Vietnam Free Expression Newsletter No. 21/2024 – Week of May 20-26

Greetings from Project88. We bring you news, analysis, and actions regarding human rights and civil society in Vietnam during the week of May 20-26.

  • To Lam is Vietnam’s new President. The former police minister is taking the helm during political instability and an evolving crackdown on dissent, largely orchestrated by Lam’s former agency, the Ministry of Public Security. Lam came under fire three years ago when he was filmed eating a gold-encrusted steak at the viral Salt Bae’s London restaurant. Noodle seller Bui Tuan Lam was later arrested for parodying the video as “Green Onion Bae”; he was sentenced to five and a half years in prison.
  • To Lam’s election comes at a time when Vietnam is increasingly framing international cooperation as threats to national security and looking to subvert democratic control over public policy and the economy, as articulated in Directive 24. Despite its bid to upgrade its market status with the U.S., its promises for a “just” energy transition under its JET-P climate funding, and its promises to ratify ILO Convention 87, Vietnam recently arrested top labor reformer Nguyen Van Binh, the director general of the Legal Affairs Department at Vietnam’s Ministry of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs (MOLISA). Project88 has also learned that authorities have arrested Vu Minh Tien, head of policy and legal affairs at the Vietnam General Confederation of Labour (VGCL) and director of the Institute for Workers and Trade Unions (IWTU). Prior to their arrests both Tien and Binh were leading efforts to bring Vietnam’s labor law into line with international standards.


“These arrests are yet another example of the failure of international organizations to say a mumbling word about the advocates and reformers they are so keen to champion until these people wind up in jail”

– Ben Swanton, Co-Director of Project88. 


  • In other news this week, blogger Nguyen Chi Tuyen remains in incommunicado detention almost three months after his arrest. And Bui Van Thuan is undergoing a hunger strike in Nghe An’s Prison No. 6. Despite its JET-P pledges, Vietnam plans to use more coal to avoid power outages. Hydropower initiatives are also under scrutiny in a recent report.




Political Persecution

Nguyen Chi Tuyen

The family of blogger Nguyen Chi Tuyen a.k.a Anh Chi, still has not been able to communicate with him since his arrest on Feb. 29. They have been sending him supplies regularly but have not been able to confirm receipt. He was arrested under Article 117 for  “disseminating information, materials, items and publications against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.” A vocal human rights defender, Tuyen was put under government surveillance for years, starting roughly around the time of the Formosa environmental disaster and subsequent protests in 2016. In 2017, he was attacked by several people widely believed to be plainclothes police; the attack left him hospitalized and severely injured. In 2023, he was summoned for questioning about some live-streams on his popular “Anh Chí Râu Đen” YouTube channel and was later banned from leaving the country.

Nguyen Van Dung

Vietnamese authorities said DNA tests showed that the male corpse that washed ashore near Hanoi on May 8 was that of activist Nguyen Van Dung, aka Dung Aduku. Dung was detained by Phu Tho security on April 22 for four days before he was released on April 25. He left his house on the morning of April 27 and was not seen alive again.

Dang Thi Hue

Former political prisoner Dang Thi Hue told Project88 she was detained by six public security personnel – four men and two women– only one of whom was in uniform – outside her home in Thai Binh province on May 16. She was held in temporary detention for 24 hours without any notice given to her family. The incident was recorded by her neighbor’s security camera. Her third-grade son is now very afraid to go outside with his mother for fear of being arrested.

Bui Van Thuan

Trinh Thi Nhung, the wife of Bui Van Thuan, told Project88 that her husband would go on a hunger strike from May 25 to May 29 to protest against mistreatment at Nghe An’s Prison No. 6. Thuan said his cell lacks ventilation while temperatures routinely go over 100F, and that he has not been allowed to go outside to exercise. Nhung believes that the ill treatment is contributing to a worsening of Thuan’s health.

