Vietnam Free Expression Newsletter No. 25/2024 – Week of June 18-24

Greetings from Project88. We bring you news, analysis, and actions regarding human rights and civil society in Vietnam during the week of June 17-24.

On June 24, 2024, the United States released its annual report on the efforts by foreign governments to address trafficking in persons. In the report, Vietnam was upgraded to Tier 2 status, indicating that the country has made efforts to eliminate trafficking in persons. In the lead-up to this assessment, however, Project88 presented evidence to the State Department that this was not the case. 

Project88 was able to obtain four internal Vietnamese government documents that revealed a plan to deliberately mislead the U.S. government about the human trafficking situation in Vietnam. Our report on this subject was published on June 19 and was covered by Reuters. In response to the report, a State Department spokesperson told Reuters that they will “continue to raise the concerns with Vietnam’s anti-trafficking efforts cited in the TIP Report, while also acknowledging the verified, positive steps the government has taken this period.” Given the revelations uncovered in our report, it is unconscionable that the State Department upgraded Vietnam this year.

The documents make clear that, rather than taking concrete measures to eliminate trafficking in persons, Vietnam has instead tried to deceive the world into believing that the country has taken action. And it appears that for geopolitical reasons America is willing to look the other way. There is no indication that any of the revelations in these documents have been investigated or taken into consideration in the report.


In other news this week, human rights organizations continue to call for Y Quynh Bdap to be released to safety after he was detained on immigration charges in Bangkok earlier in the month. This week marks three years since Dang Dinh Bach was arrested. Bach was integral to helping Vietnam secure funding to transition away from fossil fuels. Dang Dinh Bach and his family have documented numerous allegations of mistreatment against him by prison officers, many of those at Prison No. 6 in Nghe An province. A fellow inmate of Bach’s, Tran Huynh Duy Thuc’s recent formal complaint about mistreatment in Prison No. 6 allegedly went through various government agencies only to end up back at the prison itself, unresolved. Also this week, our labor update spells out potential implications for worker organizations from the draft amended Trade Union Law. And plans for a long-delayed coal plant roar back to life despite Vietnam’s promises for a cleaner energy future.


Y Quynh Bdap

Four more human rights organizations have called on the Thai government to release ethnic minority rights activist Y Quynh Bdap, who was arrested one day after his asylum interview with Canadian embassy staff in Bangkok earlier in June. FORUM-ASIA, CIVICUS, Asia Democracy Network, and Front Line Defenders issued a joint statement warning against extraditing Bdap to Vietnam, where he has been convicted in absentia on what is widely believed to be trumped up charges of “terrorism” – an accusation that has previously been used by the one-party state to imprison people. VOA has reported that Bdap’s extradition hearing will take place on July 15.

Project88 has released an in-depth press statement on Y Quynh Bdap calling on Canada to take immediate action to secure his release, which can be accessed here, along with a brief video interview we made of Y Quynh speaking in his own words.

This week marked three years since lawyer and environmental activist Dang Dinh Bach was arrested on false charges of tax evasion. Bach has steadfastly maintained his innocence while in prison and has alleged frequent and severe psychological and physical mistreatment, including being kicked in the back of the neck and denied letters from home and even photos of his child; his family has faced near constant harassment from the authorities, threatening their livelihood and home. Join the Stand With Bach coalition’s letter writing campaign, and send Bach a message of support.

On June 19, a court in Tien Giang province sentenced Nguyen Duc Thanh to 16 years and Nhut Kim Binh to eight years in prison, both allegedly for “activities aimed at overthrowing the people’s government.” Thanh is accused of posting 13 articles with 32 pages of content that discredited the one-party state. He’s also accused of joining an overseas organization calling itself the Provisional Government of Vietnam and of recruiting Nhut Kim Binh to be a member.

Tran Huynh Duy Thuc

Tran Huynh Duy Thuc’s brother, Duy Tan, visited him at Prison No. 6 in Nghe An on June 18 and reported that things have only gotten worse since the visit from the Australian embassy representative a few weeks ago. Thuc continues dealing with extreme temperatures, and another “tiger cage” has been erected outside the existing one, creating what Thuc called “a cage within a cage.” Thuc asked that the following “comedic story” regarding a complaint he made be passed to the international community. Thuc’s family had earlier written to the prime minister requesting that his health and well being be protected. The prime minister’s office forwarded the letter to the Ministry of Public Security, which passed it to its Division 6, which sent it back to Prison No. 6. Prison officials denied everything filed in the complaint and nothing was done to improve the conditions inside the prison. Thuc told his brother that “After the letter came back, it was followed by a series of reprisals and mistreatment.”

Truong Minh Duc

Truong Minh Duc’s wife, Nguyen Kim Thanh, visited her husband at Prison No. 6 in Nghe An on June 12. It took her four days, from the time she left her house until she got back home, for just a one-hour visit. Two days earlier, Duc had a health checkup that showed high blood pressure and an allegedly weakened heart. Doctors said he would have to take medications twice a day for his heart condition, which they believed is exacerbated by the extreme heat inside the prison. Two young men serving life sentences had just been added to his cell; they’re accused of taking part in the Dak Lak uprising in June of last year, which the government later admitted was a result of mismanagement on its part. Duc was convicted in 2019 for “attempting to overthrow the government” and is serving a 12-year sentence for “subversion” under Article 79 of the 1999 Code. This is the second conviction for Duc; in 2008 he was sentenced to five years in prison for “abusing democratic freedoms” and was released in May 2012.

