Vietnam Free Expression Newsletter No. 26/2022 – Week of June 27-July 3

Greetings from The 88 ProjectWe bring you news, analysis, and actions regarding human rights and civil society in Vietnam during the week of June 27-July 3. A highly unusual trial with multiple defendants has been delayed after lawyers complained that they needed more time to work with their clients. A Facebooker accused of posting false news about COVID-19 received a lighter sentence than expected. Two female prisoners are reported to be in deteriorating health. Officials implicated in the multi-million dollar scandal involving Covid test kits are said to have apologized to the prime minister, perhaps to receive a lesser sentence. The shocking conviction of a prominent environmentalist raises doubts about Vietnam’s seriousness in combating climate change. Facebook in Vietnam tries to avoid having to deal with “toxic information” spread via its platform. The government has begun requiring all media workers be trained to promote its strategy in the East Sea. The United States, meanwhile, will be working with Taiwan and Vietnam to combat illegal fishing in the area. Learn about jailed environmental leader Dang Dinh Bach, in his own words, in our videos of a recent speech of his, available with both English and Vietnamese subtitles. 


Political Prisoners

Le Tung Van, Source: Radio Free Asia 

The trial of the Tinh That Bong Lai Zen Temple case has been suspended after lawyers for the six defendants filed an appeal complaining that they were not given sufficient time (less than 10 days) to review the evidence and interview their clients. The complaint also listed a number of irregularities with the prosecutorial process as well as concerns that one of the plaintiffs was also a member of the investigative team. All previous charges against the 90-year-old head monk Le Tung Van and his five disciples have been dropped except for one: “abuse of democratic freedoms” under Article 331. The new trial date has been set for July 20, 2022.

Phan Huu Diep Anh at the public security office, Source: CAND

Facebooker Phan Huu Diep Anh was given a prison sentence of one and a half years for “abuse of democratic freedoms” by a Ho Chi Minh City court on June 23. Anh was convicted of posting false information about how the authorities’ were handling the pandemic. Investigators said there was one video in particular of a person immolating himself which Anh wrongly attributed to COVID-related stress. Anh’s relatively light sentence was due in part to his good background and his sincere admission of guilt, said the court.

Tran Thi Xuan

Family members of political prisoner Tran Thi Xuân visited her in May and reported that her health was poor and that she was suffering from gout. They expressed concern that her deteriorating health was due to inadequate medical care and could possibly lead to long-term health problems. Xuan was a participant in nationwide protests against the Formosa environment disaster in 2016 and is serving a nine-year sentence.

Le Thi Binh

The family of Le Thi Binh was allowed to visit her for the first time since COVID restrictions were lifted. They reported that she was suffering from severe hair loss and raised concerns that it could be due to the contaminated water. Binh is serving a two-year sentence for “abuse of democratic freedoms” for her online postings critical of the government. She’s expected to be released in December.

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

Le Anh Hung and Nguyen Trung Linh

  • Journalist Le Anh Hung, arrested July 5, 2018, in pre-trial detention on charges of “abusing democratic freedoms”
  • Bao Sach journalist Le The Thang, arrested July 6, 2021, and sentenced to three years in prison for “abusing democratic freedoms”
  • Democracy activist Do Nam Trung, arrested July 6, 2021, and sentenced to 10 years in prison for spreading “anti-state propaganda”
  • Activists Tran Long Phi and Huynh Duc Thanh Binh , arrested July 7, 2018, and sentenced to eight and 10 years in prison for “subversion”
  • Brotherhood for Democracy activist Nguyen Trung Linh, tried in July, 2020, and sentenced to 12 years in prison for spreading “anti-state propaganda”
  • Online commentator Nguyen Duc Quoc Vuong, tried on July 7, 2020, and sentenced to eight years in prison for conducting “anti-state propaganda”
  • Member of the Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam Pham Chi Thanh, tried on July 9, 2021, and sentenced to five and a half years in prison for spreading “anti-state propaganda”

International Advocacy

Chau Van Kham and Nguyen Bac Truyen

Vietnam Human Rights Network has released a new report on the human rights situation in Vietnam that covers the period from January 2021 to May 2022. The group also calls on the international community to keep Vietnam out of the UN Human Rights Council. The organization has also announced it was accepting nominations for the Vietnam Human Rights Award until September 30, 2022.

Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong raised the case of Chau Van Kham with President Nguyen Xuan Phuc, Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh and Foreign Minister Bùi Thanh Sơn in Hanoi on Monday, calling for his release.

Bui Thi Kim Phuong, wife of political prisoner Nguyen Bac Truyen, has been banned from leaving the country to attend the International Religious Freedom Summit from 2019 to 2022, having received an invitation each year.


Vietnam Communist Party head says officials in bribery scandal apologized. RFA Vietnamese; June 24, 2022:  Nguyen Phu Trong, general secretary of the Vietnam Communist Party, has said that two senior officials caught in a recent bribery scandal apologized to him for their actions but still needed to be punished as a warning to others, state media reported. Trong, who is also a member of the National Assembly for Hanoi, made the comment in a meeting in the capital Hanoi on Thursday, the reports said. But online critics of the government expressed continued frustration with Vietnam’s leadership for not doing more to root out graft in the government and mismanaging the country’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Vietnam’s climate credentials come under scrutiny after activist jailing. David Hutt, Deutsche Welles; June 29, 2022: Environmentalism is deeply intertwined with nationalist causes in Vietnam. After a Taiwanese-owned steel plant spilled tons of toxic waste in 2016 that spoiled waterways across much of central Vietnam, activists accused the government of not acting patriotically enough to respond to the environmental disaster. Neither can the government easily accuse the environmental activists of being a threat to the regime: Most campaign for reform rather than wholesale change to the political system. As a result, the authorities have become more creative in how they silence environmental campaigners. The murky world of taxation, especially as tax rules on NGOs are ill-defined, appears to be their solution.

Facebook avoids handling toxic information in Vietnam: official. Khuong Nha, VN Express; June 30, 2022: The Information Ministry said it will continue to strengthen measures to make Facebook, Google and TikTok follow Vietnamese rules and have solutions to prevent the spread of fake news on those platforms. The Authority of Broadcasting and Electronic Information has signed agreements with information-communications departments in Hanoi, HCMC, Da Nang, Hai Phong, Can Tho, Vietnam’s five centrally-managed cities, and Dong Nai Province, an industrial hub bordering HCMC, on cooperating to handle fake news on social media. These are the six localities with the most reports on fake and toxic news. According to Germany-based data portal Statista, Facebook’s user base in Vietnam amounted to approximately 65.56 million users last year.

Vietnam orders media to promote its ocean strategy. RFA Staff; June 28, 2022: A government order stipulates that by 2025, all domestic media outlets are required to have a dedicated section on Vietnam’s sea and ocean strategy, and their entire editorial staff must have the necessary  knowledge and understanding of both the international and domestic laws on the sea. Meanwhile, the Vietnamese authorities have banned all tourist activities on two islets adjacent to the strategic Cam Ranh Bay that is undergoing intensive development into an advanced naval base, home to its submarines. …Tour guides and witnesses told RFA that since April, the two islands of Binh Ba and Binh Hung in Cam Ranh Bay, Khanh Hoa province, have become off-limits to foreign visitors. Vietnamese nationals still have limited access to the scenic islets, just a stone’s throw from the docked frigates.

US to work with Taiwan, Vietnam against illegal fishing. AFP; June 27, 2022: As a major UN conference opened in Portugal on restoring the planet’s ailing oceans, US President Joe Biden signed a memorandum that aimed to step up coordination and enforcement within the US government against illegal fishing and the use of forced labor. The White House said the United States also plans new engagement with Ecuador, Panama, Senegal, Taiwan and Vietnam on fighting illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, dubbed “IUU” in environmental jargon. An administration official said, without further detail, that the cooperation would include “capacity building” as part of a strategic plan.


Dang Dinh Bach

Dang Dinh Bach is an environmental advocate sentenced to prison for five years for “tax evasion.” Many suspect that the charge brought against him is politically motivated. Watch our translation of a recent speech in this video, “Dang Dinh Bach in his own words: how I became an environmental advocate,” with English subtitles and also with Vietnamese subtitles.

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