Other prominent political prisoners at this prison, including Tran Huynh Duy Thuc and Dang Dinh Bach, have also complained about recent mistreatment and staged multiple hunger strikes. Dang Dinh Bach’s wife, Tran Phuong Thao, has written a heartfelt letter in English addressed to the international community. It can be found in full at the end of the newsletter.

Two Facebooker were arrested and charged with “conspiracy to overthrow the government” on May 20 by Tien Giang provincial authorities. Nguyen Duc Thanh is accused of joining the “Provisional Government of Vietnam” in 2023 and meeting online with the group to get training. Thanh allegedly used Facebook to disseminate posts that oppose the regime and, according to the police, recruited Nhut Kim Binh to join the group. Binh is accused of disseminating, both online and off, copies of the “Constitution of the Third Republic of Vietnam.”

Catholic priest Dang Huu Nam from the Diocese of Vinh, a forceful and outspoken advocate for victims of the Formosa environmental disaster, has since 2021 been suspended and not allowed to perform his religious duties such as pastoral care and sacramental rites. He alleges that he also has been confined in his residence; stopped receiving benefits; food rations cut off between October 2021 to April 2023; and he was not taken to the doctor when he fell ill. According to a complaint letter Father Nam sent to the Diocese leadership, Bishop Nguyen Huu Long accused him of “discussing politics, creating problems with the state, causing troubles for me, being anti-communist in a stupid manner, in the wrong place at the wrong time.” The diocese officially sanctioned Nam for what he called “trumped up charges” after a 10-day administrative trial on Jan. 10, 2022.

Le Thi Ha, the wife of Dang Dang Phuoc, told Project88 that her 30-minute visit with her husband at Xuan Phuoc prison in Phu Yen province on May 9 was the longest since he was transferred there from temporary detention. The other visits before lasted only 10-15 minutes, even though by law prisoners are allowed one hour of visitation a month. When she asked prison officials about it, they just gave her one excuse or another. But after the last visit, when Phuoc tried to hand her a piece of paper containing the phone number of a fellow prisoner’s family, he was “disciplined for breaking prison rules” by being put in isolation for 10 days and can only have visits every two months “until he’s satisfactorily re-educated,” according to an official notice signed on May 10, 2024, which Ha was later given.

Two people convicted after the deadly Dong Tam police raid in 2019 were released early for “good behavior.” Le Dinh Quan alleged he received severe beatings during the interrogation and was forced to confess to crimes he did not commit. He said when he tried to mention this in court, he was cut off by the judge.



Banks backing Mekong hydropower failing on due diligence, report reveals. Mongabay; 2024-05-20. Major banks operating in Thailand and Vietnam aren’t doing enough to address the environmental and human rights consequences of their investments in large-scale hydropower dams along the Mekong River, according to a new report.The report, by Fair Finance Asia, a network of more than 90 civil society organizations led by Oxfam, and Netherlands-based sustainability research organization Profundo, scrutinized the policies of three banks based in Thailand and three based in Vietnam, including their capacity to uphold their publicly stated environmental, social and governance (ESG) commitments.

Vietnam’s shift back to coal is under EU scrutiny. DW; 2024-05-27. Hanoi has turned back to coal to prevent more power cuts this year, a prerequisite for attracting advanced semiconductor fabrication, a high-precision industry extremely sensitive to power disruptions. In March, the Vietnamese government made assurances to multinational companies that there would be no more power cuts this year. In normal times, coal-fired power plants account for just over a third of the country’s total installed power generation capacity. However, according to data from the state utility Electricity of Vietnam, they have generated around 67% of the total electricity output in recent weeks.

Exclusive: Apple supplier Foxconn among firms asked to cut power use in Vietnam. Reuters; 2024-05-21.Vietnamese officials have called on Apple supplier Foxconn to voluntarily reduce power use by 30% at its assembly plants in the north of the country where there were electricity outages last year, two people familiar with the matter said.The request for energy-saving measures, which two other industry sources said was sent to multiple manufacturers, is precautionary and aimed at averting a repeat of last summer when power shortage led to over a billion dollars in lost output.

