Vietnam Free Expression Newsletter No. 20/2024 – Week of May 13-19

Greetings from Project88. We bring you news, analysis, and actions regarding human rights and civil society in Vietnam during the week of May 13-19.

In other news, a journalist formerly jailed in a psychiatric hospital against his will recalls a brutal 2020 beating. Another former political prisoner recounts a recent abduction by police and 24-hour detention. We have more details from the night that Nguyen Van Dung (Dung Aduku) was taken by public security officers for questioning. The first person account, summarized at the end of this week’s newsletter, implicates a mutual friend who appeared to have set up a meeting under false pretenses in order to lure Dung into a trap. A few days later, Dung went missing and is now presumed dead. Read our initial reporting on his case from last week, here.


Political Persecution

Le Anh Hung

Former political prisoner Le Anh Hung revealed directly to Project88 that in 2020 he was violently assaulted while being detained against his will at the Central Psychiatric Center in Hanoi. The incident allegedly occurred a few days after he snuck out photos of himself being tied down in a hospital bed, as well as of multiple bruises allegedly caused by an earlier assault perpetrated by a male nurse named Trần Quốc An. According to Hung, on July 19, 2020, An bought beer for two patients in the hospital and let them attack Hung. One held him tight while the other repeatedly punched him in the head and face, causing lacerations, the scars of which can still be seen today. Hung told us that for the past few weeks he has suddenly lost his hearing in the left ear, the cause of which is not clear after being examined and treated at the Eye, Ear, Throat Central Hospital the past 10 days. He has also been receiving acupuncture treatment the past few days, but the condition has not improved. Hung is seeking assistance in diagnosing the problem to see if it could be a consequence of the head injury he suffered at the psychiatric hospital. Hung was released last year after spending five years in prison for conducting “anti-state propaganda.”

Dang Thi Hue

Former prisoner Dang Thi Hue, who was released in 2023 after serving 39 months in prison for protesting BOT projects in 2019, has reported to Project88 that she was “abducted” by Thai Binh provincial security agents on May 16 while she was running errands. She said the agents were a group of four men and two women, only one of whom was in uniform. She was held in temporary detention for 24 hours without any notice given to her family. The anxiety allegedly caused her father to have a heart attack. Luckily, her younger sister, who works at Lam Hoa Hospital in Thai Binh, was able to come home quickly to revive him. Hue was released the next day and told Project88 that she is OK and that her health is good.

Le Trong Hung

Do Le Na, the wife of Le Trong Hung, told Project88 that in a call on May 15, Hung said he had sent a letter to his parents weeks ago, but that no one has received it yet. He said it was a letter containing a birthday message for their son. Na said prison officials told her that the post office in Thanh Chuong refused to forward Hung’s letters to his family for the past year and a half. The only communication she has had are the 10-minute phone calls that he’s allowed once a month, during which there is simply not enough time to talk about much, especially to the children.

Dang Dang Phuoc

Le Thi Ha, the wife of music teacher Dang Dang Phuoc, told Project88 that before her visit to Xuan Phuoc Prison ended on May 9, Phuoc gave her a small piece of paper which he said contained the phone number of the family of a fellow prisoner. However, a guard saw the piece of paper, took it away from him, and then made a report against Hung for violating prison rules. When Ha asked the guard to open up the piece of paper so that everyone could see what was actually written there, they refused. Hung was taken away, and the letter was kept as “evidence.”

Huynh Thuc Vy

Two female prisoners, Tran Thi Ngoc Xuan and Huynh Thuc Vy, currently held in Section 5 of Gia Trung Prison in Gia Lai Province, have complained of unbearable odors coming from wastewater released near their cells. The women said the odors have made it difficult for them to breathe or sleep at night. They added that the problem has lasted for at least two years and is getting worse despite repeated complaints. Xuan’s health is reported by her family to be deteriorating.


Exclusive: Vietnam forfeits billions of dollars in foreign aid amid anti-graft freeze, document says. Reuters; 2024-05-17. Vietnam forfeited at least $2.5 billion in foreign aid over the last three years and may lose another $1 billion because of administrative paralysis, the United Nations, the World Bank and Western donors told the government in a letter seen by Reuters. The previously unreported figures from the unpublished document, dated March 6, highlight frustration among foreign investors over regulatory hurdles and lengthy approval procedures that have caused prolonged deadlock as the Communist-ruled country is gripped by an escalating anti-corruption campaign and political turbulence.

Assistant Secretary Toloui Travel to Japan, the Republic of Korea, Vietnam, the Philippines, Singapore, California, and New York April 22 to May 8. US Department of State; 2024-05-17. The Assistant Secretary also held meetings with Vietnamese counterparts to advance the U.S.-Vietnam economic partnership, including cooperation under the CHIPS and Science Act’s International Technology Security Innovation Fund.

Under Secretary Zeya’s Remarks for the 30th Annual Commemoration of Vietnam Human Rights Day. US Department of State; 2024-05-14. The Department of State’s recently released Human Rights Report on Vietnam documents a continued crackdown by authorities on human rights and fundamental freedoms, particularly freedom of expression. They continue to raise concerns directly with the Vietnamese government, calling for reforms, and are integrating human rights across the bilateral relationship.

International Advocacy 

Victims of Vietnam’s Formosa Toxic Spill Deserve Justice. HRW; 2024-05-14.

“We Thought We Were Safe” – Repression and Forced Return of Refugees in Thailand. HRW; 2024-05-16.


