Vietnam Free Expression Newsletter No. 22/2024 – Week of May 27-June 2

Greetings from Project88. We bring you news, analysis, and actions regarding human rights and civil society in Vietnam during the week of May 27-June 2.

  • Project88 has learned of two major arrests – well-known author Truong Huy San and high profile lawyer Tran Dinh Trien are both believed to have been detained in the past week. State media has not yet confirmed the arrests, and we have not yet been able to fully verify the arrests. The lack of information on the arrests and the absence of an international response are worrying as Vietnam continues plowing ahead with plans to strengthen one-party rule under Directive 24.
  • In other news this week, prisoners continue to report severe mistreatment at both Prison No. 6 in Nghe An and An Diem Prison in Quang Nam, corroborating each others’ accounts of being disciplined and isolated. Blogger Huynh Thuc Vy was released early from prison. One of the few remaining countries to actively use the death penalty so extensively, Amnesty International reported Vietnam imposed over 120 death sentences in 2023, including for drug offenses.


Truong Huy San

BREAKING: Prominent author and journalist Truong Huy San, pen name Huy Duc, has reportedly been detained by police, according to social media in Vietnam. State media, however, has not said anything about the arrest; state media often delays making such announcements. A well-connected and respected writer, Huy Duc is famous for his book “The Winning Side” (2012), which reveals alleged secrets about the Communist Party and many of its high-ranking members with whom he had deep professional and personal relationships. One of San’s final online posts before his arrest was critical of Vietnam’s new President, former police minister To Lam. If this news is confirmed, the arrest of someone once thought to be untouchable marks a worrying shift in Vietnam’s relentless campaign against freedom of speech.

BREAKING: Attorney Tran Dinh Trien has been arrested, according to social media in Vietnam. Trien’s Facebook page says that he once worked for the Ministry of Public Security and the Central Bank of Vietnam. He was also the former deputy director of the Hanoi Bar Association. He’s currently the head of the law office Luat Vi Dan (Law For Citizens). He has been involved in defending political cases. State media has not made any mention of Trien’s arrest. These are developing stories, and Project88 will report more details as they are available.

Abuse Allegations at Prison No. 6

Tran Huynh Duy Thuc

On May 10, Tran Huynh Duy Thuc was visited by the assistant ambassador and political chargé d’affaires from the Australian Embassy, together with a Communist Party official and an interpreter. The visit was requested by the embassy as a response to news of worsening prison conditions at Camp 1, Nghe An Prison No. 6. Thuc told the diplomat that he and other political prisoners have been subjected to “severe violations of human rights” ever since a new vice-warden named Thai Van Thuy arrived last August.

In particular, Thuc relayed in a phone call home that since April 18, all political prisoners have been put in “tiger cages,” and have not been allowed to exercise in the 5x7m yard, nor to communicate with each other in that small space on weekends as in the past. No reason was given for the new policy. In the presence of the Australian representative, Thuc asked the warden of camp 1, Lt. Col. Nguyen Van Du, to state whether there should at least be a signed order by Thuy before such punishment could be handed out. According to Thuc, Lt Col. Du “could not say a word.”

In addition to what he called “arbitrary actions” by prison officials, Thuc said political prisoners face discriminatory treatment such as not being allowed access to a green space and more severe physical conditions than other prisoners. Furthermore, he said that the situation is worsening to the point that prisoners’ health, both physical and mental, is in serious danger. As a precaution, Thuc himself has been refusing to eat prison food for months, relying only on instant noodles and other staples supplied by the family. He also accused the prison canteen of not only limiting the amount of things he could buy but also of raising prices so much that prisoners could not afford to buy much.

Thuc asked that the U.N. Special Rapporteur be allowed to visit the prison to see these things directly. He also expressed skepticism that things will change but would like the international human rights community to continue publicizing these issues nonetheless.

Bui Van Thuan

Other political prisoners at this prison, including Bui Van Thuan and Dang Dinh Bach, have also complained about recent mistreatment and have staged multiple hunger strikes. Tran Phuong Thao, Bach’s wife, has said of the “tiger cages” that they include a detention cell of about 15 square meters that is shared between two prisoners and a yard of the same size, surrounded by high walls and wire mesh above.

Trinh Thi Nhung, Bui Van Thuan’s wife, confirmed to Project88 that her husband began a hunger strike on May 18 to protest the mistreatment that Thuc had mentioned, particularly the prisoners’ inability to share time together on weekends as previously permitted. Nhung asked Thuan to write a letter instead to the warden requesting him to lift this ban, but Thuan refused. He said there’s no point asking for something that is their legal right to begin with but was illegitimately taken away.

Other Political Prisoner News

Huynh Thuc Vy

On June 1, blogger Huynh Thuc Vy was released from prison early after serving 30 months of her 33-month sentence. She was convicted under Article 276 of the 1999 Penal Code for spraying paint on the national flag. Vy alleged severe mistreatment, including physical assault, during her imprisonment. The daughter of a former political prisoner, Vy herself became a dissident blogger on human rights issues, especially on women’s rights and democracy. In 2012, Human Rights Watch gave Thuc Vy and four other bloggers the Hellman/Hammett Prize.

