Vietnam Free Expression Newsletter No. 20/2021 – Week of May 17-23

Greetings from The 88 Project! We bring you news, analysis, and actions regarding human rights and civil society in Vietnam during the week of May 17-23, 2021. Top of the news is the “election” for the National Assembly, a rubber-stamp body, that occurs every five years. Read updates on one independent candidate who was arrested, and another one who is the first openly gay candidate. Another Facebooker has been arrested for postings that appear to have seemed to make fun of the election process in Vietnam. Other new items this week include the charges against members of Clean News, latest information on land rights activist Can Thi Theu, and the recognition for jailed journalist Pham Doan Trang. 

Watch our interview with Do Le Na, wife of Le Trong Hung, one of the independent candidates who were arrested. Help us share their voices. 


Political Prisoners

Can Thi Theu

The daughter of political prisoner Can Thi Theu reported that her mother is being held in a small cell with common criminals, some of whom allegedly are HIV-positive. She was denied a request to be tested after trying to break up a fight between other prisoners, which caused her to bleed. Theu was sentenced to eight years for “anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 of the Criminal Code. Her son Trinh Ba Tu was similarly sentenced. Her eldest son, Trinh Ba Phuong, was arrested at the same time but has yet to be charged.




Truong Chau Huu Danh

Four members of Clean News have been charged with “abusing democratic freedoms” under Article 331 of the Criminal Code. The four men are: Truong Chau Huu Danh (pictured right), Nguyen Phuoc Trung Bao, Doan Kien Giang, and Nguyen Thanh Nha. Investigators allege that dozens of their Facebook postings and Youtube videos about official corruption and land rights victims violated the new Cybersecurity Law. If convicted, each man could face from two to seven years in prison.


Pham Doan Trang

On May 18, PEN Germany announced that it has given jailed journalist Pham Doan Trang an honorary membership in the organization. Ralf Nestmeyer, vice-president and chairman of the Writers in Prison committee, called for the immediate release of Trang and reassured her that the organization is always in solidarity with her. 

Do Le Na, the visually-impaired wife of Le Trong Hung, told The 88 Project that when she brought supplies to her husband at Prison Camp No. 1 she was told to wait. After about half an hour someone gave her a written note allegedly signed by her husband that said he no longer would accept money or supplies from the family. Being blind, Na was unable to verify if it was her husband’s signature. A friend of Hung, who accompanied her, did not know his handwriting, and so he also could not confirm. Na suspects that her husband might be on a hunger strike. Read more about her concerns about Hung’s situation in her open letter to the international community.


Le Trong Hung

Also, watch our interview with Do Le Na, with both English and Vietnamese subtitles, here, to understand more about who he is and what motivates him to do his work and run for the elections, as well as the challenges that his family is facing. Le Trong Hung was arrested on March 27, 2021; he had been planning to run as an independent candidate for a seat in the National Assembly. He was charged with “anti-state propaganda” under Article 117.


Tran Ngoc Son. Source: RFA Vietnamese

On May 20, Vinh Phuc Provincial Police arrested Tran Ngoc Son and charged him with Article  331, “abusing democratic freedoms.” Son wrote, perhaps sarcastically, that “elections in Vietnam are more civilized than in the United States.” The Vinh Phuc police allege that since September 2020 Son has published many articles that question the integrity of government officials and has engaged in libel.

This week we remember the birthdays, arrests, and trial anniversaries of the following political prisoners:
  • Religious freedom practitioners Vuong Van Tha, Vuong Van Thuan, Nguyen Nhat Truong, and Nguyen Nhat Thuong, arrested May 18, 2013, sentenced to 12, seven, six, and six years in prison, respectively, under Article 88 of the 1999 Criminal Code
  • Journalist Pham Chi Thanh, arrested May 20, 2020 under Article 117 of the 2015 Criminal Code, currently in pre-trial detention
  • Journalist Nguyen Tuong Thuy, arrested May 23, 2020, sentenced to 11 years in prison under Article 117 of the 2015 Criminal Code
  • Young protesters Pham Thanh and Dang Ngoc Tan, arrested June 2018, tried on May 21, 2019, and sentenced to 11 and 17 years in prison, respectively, under Article 178 for alleged “destruction of public property”
International Advocacy

Matthew Bugher, head of ARTICLE19’s Asia Programme, has called on Vietnam to release unconditionally independent candidates running for office in the National Assembly. Two candidates have been arrested and charged under Article 331, while a third person was charged under Article 330 of the Criminal Code.  ARTICLE19 has criticized the two articles for not being in alignment with international human rights law and says that they therefore should be repealed.


