Vietnam Free Expression Newsletter No. 16/2021 – Week of April 19-25

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 19-25. Coming up on May 5, land rights activist Can Thi Theu and her son Trinh Ba Tu will be tried on charges of conducting “propaganda against the state.” This week, online commentator Le Thi Binh was sentenced to two years in prison, and former state journalist Tran Thi Tuyet Dieu was sentenced to eight years in prison. Three more journalists have also been arrested in the ongoing crackdown on independent journalists in Vietnam. And two political prisoners are reported to be in poor health in prison. In international advocacy, read PEN’s 2nd annual Freedom to Write Index, and in the news and analysis section, read about Vietnam’s international relations and our article on being an environmentalist in Vietnam. Take action this week for political prisoners Tran Duc Thach, who was arrested a year ago this week, and Tran Thi Xuan, 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

Can Thi Theu and Trinh Ba Tu

The trial for Can Thi Theu and one of her sons, Trinh Ba Tu, will be held on May, 5, 2021 in Hoa Binh Province, according to their lawyer Luan Le. Defenders of their land in Duong Noi Village, they were arrested in June 2020 for reporting on the government attack on Dong Tam Commune. They are charged with conducting “propaganda against the state” under Article 117 of the Criminal Code. Theu’s eldest son, Trinh Ba Phuong, was also arrested at the same time but has not yet been charged and has not been allowed to see a lawyer.

Three more independent journalists have been arrested. Nguyen Thanh Nha, Doan Kien Giang, and Nguyen Phuoc Trung Bao are regular contributors to Bao Sach (Clean Newspaper), a Facebook page dedicated to exposing corruption founded by Truong Chau Huu Danh, who was arrested in December of last year for “abusing democratic freedoms.” The trio recently reported that a senior leader of the Communist Party committed plagiarism, and they implicated the chief justice of the Supreme Court in a highly irregular death penalty case.

Le Thi Binh arriving at trial on April 22, Source: Phap Luat

On April 22, the People’s Court of Can Tho Province sentenced Le Thi Binh, 45, to two years in prison for “abusing democratic freedoms” through her social media accounts. The government accused Binh of using her mobile phone between October 2019 to November 2020 to connect to the internet to livestream and post her opinions to get people to respond and criticize the government. She is the sister of former political prisoner Le Minh The.

Tran Thi Tuyet Dieu at trial on April 23, Source: via Radio Free Asia

Blogger Tran Thi Tuyet Dieu, from Phu Yen Province, was given an 8-year prison sentence on April 23 for conducting “propaganda against the state” under Article 117 of the Criminal Code. Dieu, a former employee of a state-run newspaper, was arrested in August 2020 but was not allowed to see a lawyer until November. The government accused her of posting 25 news articles on Facebook and nine videos on YouTube whose content was deemed to be against the government.

Two-time political prisoner Nguyen Viet Dung, 35, is reported by his sister, Nguyen Anh, to be in poor health. She visited him at Nam Ha Prison on April 22. Unlike the last visit three months ago when he appeared healthy, Dung is having problems eating and sleeping, has a fever, and has skin rashes on his neck and face. He’s being isolated from other prisoners. Dung has asked to see a doctor and that he be allowed to be with others. He’s currently serving a six-year sentence for conducting “propaganda against the state” under Article 117 of the 2015 Criminal Code.

Independent journalist Nguyen Tuong Thuy is showing signs of physical and mental decline in jail. His wife was allowed to see him after he was moved from Bo La Prison to An Phuoc Prison last week. She said her husband appeared frail and was uncharacteristically absent-minded. Thuy, 71, told his wife that conditions at the new prison were better. He is serving an 11-year sentence for conducting “propaganda against the state” under Article 117 of the 2015 Criminal Code.

