Vietnam Free Expression Newsletter No. 24/2022 – Week of June 13-19

Greetings from The 88 ProjectWe bring you news, analysis, and actions regarding human rights and civil society in Vietnam during the week of June 13-19. An anti-coal environmentalist was convicted of “tax evasion” and sent to prison. The 81-year-old mother of political prisoner Pham Doan Trang was harassed by airport police. Some prisoners are allowed to see or contact their family more often; others have to refuse meat or fish as a form of protest against mistreatment. Many prisoners report having health issues and complain about the lack of healthcare. UN Special Rapporteurs issued their opinions on two cases in Vietnam. Reporters for state-run media must attend training on how to uphold the government’s views on human rights. Vietnam’s conflicting stance on clean energy is exposed. Vietnam’s military-owned telecom Viettel partners with Myanmar’s Mytel to help Burmese junta track down deserters. US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman was in Hanoi to meet with several high-level officials. The UK launches an investigation into how a Vietnamese billionaire funded a college at Oxford University.


Political Prisoners

Nguy Thi Khanh

Nguy Thi Khanh, one of Vietnam’s most prominent environmental experts, was sentenced to two years in prison on “tax evasion” charges. An outspoken critic of the use of coal, Khanh joined three other anti-coal environmental activists who were convicted earlier this year and handed multi-year sentences on what many consider to be trumped up charges of tax evasion. Khanh is the first Vietnamese to receive the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize in 2018, which came with a $200,000 prize. The tax evasion charge stems from the fact that Khanh failed to pay about $18,000 in taxes (10% of the prize). Her husband Manh Nguyen wrote on his Facebook page that the court acknowledged that Khanh said she did not know that the prize money was taxable and that she would gladly pay it. It is not clear if Khanh was represented by a lawyer.

Pham Doan Trang’s mother, Bui Thi Thien Can, was detained at Noi Bai Airport for questioning by security police for four hours. She was detained as she returned to Hanoi from her trip to Geneva to accept the Martin Ennals Human Rights Award on behalf of her daughter on June 2. During the three-week visit, Mrs Bui met with more than 20 representatives from the EU, several international organizations, officials at Switzerland Foreign Ministry, representatives from the UNHCR, a number of UN Special Rapporteurs, the US ambassador to Geneva, and officials from Canada and the Czech Republic. According to one of her children, the octogenarian was finally released after midnight in a state of total exhaustion.

The 88 Project has learned that Do Nam Trung’s wife, Anh Tuyet, and his mother went to Prison Camp No. 3 on June 13 to visit Trung but were not allowed to see him. According to the family, they were only able to give him some documents to sign for the registration of his marriage certificate. Trung was reported to be in good health and spirits. He’s serving a 10-year sentence for spreading “anti-state propaganda.”

Pham Chi Dung and Huynh Duc Thanh Binh

Bui Thi Hong Loan, wife of Pham Chi Dung, reported that Dung has been refusing to eat his meat and fish rations since June 5 to protest against prison officials not letting his fellow political prisoners receive medications or dental treatment. According to our sources, Dung’s fellow political prisoner Huynh Duc Thanh Binh also told his mother about Dung’s protest when she visited him on June 14. Binh said many political prisoners in his camp suffer from toothaches, making it difficult for them to eat. Their faces are often swollen and red. Their health is gradually deteriorating, yet they are not given proper medical treatment.

Le Trong Hung

Le Trong Hung’s wife, Do Le Na, wrote on her Facebook page that she received a surprise phone call from her husband on June 16. The conversation lasted about 10 minutes. Hung gave her a list of items to bring for the next visit, including medicine for his eye and skin conditions and ramen noodles. He also asked for writing utensils and copies of the Constitution. Hung said he discovered there were legal errors in his appeals trial and that he will demand a retrial.

On June 18, the visually-impaired Na and her two children traveled all night to Thanh Hoa Province to visit Hung. The meeting lasted about one hour. Hung told Na that at this new prison he is allowed three meals a day instead of two, but his eye conditions continue to deteriorate. At the end of their meeting, Hung was allowed to hug his family for a few seconds, Na wrote.

This week, we think of the birthdays, arrests, and trial anniversaries of the following political prisoners:

Nguyen Chi Vung and Nguyen Thi Tam

Community at Risk

Bui Van Tuan and Trinh Van Hai, two villagers convicted after the Dong Tam raid in early 2020, have been released from prison after finishing their 30-month sentences. Tuan told RFA that after trying unsuccessfully to appeal his sentence he was sent to a faraway prison in Thanh Hoa Province and had to perform forced labor. Hai’s family could not be reached for comments.

