Vietnam Free Expression Newsletter No. 15/2021 – Week of April 12-18

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 12-18. In case you missed it, our report on human rights in Vietnam in 2020 is out now– read it here. Last week, authorities arrested prominent activist Nguyen Thuy Hanh; read more about her activism in a letter from her husband. And read updates from prison on political prisoners Ho Dinh Cuong and Nguyen Tuong Thuy. This week, authorities arrested YouTuber Le Chi Thanh and Yoeung Kaiy, a Khmer Krom youth and labor activist; female activist Le Thi Binh will face trial on April 23. Long-time political prisoner Ngo Hao has emigrated to Finland after a temporary suspension of his 15-year sentence due to health issues. Several activists are at risk of arrest and other harassment for attempting to run as independent candidates in the upcoming National Assembly election. In the news and analysis section, read about recent political changes in Vietnam and a piece commemorating the fifth anniversary of the Formosa environmental waste spill and subsequent protests. Take action this week in support of Nguyen Thuy Hanh, and please consider taking our survey to share your opinions on our current content and what you’d like to see in the future.


Political Prisoners

Human rights defender Nguyen Thuy Hanh was arrested last week. She has been an activist since 2011, but it wasn’t until she founded the 50K Fund that the authorities began to follow her movements in earnest. She later opened an account to raise money for the family of slain Dong Tam Commune leader Le Dinh Kinh, at the request of land rights activist Trinh Ba Phuong. The authorities decided to arrest Hanh after they arrested Phuong, his brother Trinh Ba Tu, and their mother Can Thi Theu. Read Hanh’s husband, Huynh Ngoc Chenh’s, letter about her activism here.

Longtime post-war prisoner and political prisoner Ngo Hao, 73, and his wife Thi Kim Lan, were allowed to emigrate to Finland on April 4. In 1977, Hao, a former soldier of South Vietnam, was imprisoned for 20 years for founding the political party Federation of Vietnam. After his release in 1997, he continued to campaign for democracy and multi-party pluralism. Hao was re-arrested in 2013 and sentenced to 15 years for “conspiracy to overthrow the government.” In January of 2020, he was given a temporary suspension of his sentence due to poor health, and after a campaign by international advocates and the government of Finland, he was finally released and expelled from the country.

Le Thi Binh will have her first instance trial on April 23. Binh was arrested in December 2020 and charged under Article 331 of the 2015 Criminal Code for “abusing democratic freedoms.”. She participated in the peaceful nationwide protests in 2018 and posted commentary on her Facebook page. She is the sister of former political prisoner Le Minh The.

Le Chi Thanh, a Youtuber known for live streaming incidents of police wrongdoings in Vietnam, was arrested by the Thu Duc Province police on April 14. He has been charged with “obstructing officials carrying out government duties.” Thanh, 37, was a police captain who used to work at the Z30 Prison and was later transferred to Xuan Loc Prison. He was fired from his post in July 2020. Thanh is being held incommunicado and won’t be allowed to see a lawyer until the investigation is finished.

Nguyen Thi Lan, wife of Independent journalist Nguyen Tuong Thuy, reported on April 15 that her husband had been transferred to An Phuoc Prison in Binh Duong Province. She was able to see him the following day and reported that he looked thinner and darker, and that his mental state was not as sharp as before. Thuy, a member of the Independent Journalist Association of Vietnam, was sentenced earlier this year to 11 years in prison under Article 117 of the 2015 Criminal Code for “conducting propaganda against the state.”

On April 13, political prisoner Ho Dinh Cuong was able to call his wife, Do Thi Be, to let her know that he was moved to Xuan Loc Prison in Dong Nai Province. She was allowed to visit him for the first time in 11 months since the pandemic. Cuong is a member of the Hien Phap (Constitution) group; he was arrested in 2018 and sentenced to four years and six months under Article 118 of the 2015 Criminal Code for “disrupting security.” Be said her husband appeared healthy and was allowed to exercise every morning.