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

  • Montagnard Christian pastor Runh, arrested April 23, 2012, and sentenced to 10 years in prison
  • Buddhist activist Tran Thanh Giang, arrested April 23, 2019, and sentenced to eight years in prison for conducting “propaganda against the state”
  • Activist Nguyen Chi Vung, arrested April 23, 2019, and sentenced to six years  in prison for conducting “propaganda against the state”
  • Activist Nguyen Dinh Khue, arrested April 25, 2019, and sentenced to two years and four months in prison for “disrupting security”
  • Activist Vo Thuong Trung, arrested April 25, 2019, and sentenced to three years in prison for “disrupting security”
  • Activist Ngo Xuan Thanh, arrested April 25, 2019, and sentenced to two years and four months in prison for “disrupting security”
  • Montagnard Christian activist Dinh Nong, tried April 2017, and sentenced to eight years in prison for “undermining the unity policy”
  • Montagnard Christian activist Ksor Kam, tried April 2017, and sentenced to nine years in prison for “undermining the unity policy”
  • Montagnard Christian activist Puih Bop, tried April 2017, and sentenced to nine years in prison for “undermining the unity policy”
  • Montagnard Christian activist Ro Lan Kly, tried April 2017, and sentenced to eight years in prison for “undermining the unity policy”
International Advocacy

A report by the UN Human Rights Treaty Bodies on Vietnam in 2019 concluded that despite some positive changes to the law, Vietnam was still not in compliance with Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights regarding arbitrary arrests and detention, especially with respect to the provision of allowing the arrested to see a lawyer within 48 hours.

PEN’s 2nd annual Freedom to Write Index notes that the Asia-Pacific countries had the most number of jailed journalists in 2020, with China leading the way with 81 cases. Of the Top 10 violators in the world, Vietnam ranks seventh with 11 cases.

The Swiss NGO International Commission of Jurists has submitted a report to the UN’s OHCHR criticizing the governments of Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand for using the pandemic as a pretext to create laws that restrict freedom of the press.


Being an environmentalist in Vietnam, The 88 Project, April 18, 2021: “Nguyen Van Hoa, a freelance reporter for Radio Free Asia who had livestreamed drone footage of the protests, was given a seven-year sentence in November 2017. Hoa was beaten in detention and coerced into giving testimony incriminating Le Dinh Luong, a democracy activist who had also written about the Formosa scandal. In August 2018, Luong was sentenced to 20 years in prison for his activism.”

Is Vietnam Being Ruled By A Diarchy?, Karie Nguyen, The Vietnamese, April 23, 2021: “Knowing the country’s top leaders before they could even vote, it is not a surprise that Vietnamese citizens have been more interested in the US presidential elections than their own. Why is this bizarre phenomenon the case in Vietnam? The answer lies in the state governance model of a diarchy that restricts Vietnamese citizen representation in government and eliminates all hope of participating in governance.”

Japan, Thailand, Vietnam Vie with China for Influence in Impoverished, Landlocked Laos, Ralph Jennings, Voice of America, April 23, 2021: “Chinese official flows of money into Laos have reached $11 billion per year, according to the website operated by U.S. university William & Mary. Financing and investment would push the figure higher. Other top donors are Japan and Thailand, with Vietnam emerging as a new one. Japan gave $63.8 billion in 2016, including grants, loans and technical aid, according to Japan’s Foreign Affairs Ministry. Official development aid from all countries sometimes reaches 15% of Lao GDP.”

Concerns raised over legal advice for Vietnamese migrants deported from UK, Diane Taylor and Chris Humphrey, The Guardian, April 22, 2021: “Steve Valdez-Symonds, the refugee and migrant rights director at Amnesty International, said: ‘Amnesty is extremely concerned about reports that several people were forcibly removed from the UK by charter flight to Vietnam without proper opportunity for them to seek or receive legal advice and assistance. There is a serious and wholly unacceptable risk that on this flight were people whose removal was unlawful, including people who are victims of human trafficking and other serious abuses.’”

Biden Nominates Marc Knapper as Next Ambassador to Vietnam, Carlyle A. Thayer, April 16, 2021: “In September 2020, I was informed by a very reliable source in Hanoi that Marc Knapper would replace Daniel Kritenbrink as Ambassador to Vietnam. That indicates Knapper was held in high respect by the Department of State run by Trump-appointed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Knapper is a career Senior Foreign Service Officer who has held senior posts in East Asia, most recently as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Korea and Japan since August 2018. Knapper is ideally placed to assist in implementing President Biden’s strategy of revitalizing and modernizing U.S. alliances as well as relations with security partners. Japan and South Korea are at the centre of this strategy and Vietnam is a high-priority potential security partner.”


Tran Thi Xuan and Tran Duc Thach

Take action this week for female political prisoner Tran Thi Xuan, a Catholic social activist who was tried in April 2018 and sentenced to nine years in prison, and for poet Tran Duc Thach, who was arrested a year ago this week and is serving a 12-year prison sentence. You can also share this PEN America action in support of Thach.

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