Buddhist pilgrimage by unrecognized ‘monk’ goes viral in Vietnam. Radio Free Asia; 2024-05-17. Thich Minh Tue does not claim to be a monk but he has become a symbol for many Buddhists by drawing attention to what many people say is the lack of religious freedom in Vietnam. Freedom of religion is technically enshrined in Vietnam’s constitution but Tue does not belong to a Buddhist sect that is recognized by the state. Without recognition, religious groups are not allowed to organize.

Will Vietnam’s anti-corruption drive usher in pro-China hardliners and impact US ties? South China Morning Post; 2024-05-17. The anti-corruption purge ripping through the top ranks of the Communist Party of Vietnam is driven by factional infighting that is likely to see the emergence of hardliners whose instincts may be to edge closer to China, according to analysts. The party has shattered its reputation as a stable and secretive steward of Southeast Asia’s second-fastest growing economy with an unprecedented campaign to root out corrupt officials conducted in front of a stunned public. So far, the drive has forced the exits of two presidents; the powerful chair of the National Assembly, two deputy prime ministers and dozens of Central Committee members. In its latest move, Hanoi said on Thursday that it removed Thuong Thi Mai, who ranked fifth among Vietnam’s leaders and was the only woman in the Politburo, for “violations and shortcomings,” without elaborating, according to Reuters.

Why is Vietnam becoming a police state? The Diplomat; 2024-05-17. Once known for political stability, albeit of the one-party, authoritarian sort, the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) is gaining a reputation for unpredictability. It has sacked two state presidents in two years as part of a vast anti-graft campaign that has gutted much of the bureaucracy since 2016. The chair of the National Assembly was allowed to resign last month. The Politburo has lost four top members in the past 18 months.

Vietnam: Is turmoil in Hanoi keeping Vladimir Putin away? DW News; 2024-05-18. With Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party (VCP) in turmoil, and the EU irritated by Hanoi flirting with Moscow, the expected visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin will likely not materialize this weekend. The Russian leader on Friday capped off a two-day state visit to China in a conspicuous show of friendship between Moscow and Beijing. Rumors ahead of the trip indicated Putin would make a stop in Hanoi before flying back to Moscow.However, this scenario seems unlikely. This week, Russia’s ambassador to Vietnam, Gennady Stepanovich Bezdetko, told Vietnamese state media that Putin would travel to Vietnam in the “near future” but that a date hasn’t been set.


Nguyen Van Dung (Dung Aduku), Photo source: Dan Lam Bao

Thach Vu, a friend of Nguyen Van Dung, aka Dung Aduku, has given Project88 some more details about the night Dung was taken away by security agents from Phu Tho– a town outside of Hanoi.

Nguyen Tien Nam, who goes by the nickname Binh Nhi, and Thach Vu, have been close friends with Dung Aduku since 2011, when the first wave of anti-China demonstrations began. They considered themselves comrades in the movement and spent a lot of time together. But about 10 years ago, they stopped seeing each other due to work, family, and other reasons. It wasn’t until February this year that the three of them met again for the first time. Thach said they had a lot of fun during that reunion, and Dung Aduku was his normal self– relaxed, easy-going.

On the morning of April 22, Thach received repeated calls from Nam asking to meet for a drink that evening, ostensibly to say goodbye before he moves south for family reasons. Nam repeatedly asked Thach to contact Dung to make sure he would come as well. Nam also asked if Thach knew where Dung was staying, in case they got too drunk and needed to spend the night at Dung’s place. Thach said he didn’t know, because for the past year Dung had not been staying at any one place very long in order to avoid people from the Ministry of Public Security (MPS) who had been chasing after him, especially after the arrest of Phan Tat Thanh, Dung’s former co-administrator of the Facebook page Patriotic Diary.

When Thach went to the meeting place in Hanoi around 9:30 pm, Nam and Dung were already there with a strange individual named Van, who later turned out to be a MPS agent. Dung was visibly anxious and tense, according to Thach. When Van went to the bathroom, Dung complained angrily to Nam for not telling him that someone from MPS would be there. Nam said it was just a coincidence, and that he and another former activist were there earlier having a beer when Van stopped by on his way home from the gym. He even showed Thach a bill, purportedly from their earlier drinking, and explained that when Van showed up, the other person left. This turned out to be a lie (when Thach contacted that person a few days later, the man said he wasn’t there and knew nothing about the meeting).

Once Van returned to the table, Thach said conversation turned to “one subject only.” Both Van and Nam tried to persuade Dung to return to Phu Tho and stop being involved in any kind of activism. Thach said that both men assured Dung that he would not be “arrested, charged or in any legal troubles related to Patriotic Diary.” Thach said he became extremely worried for Dung’s safety, but he could not alert other friends because his phone was in his backpack. As soon as they were ready to leave, a group of non-uniformed MPS officers from Phu Tho entered and told Dung to return to the table. They assured him that he’d be returned safely to Phu Tho that night. It was then that Thach noticed two men at the corner table who had been watching them all night.

When Dung was being taken to the MPS car, one officer suggested that they could also bring his motorbike to Phu Tho. But Dung refused, and he gave his keys to Thach instead. When Thach went back to the table, Van complained to Thach about his attitude of not trusting the MPS officers. Thach replied, “I believe Dung will be back in Phu Tho safely tonight, but I fear that many things will happen afterward that we can’t predict.”

As we reported in last week’s newsletter, Dung is now presumed dead under mysterious circumstances after he was held by Phu Tho police for three days and then released to his mother on April 25. He went missing on the morning of April 27. On May 8, a man’s body, believed to be Dung Aduku’s, washed ashore on a section of the Red River near Phu Tho. Thach told Project88 that he has lost “two fellow activist brothers” — Dung Aduku and Binh Nhi (Nguyen Tien Nam).

Our investigation into this case is ongoing.

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