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

  • Montagnard Christian activist Siu Hlom, tried April 2011, and sentenced to 12 years in prison for “undermining the unity policy”
  • Catholic activist Tran Thi Xuan, tried April 12, 2018, and sentenced to nine years in prison on charges of “subversion”
  • Democracy activist Nguyen Viet Dung, tried April 12, 2018, and sentenced to six years in prison for “conducting propaganda against the state”
  • Freelance blogger Nguyen Van Hoa, birthday April 15, serving seven years in prison for “conducting propaganda against the state”
  • Female activist Dinh Thi Thu Thuy, arrested April 18, 2020, and sentenced to seven years in prison for “conducting propaganda against the state”
  • Online commentator Nguyen Van Phuoc, arrested April 19, 2019, and sentenced to five years in prison for “conducting propaganda against the state”
Activists at Risk

Nguyen Van Son Trung, Source: his Facebook via Radio Free Asia

Facebooker Nguyen Van Son Trung was detained for five days for questioning by Binh Thuan Province police and then released. Trung has no prior arrest record. Two other Facebookers also were arrested and released after a few days. The three men were discussing running for seats in the National Assembly and local councils, which they are allowed to do by law.

Yoeung Kaiy, Source: his Facebook page with Radio Free Asia

Yoeung Kaiy, a Khmer Krom youth and labor activist, was arrested at his home in Dong Nai Province without a warrant by about 100 police officers on Tuesday, and then released the morning after. They confiscated about 100 books on the United Nations’ Declarations on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Yoeung Kaiy uses Facebook to educate Khmer Krom workers on their labor rights.

International Advocacy

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture, is urging human rights groups the world over to speak out on behalf of 50K Fund founder Nguyen Thuy Hanh and urge the Vietnamese government to release her.


Five-Year-old Viet Protest Still Reverberates, Stewart Rees, Asia Sentinel, April 6, 2021: “Recent years have seen an increase in repression against activists and critics of the regime. The disaster is unlikely to be commemorated in state media, while social media content is increasingly monitored and restricted. Formosa-related content may well be considered beyond the pale by online censors. The controversy exposed Vietnam’s struggle to balance the interests of economic growth with the health and well-being of its people and environment. It also exposed the way in which foreign investment, on which Vietnam’s recent economic boom relies, can often be exploitative.”

U.S. stops short of branding Vietnam, Switzerland, Taiwan currency manipulators, David Lawder, Andrea Shalal, Reuters, April 17, 2021: “The U.S. Treasury Department on Friday said Vietnam, Switzerland and Taiwan tripped its thresholds for possible currency manipulation under a 2015 U.S. trade law, but refrained from formally branding them as manipulators. In the first semi-annual foreign exchange report issued by Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, the Treasury said it will commence ‘enhanced engagement’ with Taiwan and continue such talks with Vietnam and Switzerland after the Trump administration labeled the latter two as currency manipulators in December.”

How a Vietnam-Malaysia Fishing MOU Could Ease the Wider South China Sea Dispute, Ralph Jennings, Voice of America News, April 16, 2021: “Maritime law enforcement agencies from the two Southeast Asian countries aim to sign the memo this year and resolve at least 15 years of trouble over the movement of Vietnamese fishing vessels, the official Bernama news agency in Malaysia reported in early April. Bernama quoted the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency director-general saying he’s confident the deal, now in its final stages, will solve the issue of Vietnamese fishing boats that enter Malaysian-claimed waters.”

Vietnam’s Great Debate Over Democracy,Trien Vinh Le, The Diplomat, April 15, 2021. “… with Vietnam having opened up and accepted the path toward democracy, intellectuals, authorities, and citizens can together embrace the virtues of civic participation as a governing principle in which the people’s power is paramount. At that time, Vietnamese intellectuals and the government would regain their own unique advantages – the advantages of open and practical discussion that considers all viable opportunities. This would differentiate Vietnam from China. The two countries’ approaches to state power are completely different, driven by their different foundations of history, politics, and culture, as stated by the government.”

New Leadership Takes Charge in Vietnam: Challenges and Prospects, Vinod Arnand, Modern Diplomacy, April 14, 2021: “Overall, the new Vietnam leadership being a blend of the old and new is expected to consolidate the progress made in political, economic, social development and security fields as it strives to realise the aims and objectives of five and ten year plans and strategies. Considering the past record and achievements of the new leadership it can be easily said that Vietnam is well poised to meet the challenges of the new era.”


Our 2020 Vietnam Human Rights Report is out. The 52-page report details the deteriorating human rights situation in Vietnam over the last year, including arrests, trials, harassment and abuses of political prisoners.


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Please also help raise awareness of the arrest of activist philanthropist Nguyen Thuy Hanh, founder of the 50K Fund, by sharing this critically important story.

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