Vietnam Free Expression Newsletter No. 27/2021 – July 12-18

Greetings from The 88 Project! We bring you news, analysis, and actions regarding human rights and civil society in Vietnam during the weeks of July 12-18. A surprise raid on Montagnard Christians occurred in the middle of the night in Dak Lak Province. Can Thi Theu and her son remain in illegal solitary confinement. Protesters arrested en masse in June 2018 were slated to be released last month. A well-known democracy activist was summoned by authorities but remains free. Security police buy phone-hacking technology from Israel to spy on citizens.

Meanwhile, COVID-19 is wreaking havoc in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam’s biggest city and economic hub, which has been put under a severe lockdown. The government is struggling to cope with the surge in new cases while citizens languish under lockdown rules. 



Political Prisoners

Can Thi Theu

The daughter of Can Thi Theu and sister of Trinh Ba Tu has sent another letter of complaint to the Hoa Binh Prison authorities requesting that the illegal isolation confinement of her mother and brother be stopped. In her letter, Trinh Thi Thao accuses prison guards of abusive treatment during the hot summer months and reminds them that by law those in temporary detention are allowed one family visit and one call home a month. 

Twenty eight public protesters who were arrested in June 2018 and subsequently tried were due to be released in June 2021. It is often the case that prisoners are released upon completion of their sentences.  While our team continues to verify the releases, their profiles are now marked as “likely released – at risk,” and thus we have  changed the number of activists currently detained (political prisoners) in our database

This week we remember the arrest and trial anniversaries of the following political prisoners: 

Le Dinh Luong

  • Environment and democracy activist Le Dinh Luong, arrested July 24, 2017, currently serving 20 years in prison for “subversion”
  • Public protesters Pham Sang and Do Van Ngoc, tried July 23, 2018, currently serving 3.5 years in prison each for “causing public disorder”




Activists at Risk

Photo of Nguyen Quang A

Nguyen Quang A

Nguyen Quang A was summoned by the police to discuss a criminal case under Article 117 (propaganda against the state). While Dr. A has frequently been invited and/or summoned to work with the public security, this is the first time the public security has mentioned his involvement in a criminal case under Article 117.

Four Montagnard villages in Dak Lak Province were raided in the early hours of July 16, and 14 villagers were taken into custody. All of them belong to an independent home-based Christian Association that in the past has commemorated international events such as Human Rights Day and Victims of Religious Persecution Day. The villages are: Buon Puan, Buon Dhia, Buon Cuor Knia 3, Buon Ea Khit. Some of the arrested were religious leaders while one managed to escape after villagers intervened. A child born in 2019 was also taken in by police.


International Advocacy

CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, has published a report on how Vietnam’s religious freedom continues to deteriorate after the “rubber stamp election” of the new National Assembly. The highly illuminating report covers a lot of ground and may be read in full here.


What Vietnam Is Doing With Israeli Phone-hacking Tech, Oded Yaron, Haaretz, July 15, 2021: “Carmil said the company had developed contractual and technological mechanisms that are supposed to prevent its tools from falling into ‘the wrong hands.’ But a new investigation by attorney Eitay Mack into one of Cellebrite’s customers shows that once again, the company itself is the one who put its technology into the wrong hands. The customer this time is Vietnam, or more accurately its Public Security Ministry (Bo Cong An), which is responsible for the police and internal security. In light of his discoveries, Mack and dozens of human rights activists have sent letters of protest to Cellebrite and Defense Ministry Director General Amir Eshel, who is directly responsible for monitoring the export of digital forensic technologies like the one being sold by Cellebrite.”

How Vietnam Fights Information War on Facebook, Gregory Stachel, VOA, July 25, 2021: “A Facebook spokesperson confirmed that some groups and accounts were taken down last Thursday for organizing attempts to report a lot of posts. A person with the company said the action was one of Facebook’s largest takedowns started under its mass reporting policy. But many of the Force 47 accounts and groups identified by Reuters remain active. The company source said they do not violate Facebook policies because they are operated by users under their real names. Facebook has become an important tool for political speech in Vietnam. This has created a dispute between Facebook and the country over the removal of material said to be ‘anti-state.’”

Bittersweet: Vietnam’s Mixed Progress on E-Government During COVID-19. Truong Thuy Quynh and Pham Thuy Duong, The Diplomat. July 16, 2021. “A behind-the-scenes look into the picture of e-government in Vietnam reveals a number of loopholes. For example, in the southern metropolis of Ho Chi Minh City, where mass testing has been requested by authorities, testing registration and results rely on physical communication between local government and residents, without any online services. ‘The neighborhood’s leader came directly to my house to announce the testing time and location, but there are people who did not grasp the information, as the leader only informed the landlord,’ a resident told us when asked about her testing experience.”

Nike supplier halts production at 3 Vietnam plants due to COVID-19. Reuters. July 15, 2021. “’Having the factories shut for one or two weeks for Nike is going to cause a massive problem for its supply chain,’ China Market Research Group analyst Shaun Rein said, adding the shutdown would lead to price hikes. Nike also saw its China sales take a hit after calls to boycott global brands for their comments around forced labor in Xinjiang. read more. Eclat Textile Co, a Taiwan-based garment and fabric supplier, has suspended production at its Dong Nai plant until July 17, it told the Taipei stock exchange.”

Satellite Images Show China Has Deployed Military Planes to South China Sea. Emma Mayer, Newsweek. July 14, 2021. “The images were obtained from former Navy intelligence officer J. Michael Dahm of Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), who told the newspaper, ‘The most significant change in military posture in 2021 is the appearance of Chinese special mission aircraft and helicopters at Subi and Mischief Reefs, indicating the PLA may have commenced routine air operations from those airfields.’ The PLA, an acronym for the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, reportedly occupied Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands in May and June, and the Subi Reef in June and July.”

Report on U.S.-China Competition in East, South China Sea. Congressional Research Service. July 16, 2021. “In an international security environment described as one of renewed great power competition, the South China Sea (SCS) has emerged as an arena of U.S.-China strategic competition. China’s actions in the SCS in recent years—including extensive island-building and base-construction activities at sites that it occupies in the Spratly Islands, as well as actions by its maritime forces to assert China’s claims against competing claims by regional neighbors such as the Philippines and Vietnam—have heightened concerns among U.S. observers that China is gaining effective control of the SCS, an area of strategic, political, and economic importance to the United States and its allies and partners.”


Please share Reporters Without Borders’s statement calling for the immediate release of Mai Phan Loi. In the statement, Daniel Bastard, head of the RSF Asia-Pacific desk, calls the charge against Loi a “trumped-up charge” and “a pretext to silence a journalist who tried to do his job to inform his fellow citizens properly.”


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