Vietnam Free Expression Newsletter No. 16/2022 – Week of April 18-24

Greetings from The 88 ProjectAn activist’s appeal trial took place without any legal representation; his family was not notified. A freelance writer was jailed for reasons unclear. Another activist will be put on trial for anti-state propaganda. Several more international organizations have published studies, papers, and reports on the human rights situation in Vietnam. Arrests of high-profile corporate leaders continue as the government tries to show it is serious about corruption. A proposed new law will allow the government to take down social media sites within 24 hours for “illegal contents.” Vietnam nudges toward nuclear power as a long-term solution for energy needs. The upcoming ASEAN meeting in the United States could present an awkward situation for the Biden administration in terms of human rights advocacy.


Political Prisoners

Le Trong Hung

An appellate court upheld Le Trong Hung’s five-year sentence in a trial that took place on April 20 without his family’s knowledge. Hung is a constitutionalist who was arrested after announcing his intention to run for an independent seat in the National Assembly in 2021. Hung’s wife, Do Le Na, didn’t know that there would be an appeal trial, so she never made arrangements for Hung’s lawyers to be there. Visually impaired, Na had to go to the prison three days later to confirm the news.

According to lawyer Ha Huy Son, Vietnam’s current law does not require the court to notify the family of the accused about trial dates. Typically, family members of political prisoners can tell something is up if they suddenly see police posted around their house to prevent them from leaving. In Do Le Na’s case, however, she didn’t see anything and was only alerted about it later by a relative whose house was guarded. Hung’s wife was later told by her husband during the most recent visit, the first time they had seen each other since he was arrested 389 days before, that he was forced to have this appeal trial against his will.

Le Thi Thu Huong, Source

Le Thi Thu Huong, 49, a freelance writer, was sentenced by a Hanoi court to 21 months in prison for “abusing democratic freedoms” under Article 331. Huong is accused of making Facebook posts that allegedly defamed leaders of the newspaper Bao Ve Phap Luat (Protecting the Law), where she once worked. The prosecution at the first instance trial said she also sent letters with similar content to government agencies and Party leaders. It is not clear what exactly Huong wrote or whether she had a lawyer at trial.

Dinh Van Hai

Dinh Van Hai, a disabled activist who was arrested in November 2021, will have his first instance trial in Lam Dong Province on April 26. Hai is charged with conducting “anti-state propaganda” for his Facebook postings. An activist knowledgeable about international human rights laws, Hai has had many run-ins with the police since at least 2017. He had to take refuge in a pagoda last year before he was captured.

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

Tran Hoang Phuc and Phan Cong Hai

  • Founder and President of Vietnamese Students for Human Rights Association, Tran Hoang Phuc, birthday April 30, serving six years in prison on charges of conducting “anti-state propaganda”
  • Activist Doan Viet Hoan, arrested April 25, 2019, and sentenced to three years in prison for “disrupting security.” He is expected to be released from prison this week.
  • Montagnard Catholic activist Dinh Ku, arrested April 26, 2016, and sentenced to seven years in prison for “undermining the unity policy”
  • Montagnard Christian activist Thin, arrested April 26, 2016, and sentenced to six years in prison for “undermining the unity policy.” He is expected to be released from prison this week.
  • Blogger Phan Cong Hai, tried on April 28, 2020, and sentenced to five years in prison for spreading “anti-state propaganda”

International Advocacy

Dang Dinh Bach and Trinh Ba Phuong

The International Federation on Human Rights (FIDH) has published a briefing ahead of the EU-Vietnam human rights dialogue listing Vietnam’s persistent violations of its obligations under the EVFTA. Among the many cases highlighted, of particular concern is that of Dang Dinh Bach, an environmentalist and steering member of VNGO-EVFTA.

On April 20, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and the International Federation on Human Rights jointly issued an urgent appeal for international intervention in the case of land rights activist Trinh Ba Phuong, whom they say has suffered from torture and ill-treatment while in detention.

The Journal of Human Rights Practice has published a detailed study of Vietnam’s Cybersecurity Law that went into effect in 2019. The paper also proposes ways to amend the law to make it more compatible with international norms.