Vietnam Electricity denies telling foreign companies to cut power use by 30%. Vietnam Express International; 2024-05-22. Vietnam Electricity has refuted a media report that it has told foreign-owned companies in the north to cut electricity use by 30% this summer. On Wednesday British news agency Reuters claimed that officials have urged Apple supplier Foxconn to reduce power use by 30% at its assembly plants in a region that saw electricity outages last year. But EVN said in a statement Wednesday it is not implementing any plan that involves cutting customers’ power use.

Vietnam’s renewable surge shouldn’t distract from chronic environmental policy failures. East Asia Forum; 2024-05-24. Recent amendments to Vietnam’s national energy framework and the expansion of state-led incentives to foster investment in local renewables deployment have been recognised as significant leaps in Vietnam’s path to sustainability. While sustainability issues are gaining public traction, the lack of accountability and transparency in government responses to local environmental issues is challenging the government’s standing with the public.


Thao’s husband, Dang Dinh Bach, is a lawyer and human rights defender currently serving five years in prison on spurious charges of tax evasion


Hanoi, 17.05.2024

Dear friends, colleagues and international organizations,

I was immersed in the scorching lessons of being in a room without a fan and sufficient daylight in Prison 6 yesterday, when I visited Bách– the visiting room had a power outage.

Experiencing the sweaty and uncomfortable feeling, dizzy and exhausted, I understood why my healthy and mentally strong husband called home on 26.04 to send the message that the conditions of his detention were leading to the deterioration of his physical and mental health.

He made the phone call that day as the temperature outdoors in Nghê An rose to 43°C.

Bach’s new cell of 10 square meters, including a toilet, that Bách shares with one fellow inmate, has 2 small windows at a height of about 3m above the ground, which of course cannot allow the entry of a sufficient amount of air and natural light. For unknown reasons, the prison authorities have tightened the repression screws by keeping the “tiger cage” closed day and night, only opening it arbitrarily from time to time as if bestowing graces and favors upon the prisoners and not because access to outdoor exercise and natural light or air are human rights.

As I felt worried and frustrated that Bach’s application from 12.04.2024 for an air fan has still been ignored, Bách tried to comfort me, explaining that cultivating inner strength is also a way to cope with the situation, and he said with a smile, that fortunately after his last phone call, the suffocating weather got down to 30-32 °C.

Bách insisted that we both should stay calm and serene, not allowing anger and hate to invade our hearts, while being mindful about everything happening to us and around us. We should not get disappointed and never get tired of raising our voices against every act harming human beings and nature. It is not only about him as a prisoner, but about the needed rule of law in our country to protect values like human rights, freedom, peace….

At the moment, not only is the Funan Techo canal weighing heavy on Bách´s heart and on his mind, but the whole low-lying Mekong Delta, which is one of the places most vulnerable to the adverse impacts of climate change, with farmers already facing impacts such as saltwater intrusion and land erosion. Beyond economic and political issues, the Mekong region faces transnational challenges that include badly managed hydropower development.

A path for the Mekong Delta’s future will require the input of many experts, scholars, researchers, environmentalists….. and active participation of the people. The importance of local knowledge has to be taken into account for a coherent strategy. The lack of clear, effective and practical views and solutions to protect the survival of the ecology system as well as the lives of the 20 million people living in the Mekong delta makes Vietnam vulnerable to unfair competition from unfriendly forces.

For Viet Nam to be a strong country, the people of Viet Nam should have

– the right to access information

– the right to be consulted and

– the right to request accountability from authorities

while the government of Vietnam should commit itself to ensure effective management of

international financial support by promoting transparency and citizen participation, preventing corruption, and increasing ethics and public accountability.

Bách would like also to thank and send his encouragement to his friends and colleagues participating in the 2024 UPR process. He hopes that the recommendations will not be considered as an affront, but will help the Vietnamese leadership to get nearer to their pledge on joining the Human rights Council “to continue the efforts devoted to better enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

Yours faithfully,

Tran Phuong Thao (Mrs)

© 2024 The 88 Project