Vietnam Free Expression Newsletter No. 15/2024 – Week of April 7-14

Greetings from Project88. We bring you news, analysis, and actions regarding human rights and civil society in Vietnam during the week of April 7-14.

Apple’s CEO visits Vietnam to elevate its “connection with local suppliers, clean water projects and education opportunities.” The visit comes just days after Project88 and dozens of other environmental and human rights organizations called on the company to “weigh in on the systematic persecution and imprisonment of climate leaders in the country.” Despite Apple’s stated commitment to investing in equitable environmental solutions, the company has yet to speak up about the jailing of key Vietnamese civil society actors: most recently energy think tank leader Ngo Thi To Nhien. Read the full letter here.


In other news, a defendant in the Dong Tam case was released early from prison. Imprisoned writer Pham Doan Trang has been awarded the 2024 PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write prize. Billionaire Truong My Lan was sentenced to death for fraud in a rare public example of Vietnam’s retention of the death penalty for a variety of crimes.


Pham Doan Trang

Imprisoned author Pham Doan Trang has received the 2024 PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write award. Trang is a prolific writer and fierce advocate for the environment, artistic freedom, and independent media. She was arrested in October 2020, just hours after the conclusion of the US-Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue. Trang was not allowed to see her lawyer for an entire year following her arrest. In late 2021, she was handed a 9-year sentence by a Hanoi court, one year more than recommended by the prosecutor, for conducting “anti-state propaganda,” in a trial that lasted only four hours. She was highlighted as one of the 2022 International Women of Courage Awardees by the US State Department. She has also been awarded the International Press Freedom Award from the Committee to Protect Journalists, the Canada-UK 2022 Media Freedom Award, and the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders.

Le Dinh Uy was released early from prison on April 9. Uy was serving a five-year sentence in connection with the Dong Tam Commune case, in which 3,000 policemen attacked the commune at night and killed Uy’s grandfather, Le Dinh Kinh. Three officers also died under questionable circumstances. Dozens of villagers were given prison sentences ranging from three months to 16 years. One person was given a life sentence and two received the death penalty.

The family also revealed that Le Dinh Cong is believed to be suffering from an unknown skin condition in prison, but he has not been allowed to receive medication supplied by the family in the past two months, so the condition has worsened. Le Dinh Chuc is also allegedly suffering from muscle atrophy which has caused one side of his body to not fully function. The family said Chuc is very weak and might not make it to next year. Cong and Chuc are sons of Le Dinh Kinh and are on death row.

Nguyen Vu Binh

Nguyen Thi Phong, sister of Nguyen Vu Binh, told Project88 that she visited him at the Detention Center No.1 in Hanoi on April 3. Since Binh is still under investigation by the State, he is still not allowed to have visitors. Phong could only leave Binh with some food and money. Binh was arrested under Article 117 for engaging in anti-state propaganda. He is a founding member of The Brotherhood for Democracy.

Dang Dang Phuoc

Music teacher Dang Dang Phuoc was allowed to write a short letter to his father. Phuoc’s wife, Le Thi Ha, said he had to go to the common area to write the letter, with a prison guard looking over his shoulder. Phuoc wrote in the letter that he should be proud of Phuoc because “I never did anything wrong, I only chose to help speed up the process of democratization, knowing full well what the sacrifices might be.” As we previously reported, Phuoc had struggled to send letters to his family, having previously submitted two letters for prison officials to “review” to no avail.

Even though she did not file an appeal of her conviction for violating Article 331, Nguyen Phuong Hang, former CEO of Dai Nam Corp., was taken to the Appeals Court in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) on April 4-5 to attend the hearings of her co-defendants: Dang Anh Quan, law professor at HCMC University, Nguyen Thi Mai, Phuong Hang’s assistant, and Le Thi Thu Ha, an employee of Dai Nam, who did file an appeal for clemency. As is usually the case, the court rejected all the appeals. However, it did reduce Phuong Hang’s sentence from three years to two years and nine months!