In 2013, Thuc Vy and eight others established the group Vietnamese Women for Human Rights. Vy had a toddler and was pregnant with her second child at the time of her trial in late 2018. As such, she was supposed to have a suspended sentence until her youngest child turned three, but she was taken into custody after a court in Dak Lak revoked the suspension in 2021 because she allegedly violated the terms of suspension. The court did not specify what the violations were.

Hoang Duc Binh

Hoang Duc Binh’s younger brother, Hoang Nguyen, told Project88 that the supplies the family sent Binh at the beginning of the month were returned by the post office. An Diem Prison officials allegedly did not give any reason for not letting Binh receive the packages, nor for why he has not been allowed out to interact with other prisoners. Nguyen says that for the past few years, Binh has not been eating prison food and been relying solely on family supplies. Like Prison No. 6, several political prisoners have alleged severe mistreatment at An Diem Prison, including being put in “disciplinary cells” and prohibited from communicating with other inmates.

Pham Doan Trang and Nguyen Thuy Hanh

May 2024 marked the fourth year that female human rights defenders Pham Doan Trang and Nguyen Thuy Hanh had to spend their birthdays in prison. Trang’s birthday is May 27, 1978; she was arrested on October 6, 2020. Hanh’s birthday is May 25, 1963; she was arrested on April 7, 2021. Hanh was recently diagnosed with cancer, and her family’s request to care for her at home has so far been denied. Project88 interviewed both Trang and Hanh about their activism prior to their arrests.


Death sentences and executions 2023. Amnesty International. The death penalty was used for crimes that did not involve intentional killing and therefore did not meet the threshold of “most serious crimes” under international law: – Drug-related offences: Executions for drug-related offences were recorded in China (+),12 Iran (481), Kuwait (1), Saudi Arabia (19) and Singapore (5); the total number of 508 constituted 44% of total executions recorded globally. Information on Viet Nam, which is very likely to have carried out such executions, was unavailable. – 249 new death sentences were known to have been imposed in 11 countries: Bangladesh (1), China (+),13 Egypt (6), Indonesia (99 or 86%), Iran (+), Kuwait (3 out of at least 9, 33%), Laos (4 out of at least 4, 100%), Malaysia (20 out of at least 38, 53%), Singapore (6 out of 6, 100%), Sri Lanka (6 out of at least 40, 15%) and Viet Nam (100 out of at least 122, 82%).

2023 Human Rights and Democracy in the World (Report on Vietnam). European Union External Action; 2024-05-29. While Viet Nam assumed its seat on the UN Human Rights Council for the period 2023-2025, significant positive developments in the area of human rights were few in 2023. The space for civil society shrank further, demonstrated by harassment, arbitrary arrests and convictions of activists and bloggers. Environmental activists and experts remained a prime target: human rights lawyers defending them were accused of abusing democratic freedoms for which the Penal Code foresees severe sanctions. Several of them fled the country. Ethnic minorities and religious groups continued to be victims of harassment by state authorities.

The Vietnam-China Nexus: A Tale of Authoritarian Ascent. The Vietnamese; 2024-05-29. Throughout Vietnam’s history, China has sometimes been a threat, sometimes a source of influence, and most of the time, both at once. Within this ambiguous relationship, the last 40 years have unveiled the following path for the Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP), keeping this omnipresent neighbor at arm’s length while drawing inspiration from it. From a Western perspective, the hope for openness in China during the 1980s has been in parallel with the Đổi Mới (1986) reforms in Vietnam. However, international observers and local human rights activists have been disappointed to notice that economic liberalization has not promoted democratic values, press freedom, and an independent civil society. Indeed, we can see that political freedom and human rights have not developed despite China and Vietnam having opened to a market economy.



Police probe singer for video showing South Vietnamese flag. Radio Free Asia; 2024-05-29. On Monday, a video of singer Ngoc Mai, also known as O Sen, and her husband, circus artist Quoc Nghiep, playing with their children in an American house with small U.S. and South Vietnam flags – sitting on a bed headboard – spread quickly on social media. Despite quickly removing the video from her Facebook page, Mai received harsh criticism on social media, especially from government-backed accounts.Vietnam’s Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism told the media that it was verifying the video. Ho Chi Minh City police are working with the city’s Conservatory of Music on the case, media reports said.

Additional Context: Climate Change in Vietnam

Climate change threat is more than a storm in Vietnam’s coffee cup. SCMP; 2024-05-29.

Power consumption hits new record as intense heat continues across Vietnam. Asia News Network; 2024-05-30.

Vietnam’s great untapped rare earth bounty. Asia Times; 2024-05-29.

Thich Minh Tue, Source; Asia News

And in case you missed it, the walking monk Minh Tue, who had garnered unprecedented attention online and who was being followed by throngs of thousands throughout Vietnam, was stopped and fingerprinted by Thua Thien Provincial Police in Hue City. The state-sanctioned Vietnam Buddhist Sangha (UVBS) had previously announced that Minh Tue is not a real Buddhist monk. Thich Minh Dao, the head monk in Ba Ria-Vung Tau, who spoke out last week in support of Minh Tue’s dhutanga practice of Buddhism, was forced to resign from his leadership roles at the UVBS temple where he was serving. State media announced on June 3 that Minh Tue, whose real name is Le Anh Tu, has “volunteered to stop” the cross country walk that he’s been doing for the past six years without causing any problems.

Read more – Thich Minh Tue, the Vietnamese Buddhist monk who walks barefoot for faith and (religious) freedom.

© 2024 The 88 Project