Vietnam Free Expression Newsletter No. 13/2024 – Week of March 23-30

Greetings from Project88. We bring you news, analysis, and actions regarding human rights and civil society in Vietnam during the week of March 23-30.

In the past week, Vietnam has arrested five Buddhists from the same pagoda and three other men on charges of “abusing democratic freedoms.” A court also sentenced an administrator of a Facebook group to eight years in prison. Nguyen Thuy Hanh has been sent back to prison after her family was given hope of her temporary release on medical grounds. And Dang Dinh Bach alleges prison officials are denying him photos of his young child. In other news, Vietnam’s green transition plans continue to face scrutiny, and the country continues to increase coal imports.

“The ‘broad social consensus’ the JETP strives for seems far-fetched if the decarbonization push becomes yet another area in which people are squeezed.”

— With Japan’s help, is Vietnam headed for a flawed energy transition?


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Nguyen Thuy Hanh, arrested in April 2021 and yet to be tried, has been receiving treatment for cancer

Huynh Ngoc Chenh, husband of Nguyen Thuy Hanh, told Project88 that on March 10 he was called to the police station to file paperwork that would allow him to bring Hanh home for cancer treatment, provided that she remain at the residence where she was living at the time of her arrest. However, that apartment had since been leased to another tenant, and the lease would not expire until March 18. Chenh told the police he would try to negotiate with the tenant to end the lease early so his wife could move back to that residence; however, that effort failed. Then on March 17, he called the authorities to let them know that he could take Hanh home on March 18, but received no response from them. Then on March 22, after Hanh’s radiation therapy, the authorities went to K Hospital and read an order to continue Hanh’s “temporary detention” for another three months. She was then taken back to the jail on 2 Thuong Tin St. It is not clear why Hanh’s family was given such false hopes.

Vinh Long provincial police arrested five more Khmer Krom Buddhist men on March 28 as part of their expanding investigation of Thach Chanh Da Ra. Thach Chanh Da Ra is head of the Dai Tho Pagoda (Tro Nom Sek pagoda in Khmer) in Vinh Long province. Police accuse the men of holding hostage a group of officials from the People’s Committee of Tam Binh County who entered Dai Tho Temple on Nov. 22, 2023. They allege that Thach Chanh Da Ra directed the men to lock the doors and trap the officials inside, then assaulted them causing injuries. Eight people have been arrested so far in this case. The five men are: Duong Khai, Thach Qui Lay, Kim Sa Ruong, Thach Chop, and Thach Nha. This is still a developing story.

Police in Tuyen Quang Province have arrested another Facebooker for “abusing democratic freedoms” according to Article 331. Le Phu Tuan is accused of using Facebook to livestream 21 videos from September to December of last year that purportedly “diminish citizens’ trust in the legal system, lower the credibility of government officials, degrade the dignity of law enforcement officers…”

A court in Vinh Long Province sentenced Nguyen Van Lam to eight years in prison for conducting “anti-state propaganda.” Lam is accused of being involved with the Facebook page “Patriotic Diary,” founded by an account named Nguyen Nam Quoc (likely a pseudonym meaning “Southern Nation”). The prosecution alleges that Lam started following and sharing articles from this page in 2019, and later agreed to be an assistant administrator. In 2022, he is said to have created a Facebook page with that same name and was its administrator. According to the indictment, by July 2023 Lam posted 19 articles with content deemed to be “defamatory toward the Party and the State.”

Dong Nai provincial police have suspended an officer after a man named Vu Minh Duc was found dead after being detained for interrogation. Duc was summoned to appear at the station on March 22 to answer questions about a “disturbance of public order.” His family was informed that he had fainted during the investigation and was taken to Cho Ray Hospital. According to family member Vu Hoang Phu, who witnessed the autopsy, “His chest area, his skin had swellings and dents, and his thighs and buttocks were swollen. In addition, the level of bruising was noteworthy. Taking a deep look inside when he was operated on, I saw a lot of blood clots inside, penetrating deep into the bone. They were not normal bruises. On his two wrists there were scratches forming circle shapes, our family believe they were handcuffs traces.”

Binh Duong provincial police charged two Facebookers on March 28 with “abusing democratic freedoms.” Nguyen Duc Du and Hoang Quoc Viet are accused of insulting judiciary agencies with their postings about the case of death row inmate Ho Duy Hai. Du, 48, was arrested while Viet, 46, is prohibited from leaving his residence – a form of house arrest in Vietnam. As typical, the authorities did not say what the allegedly “abusive” posts contained.

Phan Tat Thanh

Phan Tat Thanh, detained since July 2023, still has not been allowed to see a lawyer. His father, Phan Tat Chi, told Project88 that he has retained attorney Tran Dinh Dung to represent Thanh. Dung says he has completed all the necessary paperwork, but the police have refused to let him see his client even though they had finished the investigation and forwarded the case to the Procuracy office. Thanh’s temporary detention has also been extended for another three months without explanation. Thanh is accused of spreading “anti-state propaganda.” He told his family during their visit on Feb. 16 that he was beaten by multiple police officers at the investigation center in Ben Thanh District, at the Chi Hoa Detention Center, and at Detention Center No. 4 on Phan Dang Luu Blvd.

Dang Dinh Bach

“I wonder if they not only strip him of his rights, but also strip him of his humanity.” – Tran Phuong Thao, wife of imprisoned climate leader Dang Dinh Bach. Thao shared an open letter alleging that Prison No. 6 in Nghe An Province has denied Bach photos of his young son — who was only weeks old when Bach was arrested — and his elderly parents, as well as books of various topics.

