Vietnam Free Expression Newsletter No. 18/ 2024 – Week of April 29-May5

Greetings from Project88. We bring you news, analysis, and actions regarding human rights and civil society in Vietnam during the week of April 29-May 5.

  • Hanoi police have arrested Nguyen Van Binh (51), the director general of the Legal Affairs Department at Vietnam’s Ministry of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs (MOLISA)— the first arrest of a government reformer in recent years. Binh was leading efforts to ratify ILO Convention 87. Read the full report, here.
  • Project88 released the first update in its new series on labor rights issues on May 1, International Workers’ Day.
  • In the week ahead, Vietnam will undergo its 4th Universal Periodic Review and also a US Commerce Department hearing about changing its designation as a nonmarket economy.

In other news, blogger Phan Tat Thanh will be tried on May 8. Four Facebook users have been arrested. Families detail political prisoners’ confinement in “tiger cages” and difficulties dealing with scorching heat. USCRIF recommends upgrading Vietnam’s status to a “Country of Particular Concern,” and UN experts raise alarm over the health of imprisoned journalist Le Huu Minh Tuan. World Press Freedom Day was this week – Vietnam currently holds 32 jailed journalists and bloggers.


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Political Prisoners

Phan Tat Thanh

Phan Tat Thanh’s father, Phan Tat Chi, told Project88 that his son’s trial will take place on May 8. On April 22, the Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) Court sent a letter to Thanh’s younger brother, Phan Tat Cong, to come to the court on that date to attend the trial. There is no information on whether Thanh will have a lawyer at this hearing.

Three Facebookers have been arrested and charged with “abusing democratic freedoms” under Article 331: Duong Minh Cuong was detained by Hanoi police on April 10; Duong Hong Hieu was detained by Kien Giang provincial police on April 26; Bui Thi Linh was detained by police in Dien Bien Province on April 28. Additionally, Quang Ngai provincial police arrested Facebooker Le Quoc Hung on April 12 and charged him with spreading “anti-state propaganda” under Article 117.

On May 2, former political prisoner Le Quy Loc was summoned by Quang Ngai provincial police to come to the station but reports he was not given a reason. Loc is currently on probation after his release in September 2023. A former member of the Hien Pap Constitution Group, Loc was sentenced to five years in prison in 2019 for “disturbing public order” under Article 118.

Hoang Thi Minh Hong

Environmental activist Hoang Thi Minh Hong has been transferred to Gia Trung Prison in Gia Lai Province, 550km from her home in Saigon. Although no reason was given, this is a common practice to make it harder for the prisoner’s family to visit and support them.

Dang Dinh Bach

Tran Phuong Thao, the wife of Dang Dinh Bach, reported that Bach’s health is deteriorating due to the harsh prison conditions and the heat. In a letter to the international community, she wrote in English: “The detention cell of about 15 squared meters that he shares with another prisoner is prolonged by a yard of the same size, surrounded by high walls and wire mesh above, bearing the nickname ‘Tiger Cage’. Nghe An weather has a maximum daytime temperature of 43C (around noon) and a minimum nighttime temperature of 28C. Confining a prisoner in such a cell, especially from 11AM to 2PM, is obviously a crude physical method of torture.” In addition, their three-year-old son won’t be able to go to school because Thao doesn’t have the residency paperwork called the “pink book,” and she has not been able to pay the rent. Thao is calling for international help saying, “We are cornered in a dead end.”

Tran Huynh Duy Thuc

Tran Huynh Duy Thuc told his brother Tran Huynh Duy Tan on April 26 that the quality of the food in prison has gone down while prices are going up. After a three day hunger strike (sometime before this date), he had lost 2kg and currently weighs about 63kg. Since April 18, he and several others allegedly have been kept in what is known as a “tiger cage,” described by Dang Dinh Bach’s wife in the preceding paragraph. On April 19, when Thuc refused to be put in the tiger cage, he alleges that the guards dragged him in anyway, tearing up his shirt and causing bruises on his neck. Thuc asks that international observers, especially UN special rapporteurs, come visit the prison conditions and assess Vietnam’s latest response to the UPR.