International Advocacy

Chau Van Kham and Nguyen Bao Tien

The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has issued two separate opinions regarding the arrest and imprisonment of Chau Van Kham and Nguyen Bao Tien. The Vietnamese government was found to have violated multiple articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in the arrest and detentions of the two defendants.


Vietnam state media trained to protect government policies. RFA Vietnamese; June 14, 2022: Reporters and editors employed by state media outlets in Vietnam are being trained to uphold the views of the ruling Communist Party on human rights, freedom of expression and other politically sensitive topics, sources in the country say. Vietnam’s government appears especially sensitive to foreign criticism on human rights issues, frequently attacking allegations of abuse or the suppression of free speech as the work of hostile forces, according to rights groups and other activists. Trainings are now held each year to ensure that those working in Vietnam’s state-owned media work within limits set by the government and ruling party, Nguyen Ngoc Vinh — former managing editor of the country’s popular Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper — told RFA in an interview.

She Spoke Out Against Vietnam’s Plans for Coal. Then She Was Arrested. Sui-Lee Wee, New York Times; June 17, 2022: Before Ms. Nguy’s advocacy, Vietnam had little in the way of renewable energy. But a growing awareness of the health costs of burning fossil fuels prompted the government to embrace solar power. Many local governments offered tax exemptions and attractive tariffs to encourage investment. It worked. Vietnam became the country with the largest installed capacity of solar and wind power in Southeast Asia. But many officials pushed back against renewables. In several draft plans, the government has flip-flopped on its policy, initially indicating that it wanted to continue its reliance on coal. There were fears that weaning the country off coal could hurt the economy and that renewable energy could be an expensive and unreliable way to power the country. In many ways, the treatment of Ms. Nguy illuminates the Vietnamese government’s conflicted approach to environmental protection and infighting among various ministries.

Justice for Myanmar: Vietnamese telco helps junta track deserters. RFA Vietnamese; June 17, 2022: Over four years Mytel has given hundreds of thousands of free SIM cards to military personnel, as well as civil servants and members of the former National League for Democracy government, enabling the military to monitor them, Justice for Myanmar said. “Mytel is a product of the Myanmar military’s systemic corruption, supporting war criminals including Min Aung Hlaing and the illegal military junta that he is heading, with revenue, technology and intelligence,” Justice for Myanmar spokesperson Yadanar Maung told RFA by email. Analysis shows that Myanmar’s military is set to earn more than U.S.$700 million from Mytel over 10 years, using the profits to fund continued war crimes and crimes against humanity, the report said.

Deputy Secretary Sherman’s Meetings with Vietnamese Government Officials. U.S. State Department; June 14, 2022: In these meetings, Deputy Secretary Sherman emphasized the strength of the U.S.-Vietnam Comprehensive Partnership and the United States’ support for a strong, prosperous, and independent Vietnam. She praised Prime Minister Chinh’s successful visit to the United States to attend the U.S.-ASEAN Special Summit and welcomed Vietnam’s participation at the launch of the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework. She also reiterated the United States’ enduring commitment to war legacy and humanitarian issues, including accounting for American and Vietnamese war dead, assistance to persons with disabilities, clearing unexploded ordnance, and joint dioxin remediation. Deputy Secretary Sherman also discussed the human rights situation in Vietnam and emphasized the importance of continued bilateral dialogue.

UK investigates Vietnamese billionaire’s funding of Oxford University college. RFA Vietnamese; June 17, 2022: The British government is investigating a £155 million (U.S.$191 million) grant to Oxford University’s Linacre college by a Vietnamese billionaire. Education Minister Michelle Donelan told the House of Commons that the ministry would give an update in the next few days after looking into the grant from VietJet founder Nguyen Thi Phuong Thao. Donelan’s comments came in response to questions from a fellow Tory MP as the House of Commons considered the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill on Monday, British media reported. Conservative MP Julian Lewis asked Donelan whether she was concerned at conditions set by the Vietnamese billionaire such as renaming Linacre ‘Thao College,’ considering Vietnam is a country where people seldom enjoy freedom of speech.


Online commentator Nguyen Duy Linh with Ben Tre Province police; Source: Bao Dong Khoi via RFA Vietnamese

Read our analysis on the ever increasing suppression of online commentators in Vietnam and the negative effects it is having on freedom of expression in cyberspace.


Vietnam Human Rights Network has issued an online petition asking UN member nations not to elect Vietnam to the UN Human Rights Council due to its ever worsening record on repression and its recent vote against suspending Russia from the Council. You can sign the petition here.

© 2022 The 88 Project