Vietnam Free Expression Newsletter No. 17/2021 – Week of April 26-May 2

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 26-May 2. 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.” We also have updates this week on several political prisoners’ conditions, as well as international concern about the recent arrest of journalists in Vietnam and Vietnam’s repression of religious freedom. Read a poem by former political prisoner Mother Mushroom commemorating The Fall of Saigon. And take action in support of imprisoned former state journalist Tran Thi Tuyet Dieu.


Political Prisoners

The Dong Tam defendants at trial, September 8, 2020. Source: State media via RFA.

Twelve of the Dong Tam Commune prisoners have been moved to separate prisons far from their homes. Le Dinh Doanh, 33, grandson of Le Dinh Kinh, who was killed by police during the raid on the Dong Tam Commune in January 2020, was moved to a detention center in Yen Ha in Son La Province. Nguyen Quoc Tien, 41, and Bui Viet Hieu, 78, were sent to detention centers in Yen Bai and Nghe An provinces, respectively. Bui Thi Noi, Kinh’s adopted daughter, was moved to Bac Giang province. Others have been moved elsewhere. Only the two people sentenced to death, Le Dinh Cong and Le Dinh Chuc — Kinh’s sons — remain at the No. 2 Detention Center in Hanoi. It is not known why the authorities split up the group and sent them to such faraway places.

Hoang Duc Binh’s brother, Hoang Nguyen, reported on April 24 that he was not allowed to visit him in prison for the fifth straight time. It has been a year since the last time the family could see Binh. Even food that they sent to him at An Diem Prison in Quang Nam Province was sent back. Binh was sentenced to 14 years in prison under Articles 330 and 331 of the 2015 Criminal Code “resisting officials” and “abusing democratic freedoms,” respectively. He is expected to be released in May 2031.

Can Thi Theu and Trinh Ba Tu

The trial for the mother and son land rights activist pair Can Thi Theu and Trinh Ba Tu is scheduled to take place on May 5. They have been charged with conducting “anti-state propaganda” for disseminating information about the Dong Tam Commune incident. Theu’s eldest son, Trinh Ba Phuong, is still in pre-trial detention and has yet to be charged; as such, Phuong has not been allowed to see a lawyer or his family since his arrest in June 2020.

In a heartbreaking Facebook post, Le Trong Hung’s wife, who is legally blind, talks about the hardship she must endure taking care of their two young children while their father is in detention. Hung was arrested in March this year, two weeks after he announced his intention to run for a seat in the National Assembly as an independent candidate. He has been charged with conducting “anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 of the Criminal Code.

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

  • Student activist Tran Hoang Phuc, birthday April 30, serving six years in prison on charges of conducting “propaganda against the state”
  • Catholic Montagnard activist Dinh Ku, arrested April 26, 2016, and sentenced to seven years in prison for “undermining the unity policy”
  • Christian Montagnard activist Thin, arrested April 26, 2016, and sentenced to six years in prison for “undermining the unity policy”
  • Five Hoa Hao Buddhists, arrested April 30, 2017, and sentenced to between three and five years in prison each for conducting “propaganda against the state”
  • Online commentator Chung Hoang Chuong, tried April 27, 2020, and sentenced to one year and six months in prison for “abusing democratic freedoms”
  • Blogger Phan Cong Hai, tried April 28, 2020, and sentenced to five years in prison for conducting “propaganda against the state”
Activists at Risk
To commemorate April 30th, known outside Vietnam as “The Fall of Saigon,” here is a poem titled ‘April Returns’ by Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh. Also known as “Mother Mushroom,” Quynh was a former political prisoner who was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2017. After a lot of pressure from the international community, she was released in 2018 and exiled to the United States.
International Advocacy

The US State Department has raised its concerns about the recent arrests of three more independent journalists associated with the Bao Sach (Clean Newspaper) Facebook page, Nguyen Phuoc Trung Bao, Nguyen Thanh Nha, and Doan Kien Giang, along with its founder Truong Chau Huu Danh, who was detained in December. The statement said: “We urge the Vietnamese government to ensure its actions are consistent with the human rights provisions of Vietnam’s constitution and its international obligations and commitments.”

