Vietnam Free Expression Newsletter No. 14/2021 – Week of April 5-11

Greetings from The 88 Project! We bring you news, analysis, and actions regarding human rights and civil society in Vietnam during the week of April 5-11. In case you missed it, our report on human rights in Vietnam in 2020 is out now– read it here! Authorities this week arrested prominent activist Nguyen Thuy Hanh, as well as Facebooker and member of the Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam (IJAVN) Nguyen Van Son Trung. Imprisoned IJAVN member Nguyen Tuong Thuy is in poor health in prison; meanwhile, female activist Dinh Thi Thu Thuy’s health has improved. Last week, Facebookers Le Van Hai and Vu Tien Chi were sentenced to four and 10 years in prison, respectively. Le Anh Hung, who is being forcibly medicated while in pre-trial detention, has again had his medication dosage increased against his will. Read our translation of three recent letters Tran Huynh Duy Thuc sent home; he is currently on his third hunger strike since October 2020. In the international advocacy section, read new publications about Vietnam from the US State Department and Amnesty International. In the news and analysis section, read about the recent leadership change in Vietnam and Vietnam’s new initiatives aimed at Big Tech. Take action this week to support political prisoners Tran Duc Thach and Tran Thi Xuan.


Political Prisoners 

Nguyen Thuy Hanh, a prominent human rights defender and former independent candidate for the National Assembly in 2016, was arrested at her home on April 7. In 2017, Hanh founded the 50K Fund to raise funds for families of political prisoners. She’s been charged with “making, storing, disseminating propaganda against the state” under Article 117 of the 2015 Criminal Code. Her arrest came only two days after Pham Minh Chinh, a former vice minister of public security, was selected as Vietnam’s new prime minister.

Blogger Nguyen Tuong Thuy, 71, is reported to be in poor health. Thuy was sentenced to 11 years in prison under Article 117 in January of this year along with two others from the Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam (IJAVN). In late March, he was transferred from Bo La Prison where he was held with his co-defendants to An Phuoc Prison near Ho Chi Minh City. A few days before he was moved, his wife Nguyen Thi Lan went from Hanoi to bring her husband some medication, but was turned away by the guards. “I don’t know if he’s receiving the right medication,” she said.

Nguyen Van Son Trung, Source: Facebook

Nguyen Van Son Trung (b. 1982) was arrested by Binh Thuan Province police at his home. Trung is a member of the IJAVN and the administrator of the Facebook group Lều Của Đầy Tớ (The Servants’ Tent). Trung has been a regular activist since the Formosa environment disaster in 2016, but this was the first time he had been arrested in connection with the case. He has not been charged.

Le Van Hai at trial, Source: State Media via Radio Free Asia

On March 31, the People’s Court of Binh Dinh Province sentenced Facebooker Le Van Hai to four years in prison for “abusing democratic freedoms” under Article 331 of the Criminal Code. Hai was arrested in September, 2020 after complaining on Facebook about government officials when he did not receive what he felt was adequate compensation for his land and his pleas went unheard.

Vu Tien Chi

On March 30, the People’s Court of Lam Dong Province sentenced Facebooker Vu Tien Chi to 10 years in prison for his online postings. Meanwhile, the People’s Court of Khanh Hoa Province also sentenced three Facebookers to long jail terms: Nguyen Thi Cam Thuy, 10 years, Nguyen Thi Ha Phuong, 7 years, and Le Viet Hoa, 5 years.

Le Thi Niem, the mother of imprisoned journalist Le Anh Hung said her son told her in a phone call last week that the hospital had increased the medication dosage that they were giving him to 12 pills, and if he refused to take them, then they would inject him with it. Hung was arrested in July 2018 and charged with “abusing democratic freedoms.” He was transferred to a mental hospital in Hanoi in April, 2020 for maintaining his right to remain silent and is being forcibly medicated with antipsychotic medications despite no history of mental illness prior to imprisonment.

In February of this year, prominent political prisoner Tran Huynh Duy Thuc began a new hunger strike to demand a hearing to have his sentence reduced according to changes in the new Criminal Code. Before his strike, Thuc wrote some heartfelt letters to his family which we have translated to English, here. The popular blogger and entrepreneur is serving a 16-year sentence on charges of subversion.

On March 5, political prisoner Dinh Thi Thu Thuy was allowed to call home. In a brief five-minute conversation, she was able to tell her father that she’s healthy and gained 2 kg in prison. Thuy is an environmental engineer who was convicted of “anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 and who is serving a 7-year sentence.