The UN Office of the High Commission for Human Rights and the UN Environment Programme are expressing “grave concerns” about the recent spate of arrests of environmental advocates and on “tax evasion” charges, especially now that NGOs are being targeted as well.


Vietnam’s Deputy FM Arrested Over Pandemic Flight Bribe Scandal. Voice of America; April 15, 2022: In recent months the communist nation has ramped up an anti-corruption drive, targeting government officials and business people. On Thursday, the Ministry of Public Security issued a statement saying To Anh Dung and two other officials had been arrested as part of an investigation into a bribery scandal connected to repatriation flights for Vietnamese citizens since 2020. Police searched the residences and workplaces of the three on Thursday. No other details on the case were revealed.

Vietnam Arrests Former Coast Guard Chief Over ‘Embezzlement’ Case. Reuters; April 18, 2022: Vietnam’s Defence Ministry has detained a former commander of its coast guard on suspicion of embezzlement, the government said on Monday, the latest arrest as the ruling Communist Party intensifies its long-running crackdown on graft. Lieutenant General Nguyen Van Son was arrested last Wednesday along with six other senior coast guard officials for their involvement in an “embezzlement case”, the government said in a statement, which did not elaborate on the alleged offence. … Among those arrested recently have been several business people, including the chairmen of property firm FLC and Bamboo Airways and Tan Hoang Minh Group.

Vietnam plans 24-hour take-down law for “illegal” social media content -sources. Phuong Nguyen and Fanny Potkin, Reuters; April 20, 2022: Vietnam is preparing new rules requiring social media firms to take down content it deems illegal within 24 hours, three people with direct knowledge of the matter said. … The 24-hour time frame to take down “illegal content and services” will not have a grace period, while active “illegal livestreams” must be blocked within three hours, the people said. Companies that do not meet the deadlines could see their platforms banned in the country, they added.

How Does Inviting Autocrats to the White House Make Asia More Free? John Sifton, The Diplomat; April 22, 2022: The Biden administration needs to adopt more coherent principles for supporting nations in Asia without sacrificing the promotion of human rights. A key problem in the Biden administration’s Asia rhetoric is that it too often conflates human freedoms and rights with the “freedoms” and “rights” of governments not to be coerced by other governments (i.e., by the Chinese government). When Blinken in December cited a “rules-based order” in Asia meant to “protect the right of all countries to choose their own path, free from coercion, free from intimidation,” he was not talking about human freedoms. He was dressing up “countering the Chinese government” in the language of liberty.

Nuclear moves up the list of Vietnam’s power mix. Govi Snell, The Southeast Asia Globe; April 18, 2022: Nuclear energy is growing as an enticing solution, [Le Hong Hiep, a fellow at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore] explained, due to a massive hike in fuel costs. Previously, gas-fired power plants were considered an alternate power source once Vietnam dropped nuclear energy plans in 2016. While not as clean as nuclear, gas-fired power plants would be cheaper and not produce as much pollution as their coal-fired counterparts. Now the cost is becoming prohibitive for gas-fired power plants and is nearly on par with pursuing nuclear energy, Hiep noted, adding that the country’s path towards nuclear power will be a “long story.”


Cao Vinh Thinh

This week in honor of Earth Day, we celebrate all the environmental activists in Vietnam. One of them is NGO worker Nguy Thi Khanh. The arrest and imprisonment of Khanh and three other NGO leaders within the past year has sent shockwaves through Vietnamese civil society. The right to enjoy a clean environment and to speak up for it are protected by international law. In Vietnam, however, people are harassed and jailed for doing such things. Read more about the situation of environmental activists in Vietnam.


Following the disturbing news of Le Trong Hung’s sudden, closed door appeal trial, please watch and share this video interview with his wife, Do Le Na, in which she discusses Hung’s work and the challenges of being married to an activist. Hung is an independent journalist who has supported local activists in their disputes with the government over land rights; he was arrested in early 2021 after attempting to run for an independent seat in the National Assembly.
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