Vietnam Free Expression Newsletter No. 12/2024 – Week of March 15-22

Greetings from Project88. We bring you news, analysis, and actions regarding human rights and civil society in Vietnam during the week of March 15-22.

In response to a question from VOA about the human rights implications of Directive 24, Vietnam’s Foreign Affairs Ministry did not refer to our report by name but said the ministry opposes “false and fabricated information with malicious intentions aimed at Viet Nam.”

Vietnam’s President has resigned, sparking a rush of international attention and analyses.

Prosecutors seek the death penalty in a colossal fraud case. Vietnam is a top executor globally and also retains the death penalty for drug offenses and political crimes.

Two Khmer Krom activists were convicted of “abusing democratic freedoms.” Several updates on conditions for political prisoners from their families shed light into health ailments and the lack of availability of food behind bars.

And lastly, in honor of World Poetry Day…

“Every day my hair grays a little quicker

Questioning where our country’s heading

Drowned by the sins of my generation

Weighted by shame, we face our children…”

– Translation of a “Repentance” by political prisoner Tran Duc Thach


Nguyen Duc Hung

It has been 18 months since Nguyen Duc Hung was put in solitary confinement at Nam Ha Prison, his brother Nguyen Duc Ho told Project88 on March 15. Since that time, Hung’s father has only been allowed to see him once, in December of last year. In August, when Nguyen Duc Sen tried to bring his son some supplies, he was told that Son could not receive them because he was still in solitary confinement for violating prison rules. Prison officials said it was because Hung tried to buy food from fellow inmate Le Dinh Luong, who’s serving a 20-year sentence. After the December visit, the family learned that Hung was not permitted to wear his wire-rimmed eyeglasses nor have 10-minute phone calls per month as allowed by law.  Hung has reportedly asked his family to hire two lawyers for him.

Tran Huynh Duy Thuc

Tran Huynh Duy Thuc’s family visited him on March 14 at Prison No. 6 in Nghe An Province. Thuc had gained a little bit of weight since the canteen resumed selling him food at the start of March after a three week pause that began on Feb. 9. Thuc had gone from 74 kilograms down to 62 kilograms during that period. He currently weighs only 64 kilograms. The family estimates that with the maximum allowable amount of money he can use at the canteen each month — 170 million dong ($70 USD), Thuc can buy three times the amount of food compared to last year; the canteen has also resumed selling him hot water to cook instant noodles.

Huynh Duc Thanh Binh’s mother, Nguyen Thi Hue, visited him at Xuan Loc Prison on March 19. Binh told her that most of the 25 men in his unit, himself included, suffer from nasal, throat and breathing issues. A former inmate at Xuan Loc, who has often visited Hue since his release from prison, told her that prisoners there only get to eat twice a day, at 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., and that the meals consist of so little food that they’re constantly hungry. He said that even after his release, the fear of going hungry has stayed with him night and day.

A court in Cau Ngang County in Tra Vinh Province on March 20 sentenced Khmer Krom activists Thach Cuong to four years in prison and To Hoang Chuong to three years and a half for “abusing democratic freedoms.” Prosecutors said that between September 2021 and June 2023, Cuong posted 11 videos about himself, shared 3 posts “from foreign sources and from Thach Cuong.” Chuong, they said, made eight posts that contained “untrue information” about the local police and other individuals, including about some doctors from a local hospital.

Bui Van Thuan

Bui Van Thuan’s wife, Trinh Thi Nhung, and their young daughter, visited Thuan at Prison No. 6 in Nghe An Province on March 9. Thuan appeared to be in good spirits and appeared to have regained some weight, Nhung said. He immediately asked her about the arrests of Nguyen Vu Binh and Nguyen Chi Tuyen (Anh Chi), which had just been shown on TV. Nhung explained that the two were arrested more than 10 days earlier, but that state media delayed reporting the news.

Dang Dang Phuoc

Dang Dang Phuoc’s wife, Le Thi Ha, and two of his siblings visited him on March 17. It was the first time in 18 months the two siblings had seen him, since they were not allowed inside the courtroom when he was tried. Phuoc said that political prisoners are not permitted to have pen and paper in their cell but have to go to the common room and borrow pen and paper there, which they have to request ahead of time. Phuoc said that despite this “unfair treatment,” he still managed to write two letters, which he gave to prison officials for “review;” he said he had not heard back from the officials. Ha said her husband otherwise looked healthy and was especially happy to see his siblings. Ha also said that on March 13, she received an invitation from the Dak Lak Provincial Police to answer questions related to her Facebook use. On March 14, she was questioned by them and returned home the same day.


