Vietnam Free Expression Newsletter No. 17/2022 – Week of April 25-May 1

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 25 – May 1. Yet another Facebooker was sentenced to years in prison for conducting “anti-state propaganda.” After completing his prison sentence, an activist was shipped to a city 900 km away from his family for home surveillance. An activist was forced to attend a secret appeal trial that he did not request and which produced no changes to his sentence. Vietnam’s proposed bill to shut down social media sites for certain violations raises alarms. The EU faces pressure as Vietnam continues to flout human rights provisions in the EVFTA. The United States helped strengthen Vietnam’s maritime security. On the pandemic front, tourists coming into Vietnam no longer have to have proof of negative COVID-19 status. And finally, we share a remarkable escape-from-Vietnam story by the most celebrated Vietnamese actress to commemorate the Fall of Saigon.


Political Prisoners

Dinh Van Hai

Dinh Van Hai, 48, was sentenced by a court in Lam Dong Province to five years in prison for spreading “anti-state propaganda.” Hai posted 13 video clips and 79 posts that allegedly “defamed the regime and [deceased] leader Ho Chi Minh.” A handicapped person and an activist since at least 2018, Hai was apprehended in October last year while he was taking refuge inside a Buddhist temple. He had no lawyer at trial but defended himself by saying that his postings did not aim to defame the state but only to help make society better. It is not known if Dinh Van Hai will appeal.

Tran Thanh Phuong, a member of the civil society group Hiến Pháp (Constitution), has finished his three and a half year prison sentence for “disrupting security” and was released into home surveillance for another two years, according to the original sentence. However, instead of allowing him to return to his home in Ho Chi Minh City, the police took Phuong to Hue, a city in central Vietnam, without any explanation. Phuong’s wife, Le Khanh, has posted a message on Facebook asking for help resolving the issue since her husband currently doesn’t have a job and is sheltering temporarily with a relative. Phuong’s children were harassed by police when he was arrested in 2018 and have not been able to see their father since his release.

Le Trong Hung

On April 19 Le Trong Hung was forced to attend his own appeal trial, a hearing he never requested. Hung’s wife, Do La Na, only learned about it a few days later. There were no lawyers present. The secret trial resulted in no change to Hung’s five-year sentence for conducting “anti-state propaganda.” However, a few days later Na was allowed to visit him for the first time since his arrest.

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

Bui Van Thuan and Dang Thi Hue

  • Brotherhood for Democracy activist Bui Van Thuan, birthday May 1, currently in pre-trial detention on charges of conducting “anti-state propaganda”
  • Driver Nguyen Bao Tien, arrested May 5, 2021, and sentenced to six and half years in prison; Tien was accused of shipping books on behalf of the independent Liberal Publishing House
  • Can Thi Theu and Trinh Ba Tu, mother and son land rights activists, tried on May 5, 2021, and sentenced to eight years each in prison for spreading “anti-state propaganda”
  • Anti-corruption activist Dang Thi Hue, tried on May 8, 2020, convicted of “abusing democratic freedoms,” and currently serving 39 months in prison for that and a prior charge

International Advocacy

Amnesty International has expressed deep concerns over Vietnam’s proposed new regulations that would allow the state to shut down social media sites within 24 hours for postings that “endanger national security,” which often is interpreted to mean criticizing the party and/or its leadership. “In Vietnam, social media, including Facebook, is one of very few places for local people to express their opposition,” said Ming Yu Hah, deputy regional director of campaigns in East and Southeast Asia.


EU under pressure to get tough on Vietnam rights record. David Hutt, Deutsche Welle; April 26, 2022: Worse, in July last year, the journalist Mai Phan Loi and lawyer Dang Dinh Bach were arrested on alleged trumped-up charges of tax evasion. They were sentenced to four and five years in jail, respectively, in January. Both were executive board members of the VNGO-EVFTA Network, an unofficial version of the DAG formed by several Vietnamese civil society groups. Perhaps adding insult to injury, the Vietnamese authorities in January also arrested the prominent environmentalist Nguy Thi Khanh, whose five-year EU-funded project had just ended. Claudio Francavilla, the EU advocate at Human Rights Watch, called the DAG a “smokescreen, a fairy tale.”

US helps Vietnam strengthen maritime security. Thanh Tam, VNExpress; April 29, 2022: The U.S. has handed over to the Vietnamese Coast Guard a fourth center for training personnel and maintaining ships and a drone. … The U.S. defense attaché to Vietnam, Colonel Thomas Stevenson, said at the training centers the U.S. has installed simulators for Vietnamese sailors to improve their ability to sail ships to better serve their patrolling activities and protecting their country’s sovereignty. The U.S. has also delivered to Vietnam 24 Metal Shark high-speed patrol boats and two Hamilton-class patrol boats, and is considering delivering a third, he said. The U.S. Department of Defense said in June that Boeing subsidiary Insitu had received an order for six drones from Vietnam.

Tourists using Vietnam’s int’l airport no longer have to prove Covid-19 status. New Straits Times; April 26, 2022: Tan Son Nhat airport now categorises people entering the country into two groups – those who have completed a medical declaration and those yet to do so. Passengers with a health declaration QR code can go to the counter for immigration procedures while those without it will have to move into a separate aisle to complete the process. The move also comes after Tan Son Nhat continuously suffered overloads recently, with the number of passengers passing through the airport steadily increasing as the country eased Covid restrictions for air travel since March 15.

‘Homeless among the clouds’: My journey from movie star to faceless Fall of Saigon refugee. Kieu Chinh, USA Today; April 29, 2022: As soon as we landed in Singapore, I was immediately taken by immigration police to … jail! According to them, my diplomatic passport was issued by a government that no longer existed. President Nguyễn văn Thiệu had already resigned. That night I sat in a cell among all types of people, worried about what would happen to me next. The following  morning, on our way to the bathroom, I saw a guard reading a copy of Female magazine, which had a large photo of me on the front cover. (The magazine did an interview and cover story on me after we finished filming “Full House.”) I excitedly pointed to the magazine and told the guard that the woman on the cover was me, and asked him to let me make a phone call. He gave me an incredulous stare from head to toe, then went back to his reading without saying a word.


Trinh Ba Tu and Trinh Ba Phuong holding signs to support their mother, Can Thi Theu, during one of her prior arrests 
Family members of Can Thi TheuTrinh Ba Phuong and Trinh Ba Tu have issued a petition calling on international human rights organizations to increase pressure on the Vietnamese government to release the trio of land rights activists who were jailed after reporting on the bloody Dong Tam raid.
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