Truong My Lan: Vietnamese billionaire sentenced to death for $44bn fraud. BBC; 2024-04-11. It was the most spectacular trial ever held in Vietnam, befitting one of the greatest bank frauds the world has ever seen.Behind the stately yellow portico of the colonial-era courthouse in Ho Chi Minh City, a 67-year-old Vietnamese property developer was sentenced to death on Thursday for looting one of the country’s largest banks over a period of 11 years.It’s a rare verdict – she is one of very few women in Vietnam to be sentenced to death for a white collar crime. The decision is a reflection of the dizzying scale of the fraud. Truong My Lan was convicted of taking out $44bn (£35bn) in loans from the Saigon Commercial Bank. The verdict requires her to return $27bn, a sum prosecutors said may never be recovered. Some believe the death penalty is the court’s way of trying to encourage her to return some of the missing billions.

Vatican foreign minister travels to Vietnam in unprecedented visit. Reuters; 2024-04-09. The Vatican’s foreign minister Paul Richard Gallagher began an unprecedented six-day visit to Communist-ruled Vietnam on Tuesday as the two sides work on closer relations. Gallagher’s trip, the first to Vietnam for a Vatican foreign minister, could be followed by other top-level visits, including Pope Francis, who the Vatican has said is planning a trip to Indonesia. Although no time frame for that trip has been announced, diplomats expect that could be combined with other countries in Southeast Asia, including Vietnam, if Francis’ health allows. Gallagher said in January the pontiff was keen to visit Vietnam.

Khmer Krom group petitions for Vietnam to be removed from UN body. RFA; 2024-04-10. A group representing Vietnam’s Khmer Krom indigenous people has sent a petition to the United Nations Secretary General requesting the suspension of Vietnam’s membership of the U.N. Human Rights Council and calling for the release of imprisoned activists. The Khmers Kampuchea-Krom Federation, or KKF, posted an open letter on the website on April 4 to collect signatures.

Amid Presidential Shakeup, Wrongful Death-Row Prisoners in Vietnam Still Await Execution. The Vietnamese; 2024-04-10. Vo Van Thuong, the youngest president in Vietnam’s history, was forced to step down from his post last month in an unexpected turn of political events. Thuong resigned just a year after he assumed his presidency at 52. But during Thuong’s short-lived time in office, two critical events unfolded: the authorities issued decisions to execute Nguyen Van Chuong and Le Van Manh, two wrongfully convicted death-row inmates who were in prison for almost two decades, prompting a widespread public outcry.

Forests in Vietnam’s Central Highlands at risk as development projects take priority. Mongabay; 2024-04-10. Lâm Đồng province in Vietnam’s Central Highlands plans to delist an area of forest a quarter the size of the country’s biggest city, Ho Chi Minh City, in a bid to legalize farmland that’s currently zoned as forest. But an analysis of district- and city-level plans indicates an additional area more than half as large, most of which is natural forest, is also slated to be converted for a series of projects and infrastructure to serve socioeconomic development. More than three-quarters of that additional forest conversion will go toward mining projects, compared with a fraction of a percent that will be allocated for the use of ethnic minority communities.

City bar association cancels membership of Vietnamese activist lawyers. RFA; 2024-04-10. The Ho Chi Minh City Bar Association has removed the names of lawyers Dang Dinh Manh and Nguyen Van Mieng from its list of members, according to the Ho Chi Minh City Law Newspaper. The two had not paid membership fees for many years, the paper said in its Wednesday edition, adding that the decision to suspend them came into effect on April 5. Hinting at another reason for the Bar Association’s decision the paper added that the two lawyers had previously defended six members of the Peng Lei Buddhist House – or Tinh That Bong Lai – who were sentenced in 2022 to a combined 23 years and six months in prison on charges of “abusing democratic freedoms” under Article 331 of the Criminal Code.

In Vietnamese: 

Vietnam’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spoke out about accusations of ‘human rights violations’ related to Directive 24–
Bộ Ngoại giao Việt Nam lên tiếng về cáo buộc ‘vi phạm nhân quyền’ liên quan đến Chỉ thị 24, VOA Vienamese; 2024-04-06

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