Vietnam Free Expression Newsletter No. 12/2021 – Week of March 22-28

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 22-28. Police this week arrested Dr. Nguyen Duy Huong for his Facebook posts critical of the state. Police also kidnapped Facebooker Le Trong Hung, who had planned to run for an independent seat in Vietnam’s National Assembly. Author Tran Duc Thach’s appeal of his 12-year sentence was denied this week, and authorities suddenly canceled journalist Tran Thi Tuyet Dieu’s trial. Read our translation of an original poem by Thach, here. We have updates this week on the conditions of several political prisoners– including land rights activists Trinh Ba Phuong, who is still awaiting trial, Hoang Duc Binh, who has been denied visits with his family for months, and journalist Nguyen Tuong Thuy, who was sentenced to 11 years in prison in January. In the news section, read about censorship in Vietnam and updates on the South China Sea (East Sea) conflict. In case you missed it, we recently published three analyses about female activists in Vietnam, looking at gender equality in politics and the unique factors facing imprisoned and harassed female activists. Take action this week with Amnesty International for Nguyen Van Duc Do, who has been held in solitary confinement for over 300 days.


Political Prisoners

Nguyen Duy Huong, Source: State Media via Radio Free Asia

On March 22, 2021, the Security and Investigation Agency of Nghe An Province arrested Dr. Nguyen Duy Huong, 34, under Article 117 of the 2015 Criminal Code for conducting “propaganda against the state.” The police searched his home in Yen Thanh District and also his Duy Nhi medical clinic, confiscating a tablet and a phone. According to the agency, since 2018, Dr. Huong has used the Facebook account Bao Kiem to publish many articles allegedly trying to distort and defame the people’s administration.

Le Trong Hung, Source: Social media via Defend the Defenders

Facebooker and activist Le Trong Hung, who last week announced he was running for an independent seat in the National Assembly in May, was kidnapped by police over the weekend. His wife, who is blind, said the police afterwards used his house key to enter and search their home, taking away several items belonging to him. A former schoolteacher, Hung, 42, is known for distributing copies of Vietnam’s Constitution and for actively promoting civil rights on the channel CHTV.

Tran Duc Thach at his appeal trial, Source: State Media via Radio Free Asia

Military veteran Tran Duc Thach, 69, was denied the appeal of his 12-year prison term after a short “trial” in which his lawyer was not allowed to argue his case. The defendant himself was not notified about the trial until a few days before. Read our translation of an original poem by Thach, entitled “Repentance,” here.Thach, a former political prisoner and a founder of the Brotherhood of Democracy, was re-arrested last year and charged with “attempt to overthrow the government” under Article 109 of the 2015 Criminal Code.

The trial for freelance journalist Tran Thi Tuyet Dieu, originally set for March 22, was suddenly cancelled at the last minute. Her attorney said he arrived at the courthouse and was informed there would be no trial, without being given a reason why or told when the trial would be rescheduled. Dieu, 33, used to be a journalist with a state-run Phu Yen newspaper. She is charged with “anti-state propaganda” under Article 177 of the Criminal Code for her political expression.

Trinh Ba Phuong

Trinh Ba Phuong’s wife, Thu Do, reported that her husband has been transferred from prison to Mental Hospital Central 1. However, the authorities refused to tell her the reason for the transfer. Phuong’s sister, Thao Trinh, said that her brother had maintained his right to remain silent in detention and refused to answer questions, prompting the main investigator to question his wife two months ago about his mental state. Phuong, his brother Trinh Ba Tu, and their mother Can Thi Theu, were arrested last year for helping Dong Tam villagers seek justice after a violent police raid in their community in January 2020. Phuong’s father, Trinh Ba Khiem, said he’s been harassed by security police for livestreaming his activities in support of his wife and sons. But he said he’s not afraid to speak out because he has nothing to lose: “My wife and children are already in prison, so I’m not frightened at all, even if they jail me for 20 years or if I die in prison.”

Three children of Dong Tam defendant Bui Viet Hieu were allowed to see him for the first time in a year, after he was arrested following the government raid in Dong Tam Commune in January 2020. Hieu was in the room where local leader Le Dinh Kinh was killed by police, and he himself was also shot but survived. He told his daughter that he’d spent months in the hospital and was well taken care of; he also said that besides being shot, he wasn’t tortured while in prison. Hieu has been sentenced to 16 years on a “murder” charge that was never proven in court.

Hoang Duc Binh’s family tried to visit him and bring supplies on March 24, but their request was denied for the fourth consecutive time. The family expressed their concern about Binh’s health. Regarding his sinusitis, they said that, “Although he had previously requested to see the doctor and Binh would pay all the expenses, the prison authorities still denied his request.” He is allotted only one letter and one 10-minute phone call home per month, both of which are intensely monitored by prison authorities. Binh is a labor rights and environmental activist serving 14 years in prison.

Blogger Nguyen Tuong Thuy’s wife reported that her husband had been moved to a different prison, and when she went to visit him there, she was not allowed to see him. In January of this year, Thuy, a member of the Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam, was convicted of “anti-state propaganda;” he has refused to appeal his 11-year sentence.

Nguyen Bac Truyen’s wife, Bui Kim Phuong, told The 88 Project that her husband has been mistreated in prison. Several letters that she sent to him were not delivered. An Diem Prison has ignored his requests and has not forwarded his petitions to the proper court authorities. He is not being medically treated for his gout condition. Several letters that he tried to send home asking for supplies were never delivered. The authorities have denied his request to be transferred closer to home.