Vietnam scrambles to keep COVID-19 from disrupting industry supply chains. Khanh Vu, Reuters. May 21, 2021. “Vietnam’s government has urged two provinces that are home to production facilities of companies such as Samsung Electronics (005930.KS) and Foxconn (2317.TW) to boost efforts to prevent a COVID-19 outbreak disrupting industrial production. Deputy Prime Minister Vu Duc Dam told leaders of Bac Giang and Bac Ninh provinces at a meeting on Thursday to avoid the interruption of production chains in the provinces, the official Vietnam News Agency reported on Friday. The provinces are the epicentre of a COVID-19 outbreak that has infected 1,835 people since late April, including hundreds of factory workers.”


China and the US: Who Has More Influence in Vietnam? Mengzhen Xia and Dingding Chen, The Diplomat. May 21, 2021. “Interestingly, the ABS data, and particularly the trends over time, suggest that the China and United States’ contest for influence in Vietnam is not zero sum. In other words, increasing China’s positive influence doesn’t necessarily result in lowering United States’, and vice versa. It [is] possible for the two players to simultaneously enhance their positive influence on Vietnam, leading to the tantalizing possibility that China and [the] United States actually can cooperate with each other and achieve a win-win strategy in terms of increasing their positive influence in Vietnam.”


Vietnam Vows to ‘Firmly Resist’ Schemes to Undermine Relations with China. Ralph Jennings, VOA. May 21, 2021. “Vietnam, however, counts China as a top source of raw materials for factory work and its No. 2 export market. When disputes come up, their ruling parties often meet first, privately, to smooth things over before any government officials step in. Vietnam now as before wants to save ideological and economic ties with China while applying pressure politically, said Stephen Nagy, senior associate professor of politics and international studies at International Christian University in Tokyo.”


The Odds Against Your Favor: How Does The National Assembly Election In Vietnam Work? Nguyen-Dinh Gia-Son, The Vietnamese. May 21, 2021. “Even if we assume that all non-party members will be able to effectively compete with the VCP, the VCP still retains a great degree of monopoly on power. The percentage of non-party delegates has never exceeded 15 percent. In 2016, despite the surge of independent candidates, the percentage of non-party members in the legislature dropped to 5 percent – the lowest percentage since 1976. And the number of self-nominees is always very small. Why is the number of non-party and self-nominated candidates so compromised? This is because of the design of the vetting process.” 


Vietnam’s National Assembly Vote: A Futile Gesture. Mu Sochua, The Diplomat. May 19, 2021. “In addition to a vetting process that favors VCP members, at least two independent candidates have been arrested, and several others intimidated, for their involvement in the upcoming vote, including a human rights defender who was made to sign a statement promising not to compete in the election. Both candidates, Le Trong Hung and Tran Quoc Khanh, have been charged under Article 117 of the Criminal Code for ‘making, storing, or spreading information, materials, or items’ against the state, which carries a penalty of up to 20 years’ imprisonment. Others who had similarly expressed their intention to run as a candidate, or discussed the election on Facebook, have been subjected to days of police questioning and physical assault.”


Vietnam’s first openly gay candidate seeks change with parliament run. Tran Thi Minh Ha, AFP. May 20, 2021. “In schools, misinformation about sexual orientation and gender identity is widespread and some children are taught by both teachers and parents that being gay is a mental illness, according to a Human Rights Watch report published last year. ‘Some people find it hard to accept someone from the minority LGBT community representing them at a powerful legislative body,’ he admitted. ‘There have been (negative) comments about me personally, about how I look and about my sexual orientation.’ Huy had pinned his hopes on votes from millennials and Generation Z, but to his surprise, many of his backers seem to be older men and women. Some have messaged him privately, while others have openly declared their support on social media.”


Please help by sharing our interview with Do Le Na, wife of Le Trong Hung. Hung was arrested for trying to run as an independent candidate. Please also share  Do Le Na’s open letter


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