Vietnam Free Expression Newsletter No. 17/2024 – Week of April 22-28

Greetings from Project88. We bring you news, analysis, and actions regarding human rights and civil society in Vietnam during the week of April 22-28.

The US State Department listed numerous areas of concern in its 2023 Country Report on Vietnam yet reported “no significant changes” in the status of human rights overall, despite concrete evidence from Project88 and many other groups to the contrary.  

Vietnam called the US’s report “unobjective.

Project88 has released its 2023 list of political prisoner arrestsThere were at least 32 arrests last year– including at least eight ethnic minority activists and nine women– ranging from human rights defenders to policy experts to Facebook users.

Accounts of mistreatment in An Diem prison against a group of political prisoners have been confirmed by two families. Two teachers were convicted under Article 331. And the chair of Vietnam’s National Assembly, Vuong Dinh Hue, is the latest official out after a string of recent high-level resignations. The exact reasons for his resignation for “violating regulations” remain unclear.


Political Prisoners

Duong Tuan Ngoc and Nguyen Thu Hang, both convicted under Article 331 this week 

Teacher Duong Tuan Ngoc, 39, was sentenced to seven years in prison by a court in Lam Dong province for “abusing democratic freedoms” under Article 331. Arrested in July 2023, Ngoc was an online teacher specializing in macrobiotic diets. According to RFA, “Police in Lam Dong province in southern Vietnam summoned him and his wife, Bui Thanh Diem Ngoc, on July 10, 2023, to question them about anonymous reports that Ngoc used his Facebook account to sell drugs. But after Ngoc proved he was innocent, the police initiated a new probe on the charge of distributing anti-state propaganda and arrested him five days later.”

In a separate case, retired teacher Nguyen Thu Hang, 62, was sentenced by a court in Dong Hoi City to two years in prison under Article 331. Hang is accused of using Facebook to “defame a judge who had presided over the land dispute case in which she was involved. She was also accused of streaming such video clips at various provincial offices.”

Labor and environmental activist Hoang Duc Binh

Hoang Duc Binh reported to his family that he was put in leg shackles for 10 days, from March 26 to April 5, by warden Nguyen Ngoc Thach at An Diem Prison in Quang Nam Province. He also has been prohibited from receiving supplies or calls from his family for three months, as well as family visits for two months. According to Binh’s family, Binh was punished for protesting against unfair treatment by the warden, who did not let him have several items sent by his family and cited him for “not following orders by prison authorities.” While Binh was in shackles, guards allegedly confiscated his personal belongings, as well as those of other political prisoners. At least four political prisoners went on a hunger strike to protest the mistreatment: Hoang Duc Binh, Trinh Ba PhuongPhan Cong Hai and Nguyen Thai Binh. As a result, all four were put in “disciplinary cells” and were not allowed to go out to the yard or communicate with other inmates.

In a letter home dated April 8, Trinh Ba Phuong corroborated Hoang Duc Binh’s account of being disciplined and the group’s hunger strike. Phuong’s wife, Do Thi Thu, was able to visit him on April 21 and reported that Phuong and several other political prisoners had been locked in their cells since April 8 with everything passed in and out through a small opening. Phuong told Thu it was a form of psychological torture. Phuong also said that Binh is suffering from back pain, abdominal pain, loss of smell, and chest pain. Binh did ask prison authorities for medication for his chest pain but so far has reportedly not received any. Thu also reported that for the past year, Phuong has not been eating any food made by the prison; at one point, the food caused him severe diarrhea and stomach problems. Phuong also said the water source at An Diem is highly polluted.

Journalist Nguyen Tuong Thuy

On April 18, Pham Thi Lan, the wife of political prisoner Nguyen Tuong Thuy, was prevented from traveling to Cambodia on a personal trip. She was stopped at the Moc Bai border crossing in Tay Ninh Province based on order #427 issued by the Homeland Security Office on March 6, and order #A72 from the Border Management Authority, issued on March 8 by the Ministry of Public Security. Two days earlier, Lan had visited her husband, who’s currently held at An Phuoc Prison in Binh Duong Province in southern Vietnam, 2,000 km from their home in Hanoi. Lan reported that Thuy, who is 72 years old, is getting weaker; he cannot hold up his right arm and must use his left hand to lift it up. She said medical personnel told Thuy that he had suffered a mild stroke and prescribed some medication for him. Thuy was vice-chair of the Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam. He was arrested in 2020 and sentenced to 11 years in prison for conducting “anti-state propaganda.”