Huynh Duc Thanh Binh’s mother, Nguyen Thi Hue, visited him at Xuan Loc prison on June 18 and confirmed that none of the packages she had sent earlier got to him. She said Binh looked thinner since he was not receiving extra food supplements from home. Binh said the temperatures inside his cell had regularly risen over 100F during the day and would only cool off a little bit after 11PM, allowing him to at least get some sleep. Binh was arrested in 2018 and sentenced to 10 years in prison for his involvement in protests against the proposed cybersecurity and economic zone laws.


Visiting Vietnam, Putin seeks new ‘security architecture’ for Asia. Reuters; 2024-06-21. Russian President Vladimir Putin said he wanted to build a “reliable security architecture” in the Asia-Pacific region during a state visit to Vietnam on Thursday, part of a trip to Asia seen as show of defiance to the West. A day after signing a mutual defense agreement with North Korea, Putin received a 21-gun salute at a military ceremony in Vietnam, was embraced by two of its Communist leaders and lavishly praised by one of them. Putin had contributed to “peace, stability and development” in the world, Vietnam’s president said. Putin’s visit has drawn criticism from the United States and its allies, who treat the Russian leader as a pariah and have protested that he should not be given a stage on which to defend Russia’s war in Ukraine. Russia and Vietnam signed agreements on issues including energy, underlining Moscow’s pivot to Asia after the West imposed sanctions on Moscow over the conflict in Ukraine.

Yellen says US ties with Vietnam don’t require it to sever ties with Russia, China. Reuters. 2024-06-20. U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen on Thursday said the United States’ upgraded partnership with Vietnam does not require Vietnam to sever ties with Russia or China. Asked whether Russian President Vladimir Putin’s state visit to Vietnam to sign a slew of agreements ranging from oil and gas to nuclear science raised concerns for Washington, Yellen said Hanoi has a clear policy of working with many countries. “Vietnam has a policy and strategy of working collaboratively with many different countries, and it is not a condition of our partnership that they sever their ties to Russia or to China,” Yellen told a news conference in Atlanta.

A U.S. envoy visits Hanoi days after Putin, saying US-Vietnam trust is at ‘all-time high’. AP News; 2024-06-23. A senior U.S. diplomat held talks in Vietnam on Saturday and said that the trust between the two countries was at an “all-time high,” just days after Russian President Vladimir Putin’s state visit to Hanoi. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and Pacific Affairs Daniel Kritenbrink insisted that his trip was unrelated to Putin’s visit on Thursday. Vietnam had elevated the United States to its highest diplomatic status, comprehensive strategic partner, last year, putting it at the same level as China and Russia. The elevation of the U.S. ties suggested that Vietnam wanted to hedge its friendships as Western companies look to diversify their supply chains away from China.

US asks Vietnam to support Ukraine’s sovereignty, territorial integrity. VOA News; 2024-06-20. The United States called on Vietnam Thursday to support Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity following Vladimir Putin’s one-day visit to Hanoi, part of the Russian president’s brief Asian tour seeking to shore up alliances in the face of mounting Western sanctions. “We expect that any country, when it engages in conversations with the government of Russia, and especially when it hosts leaders from the government of Russia, will make clear their respect for the principles of the U.N. Charter, including sovereignty and territorial integrity, and convey that those principles must be upheld across the world,” State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller told VOA during a briefing on Thursday.


Vietnam Coal Power Project Moving Forward After Phase-Out Deal. Bloomberg; 2024-06-24. Plans to build a long-delayed coal power plant in Vietnam are moving forward 18 months after the country agreed to a multibillion dollar deal to move away from the fossil fuel. The Song Hau 2 thermal power plant has signed a grid connection agreement with Vietnam’s main utility and secured a $980 million loan to purchase equipment, developer Toyo Ventures Holdings Berhad said in exchange filings on the Bursa Malaysia earlier this month. The $2.7 billion coal-powered project, which has been in development for more than a decade, would generate 2.1 gigawatts of power in the southern province of Hau Giang.

Mendicant monk Thích Minh Tuệ offers an embarrassing contrast to Vietnam elites. RFA; 2024-06-19. Early this month Vietnamese authorities forced an ascetic monk, Thích Minh Tuệ, who had become an internet sensation, to give up his seven-year cross-country trek. Authorities stressed that the barefoot mendicant monk, who attracted thousands of onlookers. was a threat to traffic safety. But his real crime was his humble lifestyle that stands in such stark contrast to the corruption scandals that have rocked Vietnam.

Beware of Vietnam’s new authoritarian president. Al Jazeera; 2024-06-19. A rare internal power struggle in Vietnam over the past few months resulted in the ousting of several major leaders for corruption and the appointment of a new president, former police general To Lam. But democratic governments courting Vietnam as an attractive market and alternative to China should be wary. Rather than a hopeful sign, Lam’s rise to power is indicative of the Vietnam government’s worsening repression, its complete intolerance of criticism, and utter hostility to basic civil and political rights.

The following articles provide additional analysis regarding President Putin’s visit to Vietnam: 

Russia’s Putin in Hanoi: What does Vietnam hope to gain? DW; 2024-06-21.

Putin’s Trip to Vietnam: The Next Phase of Major Power Competition; The Diplomat; 2024-06-20.

Putin vows deeper ties with Vietnam in visit criticised by US. BBC; 2024-06-20.


Labor update: National Assembly discusses the Trade Union Law. Project88; June 25, 2024: Consequently, if a WO is established at an enterprise where previously no WO or trade union existed, the distribution of funds to WOs are managed by upper level VGCL trade unions– meaning that independent, non-VGCL-affiliated WOs rely on the VGCL to manage and transfer their allocations of the trade union fund. In other countries with real freedom of association, no trade union would accept a rival union managing and allocating their finances; it would be rightly seen as an unacceptable interference into internal organizational and administrative matters.

© 2024 The 88 Project