Vietnam, France exchange funding agreement for climate change projects. Vietnam Plus; 2024-03-15. A ceremony took place in Hanoi on March 15 to exchange the agreement signed by the Vietnamese Ministry of Finance (MoF) and the French Development Agency (AFD) to fund two projects worth 72.3 million EUR (80 million USD) in Vietnam. The agreement supports the Hoi An anti-erosion and sustainable coastal protection project in the central province of Quang Nam and the central coastal urban development project for green growth and climate change response in Dong Ha city, Quang Tri province.

Digital Press Briefing with Uzra Zeya, Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights. U.S. Department of State; 2024-03-20. Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights Uzra Zeya discussed, among other things, the human rights situation in Vietnam this week. According to Zeya, ‘I think that the U.S. has elevated its engagement with Vietnam in recent years, and President Biden has been a prime supporter of this effort and we have ongoing human rights engagement with the Vietnamese Government.  We also have been very forthright in expressing our concerns with respect to issues like freedom of expression and religious freedom in Vietnam. But our view is this engagement is part of our steadfast commitment, through diplomacy, to advancing a more free, open, secure, and prosperous Indo-Pacific, and our engagement with Vietnam and our forthright expressions of concerns when it comes to human rights are part of that commitment by the United States.’


President Vo Van Thuong has resigned. Tuoi Tre; 2024-03-20. The Party Central Committee has agreed to let President Vo Van Thuong step down from his position as Politburo member and member of the 13th Party Central Committee. According to reports from the Central Inspection Committee, Thuong violated party member regulations and has set a bad example for officials and party members.

The current Vice President, Vo Thi Anh Xuan will serve as acting president.

Here’s What to Know About Vietnam’s Communist Government. New York Times; 2024-03-20. The announcement Wednesday that President Vo Van Thuong had resigned, the second president to step down in a little over a year amid allegations of corruption, has undercut that message of stability even though the post is largely a ceremonial one. The New York Times article provides an overview of Vietnam’s political leadership.

Analysis on the development in:


The Associated Press

Voice of America

Al Jazeera

Asia Times


In other news,

Meta, Boeing, GE Vernova join US business delegation to Vietnam this week. Reuters; 2024-03-18. A large U.S. business delegation, including Meta, Boeing and wind energy firm GE Vernova, is visiting Vietnam this week in a sign of continued corporate interest in the Southeast Asian nation after Washington upgraded ties last year. About 50 companies will participate, according to organiser US-ASEAN Business Council, which last year brought a business delegation of similar size to Vietnam.

Vietnam’s prosecutors seek death sentence for mastermind of nation’s largest financial scam. Reuters; 2024-03-19.Vietnamese prosecutors called on Tuesday for the death penalty to be handed to Truong My Lan, the mastermind of the Southeast Asian nation’s largest financial fraud on record, state media said. Lan, the chairwoman of real estate developer Van Thinh Phat Holdings Group, faces a trial in the economic hub of Ho Chi Minh City on accusations of leading a scam that caused damages of $20 billion, or about 4.9% of Vietnam’s gross domestic product. The trial, expected to run until the end of April, is part of a campaign against graft that the leader of the ruling Communist Party, Nguyen Phu Trong, has pledged for years to stamp out, although with few tangible results.

Vietnam local govt bans Buddhist pagoda repair. RFA; 2024-03-20. The government in Vietnam’s Ba Ria-Vung Tau province is blocking the repair of a 35 year-old Buddhist pagoda because the religious group that owns it is not state-sanctioned. On Monday, Thich Vinnh Phuoc, the abbot of Phuoc Buu pagoda, said local officials told workers to stop filling cracks and replacing tiles and  “wait for advice from superiors.”


Tran Duc Thach

March 21 was World Poetry Day. Poet and Brotherhood for Democracy member Tran Duc Thach was sentenced to 12 years in prison in 2020 for “carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the people’s administration.” Read our translation of his poem “Repentance,” here.

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