Bui Van Thuan

Trinh Thi Nhung, the wife of Bui Van Thuan, and his parents, had to travel 300km from Hoa Binh to visit him at Prison No. 6 in Nghe An Province. Thuan’s health is stable, but he is being kept in a windowless cell with a tin roof. Temperatures outside have been above 40C, turning the cell into “an oven,” he said. Thuan has not been allowed to go outside to exercise or to meet other prisoners on the weekend as before. To protest the harsh treatment, Thuan has been refusing to receive prison food since April 30. The family is very concerned about the situation and requests the international community intervene.

Dang Dang Phuoc

In a call with music teacher Dang Dang Phuoc on April 27, his wife, Le Thi Ha, learned that he had sent two letters home, one for his parents and one for her. Strangely, only the one written to his parents has been received. Also, Phuoc was not allowed to receive the arrowroot starch she sent because, according to prison regulations, all forms of powder are prohibited. The starch is used to make drinks and is said to be good for dealing with the heat.

Trinh Ba Phuong

Duong Noi provincial police have resumed harassing Do Thi Thu, the wife of Trinh Ba Phuong. They sent her a summons on April 25 asking her to answer questions about her Facebook posts. Phuong recently told his wife that he is feverish and aching, to the point that he has to lie down all day and cover himself with a blanket in spite of the heatwave.

International Advocacy

USCIRF Releases 2024 Annual Report with New Recommendations for U.S. Policy. USCIRF; 2024-05-01. The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom recommended that the US downgrade Vietnam to a ‘country of particular concern’, which is the worst tier. CPCs are countries where the government engages in or tolerates “particularly severe” violations of religious freedom. The USCRIF has been asking the US government to designate Vietnam as a CPC since 2002, but to date the State Department has refused.

Communication concerning the health situation of Mr. Le Huu Minh Tuan. Joint statement by UN Special Rapporteurs; 2024-05-03.

The rise of digital repression in the Indo-Pacific. ARTICLE 19; 2024-04-18.

Record Number of writers jailed worldwide in 2023. PEN America; 2024-05-01.


Vietnam police arrest former head of government office amid anti-graft crackdown. Reuters; 2024-05-04. Police in Vietnam have arrested the former head of the government office, Mai Tien Dung, on suspicion of abuse of power, the Ministry of Public Security said on Saturday, amid a widening anti-graft crackdown in the Southeast Asian country.The arrest of Dung, 65, is part of an investigation into a bribery case in the Central Highlands province of Lam Dong, the ministry said in a statement, adding that the arrest had been made on April 30.

Vietnamese monk seeks justice for brother who died after police interrogation. Radio Free Asia; 2024-04-29. After a long day of practicing his religion at the Phuc Long Pagoda, Buddhist monk Thich Minh Vuong received a phone call from his relatives. They told him his older brother, Vu Minh Duc, had died in hospital after being interrogated by police in Dong Nai province. On March 22, Duc answered a police summons in connection with a fight near his home in October 2023. Later that day, police asked his wife to come in and sign documents “related to his health.” When she arrived, an investigator said they had taken Duc to hospital for emergency treatment because he had fainted during interrogation. He was later transferred to a hospital in Ho Chi Minh City where he was pronounced dead at 9:30 p.m. that day.

Alibaba to build Vietnam data center to follow local storage law. Nikkei Asia; 2024-05-01. Alibaba plans to build a data center in Vietnam to store data locally in compliance with legal requirements, while it currently relies on government-owned facilities. The Chinese tech group told Nikkei Asia that for now it rents space for computer servers from telecommunications companies Viettel and VNPT, providing one example of how companies have responded since a contentious law took effect in 2022. Google, Amazon and others fought hard against Vietnam’s plan to force them to keep data in the country, but the policy ultimately went through towards the end of that year.

In Vietnamese:

Ông Trần Thanh Mẫn, người được phân công điều hành Quốc hội, là ai? BBC Vietnamese; 2024-05-02.

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