Greetings from The 88 Project. A Facebooker was sentenced to eight years in prison for “anti-state propaganda.” An activist was transferred to a mental hospital without her family’s knowledge. A political prisoner’s wife was allowed to see her husband for the first time in 10 months, another in over a year. A writer is harassed for winning an award from an independent organization. Vietnam’s ranking on the World Press Freedom Index is unsurprisingly low. The government formally responds to UN Special Rapporteurs’ reports on Vietnam’s vague cyber laws while using its cyber army to flood social media with pro-Putin propaganda against Ukraine. Tax evasion charges are being used to suppress dissent. High level officials arrested for corruption could signal a turning point, but net citizens are still not encouraged to comment on it. Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh is traveling to Washington to attend President Biden’s “Special Asian Summit.” Read our update on Le Trong Hung’s conditions in prison, as reported by his wife at a recent visit.
Coming up, on May 9, The 88 Project will release its annual report on the human rights situation in Vietnam. The report covers arrests, trials, prison conditions, and harassment of activists at risk in 2021.
HUMAN RIGHTS & CIVIL SOCIETY
Tran Hoang Huan
Tran Hoang Huan was sentenced to eight years in prison plus three years of home surveillance for postings on Facebook that allegedly violated Article 117 of the Criminal Code. Huan, 34, was accused of making 186 posts and 60 statuses that “distort and defame the people’s government,” and 21 articles that “are lies which created confusion among the citizens.” The trial, which was televised, did not appear to show any lawyer representing Huan.
Nguyen Thuy Hanh
According to Huynh Ngoc Chenh, husband of Nguyen Thuy Hanh, Hanh has been transferred from pre-trial detention to the Central Mental Health Hospital in Hanoi after two medical examinations determined she was suffering from severe depression. Chenh said when he went to the detention center on May 6, he was told that Hanh had been admitted near the end of April. They also told him that Hanh is now under the hospital’s jurisdiction, which means she can receive visits and supplies from family members just like other patients. On May 7, Chenh and Hanh’s brother were able to visit her at the hospital. Chenh reported that Hanh looked thinner but was in a good mood. This was the first time Hanh saw any family member since her arrest in April of last year.
Do Nam Trung
Anh Tuyet, wife of Do Nam Trung, reported on her Facebook page that she and Trung’s mother were allowed to visit him for the first time since his arrest 10 months ago. Suffering from an ulcer and anxiety, Tuyet said she was relieved to see that Trung looked healthy and appeared to have even gained some weight. Trung told her he is treated well by others in jail, including the guards. He wanted to thank everyone who’s been advocating on his behalf. Trung was arrested in June last year and was sentenced in December to ten years in prison for “anti-state propaganda.”
Le Trong Hung
Do Le Na, wife of imprisoned activist Le Trong Hung, and Hung’s mother, were able to visit him for the first time since his arrest more than a year ago. Read her moving letter recounting the visit here.
Hoang Duc Binh, activist serving 14 years in prison
This week, we think of the birthdays and arrest anniversaries of the following political prisoners:
- Banker and anti-corruption activist Trinh Viet Bang, birthday May 11, being held in pre-trial detention on charges of “abusing democratic freedoms”
- Montagnard Christian activist Y Yich, arrested May 13, 2013, and sentenced to 12 years in prison
- Environmental and labor activist Hoang Duc Binh, arrested May 15, 2017, and sentenced to 14 years in prison for “abusing democratic freedoms” and “resisting officers in performance of their official duties”
- Female activists Nguyen Thi Ngoc Suong and Vu Thi Dung, tried on May 10, 2019, and sentenced five and six years in prison respectively for conducting “propaganda against the state”
Activists at Risk
Writer Nguyen Thi Tinh Thy respectfully declined a literary award from the independent (non-state run) organization Van Viet (Viet Literature). Thy asked the group to save the award, saying that she would accept it when it’s safe to do so. She cited veiled threats from security police who suggested she should not accept the award in order to keep the peace. A few months ago another award recipient, Thai Hao, was assaulted by plainclothes thugs on his way to meet members of the Van Viet group. Tinh Thy said she recently met with Thai Hao and saw that his face still bore the scars from that altercation.
After being given an extension, Vietnam has finally responded to the UN Special Procedures OL 7.2021 regarding legislations limiting the activities of civil society actors. The reply, which doesn’t quite address the Special Rapporteurs’ concerns about freedom of expression and association, can be read here.