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom had a conversation with Policy Analyst Mingzhi Chen on the current climate in Vietnam regarding suppression of religious groups and the continuing designation of Vietnam as a “Country of Particular Concern.” You can listen to that podcast at the link above.

Reporters Sans Frontière (RSF) has called for the immediate release of Tran Thi Tuyet Dieu, a former employee of a state-run newspaper in Phu Yen Province, who wrote about corruption in the government. On April 23, a court in Phu Yen sentenced her to eight years in prison for conducting “anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 of the 2015 Criminal Code. In a public statement, RSF Asia’s Daniel Bastard said: “Such contempt for freedom of the press grossly violates article 25 of the constitution of Vietnamese Socialist Republic.”


A Prisoner’s Dilemma: The State Of Human Rights Defenders In Vietnam, Aerolyne Reed, The Vietnamese, April 28, 2021: “The 88 Project’s 2020 Human Rights Report on Vietnam explores, details, and highlights the many struggles that Vietnamese activists faced that year. And much to everyone’s expectations and disappointment, Vietnam continues to fail in its international obligations to protect the right of free speech and the well-being of its human rights defenders.… It is apparent that the Vietnamese legal system is skewed against human rights defenders and activists. They are not afforded the legal remedies that they are entitled to by law, and they are also not given proper and impartial trials or allowed to use arbitration to plead their cases.”

U.S.-Vietnam Relations on the 46th Anniversary of the Fall of Saigon, Carlyle A. Thayer, April, 2021: “At first glance, Vietnam’s defence policy of ‘four no’s’ would appear to preclude Vietnam from joining this U.S.-led network. However, according to Vietnam’s 2019 Defence White Book, ‘Depending on circumstances and specific conditions, Viet Nam will consider developing necessary, appropriate defence and military relations with other countries….’ In other words, the scope and pace of future defence cooperation between Vietnam and the U.S. will depend on China’s behaviour. If China should become markedly more assertive and belligerent in the South China Sea, Vietnam would have to reconsider its existing policy.”

The Military’s Resurging Influence in Vietnam, Le Hong Hiep, ISEAS, April 27, 2021: “The Vietnam People’s Army (VPA) appears to be gaining leverage in Vietnam’s political system. Two generals, Luong Cuong and Phan Van Giang, were elected to the Communist Party of Vietnam’s (CPV) Politburo at its 13th National Congress. The number of military representatives in the Party’s Central Committee also increased from 20 to 23, cementing the VPA’s status as the largest voting bloc in the Committee…. The VPA’s increasing leverage may discourage reforms towards more political freedoms and lead to greater ‘securitisation’ of certain economic policies. It may also harden Vietnam’s stance on the South China Sea, but this does not necessarily mean that Vietnam will take a more adventurous approach to the dispute.”

Vietnam building up its maritime militia, magazine says. Liu Zhen in Beijing, South China Morning Post, April 25, 2021: “While the European Union has estimated that about 8,000 fishing boats and 46,000 fishermen are part of Vietnam’s maritime militia, the magazine said the latter figure could be over 70,000. When not catching fish, these trained militiamen took part in a range of missions, sometimes in cooperation with the Vietnamese navy, [Naval and Merchant Ships magazine] said. The missions included covert spying on Chinese military facilities and ships, and sometimes deliberately clashing with Chinese coastguard vessels to attract Western media attention, the magazine said…. Both Beijing and Hanoi have a long history of maritime militia and proficiency in mobilising fishermen and their boats in activities to assert claims in the South China Sea.”

China-US rivalry poses challenge for Vietnam’s leaders, observers say, Laura Zhou, South China Morning Post, April 30, 2021: “Vietnam’s leaders will have to walk a fine line in their dealings with China, as Hanoi looks to manage its maritime disputes with Beijing while preventing itself becoming embroiled in the rivalry its giant neighbour has with the US, observers say. Following the visit of Chinese Defence Minister Wei Fenghe to Hanoi on Monday, where he met Vietnamese President Nguyen Xuan Phuc and Communist Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong, Beijing said the Southeast Asian nation had given its assurance that it would not support any attempt to undermine China.”


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

You can help call the world’s attention to the egregious case against journalist Tran Thi Tuyet Dieu by sharing with your network RSF’s call for her immediate release.
© 2021 The 88 Project