Businessman Huynh Dac Tuy was released from An Diem Prison on April 19, one year early. Arrested in February 2019, days before the US-North Korea summit in Hanoi, Tuy was sentenced to five years in prison on “anti-state propaganda” charges. Before his arrest, Tuy was head of a construction company named Tuy Nguyet in Quang Ngai Province. He was accused of using Facebook to make postings against the government.

The 92-year-old monk Le Tung Van, former head of Bong Lai Temple, was charged a second time by Long An provincial police, this time with incest. In 2022, Van was sentenced to five years in prison along with several other members of the temple for “abusing democratic freedoms.” He is currently serving his sentence at home due to his age and ill health. Three former lawyers for Le Tung Van – Dang Dinh Manh, Nguyen Van Mieng, and Dao Kim Lan – who have escaped to the U.S. to avoid being arrested themselves, issued a statement calling the latest charge against Van a fabrication using illegal procedures, unverifiable DNA results, and possibly child abuse.


Vương Đình Huệ is Out. Michael Tatarski, Vietnam Weekly; 2024-04-26. As with that resignation, this means little for immediate policy issues, but it’s a shocking amount of high-level turmoil for a country that prides itself on political stability – and follows the January 2023 resignations of President Phúc and two high-profile deputy prime ministers. General Secretary Nguyễn Phú Trọng, meanwhile, hasn’t been seen in public for some time. It also further clouds the 2026 leadership transition, entrenches fear among officials that they could be held accountable for actions long in the past, and potentially solidifies the inertia slowing all kinds of policymaking.

Vietnam soft drinks boss jailed for 8 years. RFA; 2024-04-25: The People’s Court of Ho Chi Minh City found Tran Qui Thanh, 71, guilty of masterminding a loans scam from 2019 to 2020 in which investors were robbed of assets they had put up for collateral, even after they had paid back the money with interest. Thanh is chairman of the Tan Hiep Phat drinks company. His daughter Tran Uyen Phuong, 43, the company’s deputy CEO, was sentenced to four years in prison. His youngest daughter, Tran Ngoc Bich, 40, was handed a suspended three-year prison sentence. This month, the same court sentenced Truong My Lan, chairwoman of property developer Van Thinh Phat, to death for masterminding a US$27 billion fraud, Vietnam’s biggest.

US ponders trade status upgrade for Vietnam despite some opposition. VOA; 2024-04-20. U.S. officials are considering a request from Vietnam to be removed from a list of “nonmarket” economies, a step that would foster improved diplomatic relations with a potential ally in Asia but would anger some U.S. lawmakers and manufacturing firms. The Southeast Asian country is on the list of 12 nations identified by the U.S. as nonmarket economies, which also includes China and Russia because of strong state intervention in their economies.

Vatican eyes closer ties with communist Vietnam. DW; 2024-04-26. Earlier this month, Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, the Vatican’s secretary for relations with states and international organizations, wrapped up a six-day working trip to Vietnam in anticipation of a rumored visit by Pope Francis later in the year. Gallagher, the papacy’s top diplomat, met with Vietnam’s prime minister and foreign minister and expressed the Vatican’s “gratitude” for the progress made to improve the relationship between the two states, including Hanoi’s decision last year to allow the Vatican to send its first resident papal representative to Vietnam in decades.

Additional Context: Climate Change in Vietnam

Vietnam Calls for More Coal Output to Fend Off Summer Blackouts. Bloomberg; 2024-04-24

The Case for Vietnam’s Mekong Energy Diplomacy. Fulcrum; 2024-04-17.

In Vietnam province, sisters teach how to adapt to climate change. NCR Online; 2024-04-22.

In Vietnam, farmers reduce methane emissions by changing how they grow rice. AP News; 2024-04-23.

© 2024 The 88 Project