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

  • Military veteran Pham Thi Phuong, arrested April 2010, and sentenced to 11 years in prison on charges of “subversion;” expected to be released from prison this month
  • Montagnard Christian activist Siu Thai, arrested April 2011, and sentenced to 10 years in prison on charges of “undermining the unity policy;” expected to be released from prison this month
  • Driver and BOT protester Tran Dinh Sang, arrested April 9, 2019, and sentenced to two years in prison on charges of “resisting public officials;” expected to be released from prison this month

Clockwise from top left: Truyen, Troi, Ton, and Duc
  • Brotherhood for Democracy activist Nguyen Van Tuc, tried April 10, 2018, and sentenced to 13 years in prison on charges of “subversion”
International Advocacy

The US State Department has published its 2020 Country Report on Human Rights in Vietnam.  The 50-page report provides a detailed picture of Vietnam’s increasingly blatant disregard for its own laws in a year that saw a surge in arbitrary detentions as well as a bloody raid on the villagers of Dong Tam which resulted in several deaths.

The International Press Institute is raising concerns that the human rights situation in Vietnam will not improve under the country’s new leadership since there’s really no change at the very top. Journalists and watchdog organizations fear that there will be more suppression and repercussions for dissidents unless the international community applies more pressure.

Amnesty International is calling for the release of activist Nguyen Thuy Hanh who was detained for her social activism; recently, she had been administering a fund aimed to ease the financial burdens that many families of Vietnam’s political prisoners must bear after their loved one is imprisoned. Amnesty International has also published its 2020/21 Human Rights World Report, which can be downloaded here.

To help raise international awareness of and support for writer Pham Doan Trang, Reporters Sans Frontières has asked Trang’s peers — past recipients of the RSF Press Freedom Prize — to speak out on her behalf. They have all responded with a message of solidarity. Since her arrest six months ago, Trang has been held incommunicado and has not been allowed to see a lawyer.


Ho Chi Minh – From Political Monument To God Of Prayers – Part 2, Karie Nguyen, The Vietnamese, April 8, 2021: “According to the teachings of this religion, the Heavenly realm rules over the other three realms. However, the blasphemous behavior, attitude, and way of worship in the Earthly realm destabilizes the harmony of the other worlds. This religion espouses that, because of Ho Chi Minh’s achievements, the purity of his soul, and his moral conduct on earth, his soul was ‘elected’ to become the leader of the Heavenly Palace upon passing away. Henceforth, he leads the spiritual revolution which claims to promote the right path to reach heaven in the material world.”

The odd couple: Vietnam, Laos get new leaders, David Hutt, Asia Times, April 6, 2021: “Politicians whose experience should have made them ideal candidates for certain roles were installed in positions ill-suited to their skills. Round pegs have been placed in square holes. On Monday, Vietnam’s National Assembly formally voted in Pham Minh Chinh, a former state security leader, as the country’s new prime minister, despite him having almost no experience of economic policy or government administration.”

The Women Of Possibilities, Trinh Huu Long, The Vietnamese, April 9, 2021: “In February of 2016, a wave of independent candidates competed for seats in the National Assembly, setting off a movement that was the largest of its kind in post-1975 Vietnam. Approximately 30 candidates had signed up, only for the ‘consultation’ process to remove them from the roster. Nguyen Thuy Hanh was among them. Different from Party-nominated candidates, independent candidates announced their action plans. And different from nearly all independent candidates, Nguyen Thuy Hanh was the rare voice that included women’s rights in her platform. She called for stricter laws on violence against women and human trafficking, encouraged job creation, and pushed for education policies and legal support for women.”

Vietnam unveils tools for taxing and tracking Big Tech, Lien Hoang, Nikkei Asia, April 6, 2021: “Vietnam is proposing a pair of regulations that would compel global tech players such as Alibaba and Google to hand over more taxes and data, in a move to increase government oversight in one of the world’s fastest-growing digital markets. One proposal would give state inspectors access to an e-commerce site’s internal data on merchants, while the second would introduce a tax collection regime deemed ‘onerous’ and ‘concerning’ by a trade group funded by the likes of Apple and Japanese e-commerce giant Rakuten.”

US-China rivalry: is the pressure on for Asean countries to choose sides? Maria Siow, South China Morning Post, April 10, 2021: “‘Their friendlier ties to China may be their way of pressuring the US to either stop criticising them so much on human rights and democracy, or to get Washington to be more solicitous towards them,’ Katz said. Claiming not to take sides allows Asian countries to ‘have their cake and eat it too,’ according to National University of Singapore political-science professor Chong Ja Ian, referring to the continuity of China’s economic opportunities and the strategic stability and predictability ensured by the US military presence in the region.”


Our very own 2020 Vietnam Human Rights Report is out. The 52-page report details the deteriorating situation in Vietnam over the last year, including all the incidents of arrests, trials, harassment and abuse of political prisoners.


Thach and Xuan

Help spread the word about poet and former North Vietnamese soldier Tran Duc Thach who is serving time for “anti-state propaganda.” And on the fifth anniversary of the Formosa environmental disaster, let us not forget female political prisoner Tran Thi Xuan, who was one of the protesters who was subsequently arrested and jailed. Take action for them both by clicking on the preceding links.
© 2021 The 88 Project