This week, we remember the birthdays of the following political prisoners:

  • Blogger Do Cong Duong, birthday March 24, sentenced to eight years in prison for “causing public disorder” and “abusing democratic freedoms”
  • June 2018 public protester Pham Van Man, birthday March 22, sentenced to three years in prison for “causing public disorder”
International Advocacy

Amnesty International is calling for immediate cessation of mistreatment of Nguyen Van Duc Do, who is serving an 11-year sentence for his peaceful activism: “Amnesty International has received alarming reports that Nguyễn Văn Đức Độ has been kept in solitary confinement since May 2020, having been sent there after he complained to authorities of the harsh living conditions in the prison. According to reliable information received by the organization, at the time of his initial placement in solitary confinement, prison authorities chained Nguyễn Văn Đức Độ’s legs for 10 consecutive days. During this period, prison guards are reported to have fed him food mixed with human excrement and dirty water, which made him sick with food poisoning. He is also understood to have suffered injuries to his legs, which were cut and became swollen and infected from the shackles he was held in.”

Vietnam rejects the allegations by the UNHCR of its role in the forced disappearance of journalist Truong Duy Nhat. Using the same language it always uses to dismiss and attempt to discredit these kinds of allegations, Vietnam said in its response that it “requests the Special Procedures to base on reliable and verified information to issue the objective communications which reflect accurately the nature of the relevant cases.”


Oppression Through Greed: What The Myanmar Military And Vietnam Stand To Gain, Aerolynne Reed, The Vietnamese, March 24, 2021: “In effect, the military actually owns as much as 39 percent of Mytel in shares while 49 percent belongs to Viettel. The remainder goes to the other smaller investors that came from MNTH. Viettel also stands to achieve significant financial gain through this arrangement. Viettel was essential in the establishment of Mytel itself. In Mytel’s first three years of operation, Justice for Myanmar reported that Viettel ‘agreed to provide the lion’s share of the US$1.38 billion needed by Mytel in its first three years by investing US$169 million in its shares and lending it up to US$903 million.’”

A Prominent Writer Dies, Sparking Discussions Of His Works And Censorship, Trinh Huu Long, The Vietnamese, March 22, 2021: “In 1989, the film of ‘The General Retires’ was released, and by 1990 Thiep was being installed as a member of the Writers’ Association. But this is also the year that copies of his works began disappearing from book stores. Nhan Dan, the party newspaper, published two essays attacking Thiep, claiming that he had ‘betrayed the Vietnamese Revolution by toppling sacred heroes in Vietnamese history’ and that he was ‘deceived by the chimera of pre-1975 Saigon’. The denunciation campaign continued until 1991, when the police raided Thiep’s house, carried off his books and manuscripts, and provoked a turning point in his life. This also marks a turning point in Vietnamese literature, when the country’s brief, five-year experiment with Renovation ended in the dark age that persists today.”

German Parliament To Hold Hearing On Religious Freedom In Vietnam, The Vietnamese, March 24, 2021: “The report on international religious freedom was ratified by the German cabinet on October 28, 2020. In it, Vietnam was accused of engaging in serious and systematic suppression of religious practitioners, including those of the Duong Van Minh religion in the northeast, Protestants in the Central Highlands, and those of the Cao Dai, Hoa Hao, and Catholic religions, who seek independence in their activities. The report also stated that the Catholic Church in Vietnam had faced difficulties for years due to ambiguous laws and regulations, established to manage the non-profit and charitable activities of religious communities.”

Philippines, Vietnam press China over South China Sea activities, Al Jazeera, March 26, 2021: “Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has expressed ‘concern’ to China’s ambassador about Chinese vessels massing in the disputed South China Sea, his spokesman said, as Vietnam urged Beijing to respect its maritime sovereignty. International concern has grown in recent days over what the Philippines has described as a ‘swarming and threatening presence’ of more than 200 vessels that it believes are part of China’s maritime militia.”


Current political prisoner Dinh Thi Thu Thuy and former, now exiled, political prisoner Tran Thi Nga

In March, we highlighted cases of female activists and political prisoners in honor of International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month. Did you know that we have recorded 83 female Vietnamese activists currently persecuted by the government? Don’t forget to check out all of the recent publications by The 88 Project about female activists, below:

The Vietnamese women who refuse to stay silent: “The targeting of female activists also raises serious concerns about the effects of this treatment on women and their families, especially young children. The arrest and harassment of female activists with young children, has a significant mental impact on both the mothers and the children, as former political prisoner Tran Thi Nga shared in an interview with The 88 Project after her release.”

The Price of Dissent: Women and Political Activism in Vietnam: “January 20, 2021 Dinh Thi Thu Thuy became the latest female activist to be handed a prison sentence in Vietnam. Thuy, an aquaculture engineer and environmentalist from the Mekong Delta, had criticized a range of government policies on Facebook and was arrested in April last year. For just five posts which had received a mere 130 Likes and 80 Shares, Thuy was sentenced to seven years in prison. Before her trial, which lasted just four hours, Thuy had spent eight months in pre-trial detention unable to contact her family, including her ten year-old son.”

The different pictures of gender equality in Vietnam politics: “The record of women delegates in the Central Committee is just 9.5 percent, just one-third of the National Assembly (equivalent to 19 out of 200). Women only have one seat in the Politburo (out of 18 seats), and none of them is able to find a place in the troika power of the Communist Party. If we look at these ‘real’ numbers, the actual development of gender equality in Vietnam is quite stagnated. Yet this is just one layer of the story.”


Please share with your network Amnesty International’s call for an end to the mistreatment of political prisoner Nguyen Van Duc Do, who has been tortured and held in solitary confinement for over 300 days. Do is serving an 11-year sentence allegedly for “carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the people’s administration.”
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