Nguyen Ngoc Anh

Nguyen Thi Chau, wife of Nguyen Ngoc Anh, told Project88 that during her visit to her husband on March 23, Anh said he had been asked by a janitor to go to the warden’s office for “some business.” This was not during normal hours, so Anh adamantly refused to leave his cell, telling that person that if they wanted to see or interrogate him, they needed to ask him directly or show an order of some sort. No one had come to him with such a request since then.


Secretary Blinken’s Meeting with Vietnamese Foreign Minister Son. U.S. Department of State; 2024-03-25. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken met with Vietnamese Foreign Minister Bui Thanh Son in Washington, D.C. for the inaugural Comprehensive Strategic Partnership foreign ministerial meeting. According to a State Department spokesperson, Secretary Blinken and Foreign Minister Son reaffirmed the strength of the U.S.-Vietnam relationship and reflected on progress since the elevation of ties during President Biden’s historic visit to Hanoi in September 2023. The Secretary and Foreign Minister addressed ways in which the United States and Vietnam can expand cooperation in key areas, including the semiconductor ecosystem, supply chain diversification, education and culture, security, and human rights. The Secretary and Foreign Minister also discussed shared regional priorities, including a free, open, connected, prosperous, resilient, and secure Indo-Pacific region and promoting stability and prosperity in the South China Sea.

US, Vietnamese top diplomats discuss greater chip cooperation, State Dept says. Reuters; 2024-03-26. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Vietnamese Foreign Minister Bui Thanh Son discussed expanding cooperation in semiconductors and supply chain diversification in a meeting on Monday in Washington, the State Department said. In September, U.S. President Joe Biden visited Hanoi and signed an agreement to elevate ties between the two countries as part of Washington’s effort to counterbalance China in the Indo-Pacific.

Administrator Samantha Power Meets with Vietnam Foreign Minister Bùi Thanh Sơn. USAID; 2024-03-25. Today, Administrator Samantha Power met with Vietnam Foreign Minister Bùi Thanh Sơn as part of the inaugural U.S.-Vietnam Comprehensive Strategic Partnership Ministerials. The two reinforced the U.S.-Vietnam Comprehensive Strategic Partnership (CSP) and the significant progress made in the six months since formalizing the upgrade in relations.

Putin Accepts Invite To Visit Vietnam: Hanoi. Barrons; 2024-03-26. Vietnam said Tuesday that Russian President Vladimir Putin has accepted an invitation to visit, according to a government statement. The Russian leader accepted a similar invitation in October when meeting with the then-Vietnamese President Vo Van Thuong in China, Hanoi said at the time.On Tuesday, Vietnam’s party general secretary Nguyen Phu Trong had a telephone conversation from Hanoi with Putin.They discussed a range of “major outlines to increase bilateral cooperation”, the government said in a statement on its official website.


With Japan’s help, is Vietnam headed for a flawed energy transition? Japan Times; 2024-03-25. At the end of 2022, nine rich governments made a deal with Vietnam to decarbonize the country’s energy sector. Under the deal, named the Just Energy Transition Partnership (JETP), the rich governments—the members of the G7 along with Denmark and Norway—committed to mobilize $15.5 billion in funding. In return, Vietnam promised it would phase out coal and consult NGOs and the media when making decisions to ensure the transition is implemented in a just manner. All parties have failed to live up to their sides of the deal. The rich governments have only mobilized a fraction of the pledged money. Vietnam, for its part, has not committed to an early phase out of coal and, instead of ensuring the public had a voice in key decisions about the transition, has arrested the leadership of the country’s climate change movement. This article provides more details on Japan’s role in the JETP.

Vietnam boosts coal imports as it promises investors no more power cuts. Reuters; 2024-03-26. Vietnam’s coal imports so far this year have nearly doubled from the same period of 2023, customs data shows, as the government strives to reassure foreign investors that factories will not face a repeat of last year’s power shortages. The Southeast Asian nation, which hosts large manufacturing operations of multinational companies like South Korea’s Samsung Electronics, Taiwan’s Foxconn and Japan’s Canon, is facing increasing pressure after it could not guarantee continuous power supplies during a prolonged heat wave last summer. Some factories were forced to temporarily suspend production.

Greenflation causes Indonesia and Vietnam to backtrack on renewables. Nikkei Asia; 2024-03-25. Indonesia’s recent lowering of its renewable energy targets highlights Southeast Asia’s decarbonization challenges, with inflation and financing concerns growing across the region, from Malaysia to Vietnam.

Vietnam’s High-Potential Energy Transition Needs Clear Policy And Clean Government. Fulcrum; 2024-03-27. Vietnam’s green growth commitments crucially depend on expanding renewable energy and replacing coal. The country must seize the rich opportunities on hand and manage the transition with a clear plan and effective, corruption-free administration.

Culture of harassment persists for women in Southeast Asia’s conservation space. Mongabay; 2024-03-19. Recent years have seen an increase in regulations addressing sexual harassment in Southeast Asia, including amendments to Vietnam’s labor code in 2019 and a 2022 anti-sexual harassment bill in Malaysia. However, women and members of the LGBTQ+ community say harassment remains widespread, enforcement on the ground is lacking, and the culture in many conservation organizations discourages speaking out. While victims of harassment say they’re often left to come up with their own coping measures, experts call for women-to-women mentorship, participation of male allies, and deeper transformational change in the conservation sector.

Vietnam’s Social Listening Programme: Big Brother Looming Over Ho Chi Minh City? Fulcrum; 2024-03-28. Ho Chi Minh City has launched an AI-led social listening programme to access social media platforms and gauge public opinion so as to improve municipal services for nearly 10 million inhabitants in Vietnam’s largest city, according to state media. Already, some Vietnamese have privately spoken of their fear that this plan will become a means for Big Brother to watch over people’s lives and further curtail freedom of speech, rather than enhance public services.

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