protestant House are two religious groups in Dak Lak not recognized by the state, “making it difficult for them to carry out their activities.” Vietnam only approves 13 out of about 100 groups Christian groups.

Nguyen Van Trang

Democracy activist Nguyen Van Trang has been granted political asylum and emigrated to Switzerland. Wanted by Vietnamese police in 2018, Trang escaped to Thailand. In 2022, the police in Thanh Hoa issued a warrant for his arrest although he was no longer in the country. Trang was a member of the Brotherhood for Democracy, a civil society group not recognized by the state. Another member of the group, Truong Duy Nhat, who also was seeking asylum in Thailand, was widely believed to be kidnapped and brought back to Vietnam in 2020. He is currently serving a 10-year sentence.


Dutch King and Queen postpone Vietnam visit at request of Hanoi, citing ‘domestic circumstances’. Nasdaq; 2024-03-14.  The Dutch King and Queen will postpone a visit to Vietnam planned for March 19-22 at the request of Vietnamese authorities, the Dutch Royal House said on Thursday. “The Vietnamese authorities have requested that the state visit of His Majesty the King and Her Majesty Queen Máxima to the Socialist Republic of Vietnam be postponed due to domestic circumstances,” the Royal House said in a statement. A spokesperson for the King did not elaborate.Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry was not immediately available for comment.

A Papal Tour to Normalize Relations Between Vietnam and the Vatican. The Diplomat; 2024-03-12. Vietnam is poised to establish full diplomatic relations with the Vatican in the second half of this year, when Pope Francis is expected to embark on a papal tour, a first since ties between the Holy See and Hanoi were severed at the end of the Second Indochina War in 1975.


International Climate Justice and Human Rights Organizations Call on ADB President to Raise Alarms About Vietnam’s Commitment to A Just Energy Transition During Upcoming Visit. International Rivers; 2024-03-07. While Asian Development Bank (ADB) President, Mr. Masatsugu Asakawa, visits Vietnam next week from March 11-15, the Vietnam Climate Defenders coalition urges him to sound the alarm on the country’s lack of genuine commitment to its Just Energy Transition Partnership (JETP) and other climate finance projects while its climate leaders are in jail. The visit will celebrate the 30th anniversary of the re-establishment of credit relations between the ADB and Vietnam, according to the State Bank of Vietnam.

International rights group calls on Vietnam to release women political prisoners. Radio Free Asia; 2024-03-11. The Paris-based Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (VCHR)–or Quê Me–marked Friday’s international women’s day with a call for the release of all the country’s female prisoners of conscience. More than 30 of Vietnam’s 200-plus political prisoners are women, the group said. While the government claims these women threatened national security or caused harm to the nation, VCHR said the reality is that they were simply fighting for basic rights, social justice and a clean environment. It said their arrests violated the Vietnamese constitution, national legislation and international human rights law.


US Business Group Seeks Security Equipment Deal With Vietnam’s Police. Reuters; 2024-03-11. A dozen U.S. firms will hold meetings with Vietnam’s public security and defense ministries next week, when a U.S. business group aims to sign a deal to facilitate the supply of gear to the country’s police, the organizer told Reuters. The meetings, slated for March 18, are part of the dialogue that led to an upgrade of ties in September during a visit to Hanoi by President Joe Biden, as Washington seeks to gain influence in the strategic Southeast Asian nation, which also has ties to China.

Vietnam arms imports drop to a trickle despite regional tensions. Reuters; 2024-03-14. Vietnam’s imports of weapons last year slowed to a trickle as it worked to diversify supplies away from Russia, data released on Monday show, while experts warned the country could be vulnerable during a regional conflict. Despite an estimated budget of more than $1 billion annually for arms imports, last year it placed no new major orders, according to data released on Monday by defense think tank Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

In Vietnam’s Mekong Delta, the lure of moving to the city grows even stronger amid climate shocks. AP News; 2024-03-13. For the poor in Vietnam, the future is especially uncertain. A U.N. climate change report in 2022 warned there will be more floods in the wet season and drought in the dry season. Unsustainable extraction of groundwater and sand for construction have made matters worse. And with rising seas gnawing away at its southern edge and dams hemming the Mekong River upstream, farming in the fertile delta is getting harder. Its contribution to Vietnam’s GDP has dropped from 27% in 1990 to less than 18% in 2019, according to a 2020 report by the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Will there be an increased punishment for artists and social media influencers who speak out online? Tuoi Tre; 2024-03-06. The Ministry of Information and Communications has proposed to increase penalties for artists, celebrities, and social media influencers who ‘make statements that are untrue or deviate from standards’. The ministry has proposed a decree to replace Decree 72, which includes regulations on speech activities in cyberspace. It is expected that in mid-2024 this decree will be issued by the Government. At that time, the ministry will likely increase fines and add additional penalties for online speech.

Tien Hai reserve saved from development in win for nature in Vietnam. Mongabay; 2024-03-11. Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh signed a decision this month to fully retain Tien Hai Nature Reserve, in a rare example of environmental protection winning over development in the Southeast Asian country. The reserve is part of the broader Red River Delta Biosphere Reserve. UNESCO notes that within this reserve, “[m]angroves and intertidal habitats of the Red River Delta form wetlands of high biodiversity, especially in the Xuan Thuy and Tien Hai districts. These wetlands are of global importance as migratory sites for several bird species.”


“Vietnam employs a variety of administrative, economic, and criminal tactics—not just detention and arrests— to repress online political speech. The result of these combined tactics is a sophisticated, secretive government ecosystem that preempts, prohibits, and punishes free speech online.”

– Project88’s Kaylee Uland on the worsening digital authoritarianism in Vietnam

Project88 collaborated with the ASEAN Regional Coalition to #StopDigitalDictatorship in its flagship report, “Dawn of Digital Dictatorship: Weaponizing the Law Against Online Speech in Southeast Asia.” The report was released on March 12, the World Day Against Cyber Censorship. Download the report here.

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