Reporters Sans Frontieres has released its annual rankings on press freedom. Not surprisingly, Vietnam ranks seventh from the bottom, sandwiched between Cuba and China.
NEWS & ANALYSIS
Vietnam unleashes the taxman on dissent. David Hutt, RFA; May 4, 2022: Increasingly wary of foreign criticism amid a warming trend with the West, the government frequently hires thugs to rough-up campaigners rather than arresting them. “Abusing democratic freedoms,” defined under article 331 of the Criminal Code, has also been wielded more commonly in recent years. Now “tax evasion” is being added to the repressive mix. There is an “emerging and disturbing pattern in the use of Vietnam’s tax laws to criminalize environmental leaders, and follows the broader targeting of civil society leaders, as well as shrinking civil society space,” said the International Federation for Human Rights and the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights in a recent report. Analysts say the reasons are two-fold.
Vietnam’s crackdown on corruption in private sector seen as potential turning point. RFA Vietnamese Service; April 29, 2022: Analysts have said that recent high-profile arrests are intended to demonstrate that Vietnam is getting tougher on corruption. At the same time, the country’s government continues to punish citizens who discuss the cases publicly. In mid-April, authorities arrested Hanoi resident Dang Nhu Quynh for allegedly posting information on Facebook about the arrests of Trinh Ban Quyet and Do Anh Dung, and said that the Ministry of Public Security would continue prosecuting people and companies that are guilty of similar crimes. Quynh was charged with violating state interests for publishing “unverified information.” The law applied in Quynh’s case is designed to prevent the spread of false information that could damage the reputation of people and companies, legal experts said. But many people who have been punished were found guilty even if the information was true.
Vietnam ‘opinion workers’ push Russian fake news on Ukraine on social media. Truong Son, RFA; May 2, 2022: Vietnamese “opinion workers” who promote the Communist Party and protect its image on social media now have a new role: spreading fake or misleading reports that support Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Facebook. Facebook groups like “Đơn vị Tác chiến Mạng” (Cyber CombatUnit), “Truy quét Phản động” (Elimination of Reactionary Forces), “Bộ Tư lệnh Tác chiến” (Combat Command), and “Trung đoàn 47” (Regiment 47) that have worked to counter criticism of the Communist Party all now post information in favor of Russia. For example, Trung đoàn 47, which is believed to be part of a cyber combat force in the Vietnam People’s Army, posted this justification for the invasion: “Mr. Putin said: ‘Moscow has done everything it can to maintain Ukraine’s territorial integrity as well as protect the interests of Donetsk and Lugansk’s people but Kiev had blocked Donbas, suppressing local residents and shelling Donbas.’”
Viet Premier’s Delicate Pilgrimage to Washington. David Brown, Asia Sentinel; May 5, 2022: Chính and his colleagues must tread very carefully in Washington. Attention there is riveted on the Ukraine crisis. Many who are directing the proxy confrontation with Russia lack a nuanced appreciation of America’s Asia-Pacific interests. In support of Ukraine, Vietnam (though for its own good reasons) has been out of step with the rest of America’s friends, and that does not sit well with the Eurocentrists in the US foreign policy establishment. The Vietnamese prime minister’s very presence in Washington may prompt negative comment. Aggressive interlocutors may ask why the US shouldn’t sanction Hanoi’s purchases of Russian weapons systems and decry Hanoi’s failure to join UN votes condemning Putin’s war. Chinh is considered a very possible successor to his patron, Nguyễn Phú Trọng whenever the 78-year-old Communist Party chief decides to retire or, just as likely, another stroke renders it impossible for Trọng to stay on the job.
Vietnam protests as China declares annual South China Sea fishing ban. RFA staff; May 2, 2022: China has once again announced a unilateral fishing moratorium in the South China Sea, to vigorous protests by Vietnam but the Philippines has so far not reacted. The three-and-half-month ban began on Sunday and covers the waters north of 12 degrees north latitude in the South China Sea which Vietnam and the Philippines also call their “traditional fishing grounds.” Hanoi spoke up against the fishing ban, calling it “a violation of Vietnam’s sovereignty and territorial jurisdiction.” The moratorium applies to part of the Gulf of Tonkin, and the Paracel Islands claimed by both China and Vietnam.