Vietnam Free Expression Newsletter No. 29/2021 – July 25 – August 1

Greetings from The 88 Project! We bring you news, analysis, and actions regarding human rights and civil society in Vietnam during the week of July 25-August 1. The pandemic continues to wreak havoc in Vietnam as most southern cities go into lockdown mode. In the north, however, arrests of Facebookers and harassment of activists continued apace even during a high-profile visit by the US Secretary of Defense. The Pentagon chief did not shy away from mentioning human rights in his meetings in Hanoi. The United States has also promised more donations of vaccines for Vietnam on top of the five million doses that have already been delivered. Vietnam’s much criticized state-owned labor union can actually be a valuable asset in this time of need. And despite the raging pandemic, the White House announced that Vice-President Kamala Harris will visit Vietnam next month.


Political Prisoners

Le Dung Vova

A relative of Le Van Dung will have to stand trial for harboring the fugitive who was evading arrest. Nguyen Van Son, 65, faces charges of “hiding a criminal” under Article 389 of the Criminal Code. Dung, also known as Le Dung Vova, was arrested at Son’s house after being on the run for nearly a month. The founder of the Facebook-based news channel CHTV, Dung was charged with “creating, storing, and disseminating  information, documents, items, and publications opposing the Socialist Republic of Vietnam” (otherwise known as “anti-state propaganda”) under Article 117 of the Criminal Code.

Nguyen Hoang Nam, an independent Hoa Hao Buddhist in An Giang Province who just got out of prison after serving his four years  for “causing public disorder,” told VOA that detention conditions at the Xuan Loc Prison are very harsh. He said prisoners are confined to a narrow space, are not allowed to exercise, that food provided to prisoners is not hygienic, soup is very dirty, that food from the canteen is often expired and with a bad smell, and that drinking water is contaminated. Worse yet, prices are 20-40 percent higher than outside.

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

Photo of Pham Chi Thanh

Pham Chi Thanh

  • Journalist Pham Chi Thanh, birthday August 2, serving five years and six months in prison for “anti-state propaganda” 
  • Member of the Brotherhood for Democracy Nguyen Trung Truc, arrested August 4, 2017, and sentenced to 12 years in prison for “subversion” 
  • Activist Le Van Phuong, tried on August 2, 2019, and sentenced to seven years in prison on charges of conducting “anti-state propaganda”



Activists at Risk

Pham Thanh Nghien

Former political prisoner Pham Thanh Nghien, currently residing in HCMC, was told by her family in Hai Phong (North Vietnam) that on July 26,  Hai Phong police came to tell them to tell her that she had been summoned to come to Hanoi on July 28 to answer questions regarding Nguyen Thuy Hanh, founder of the 50K Fund, who was arrested earlier this year. Hanoi police said they found a book by Nghien — Tales Behind Bars — at Thuy Hanh’s house. It is not clear what that had to do with Nghien, or why Hanoi police did not request HCMC police contact her directly. What is clear is that it’s impossible for Thanh Nghien to leave on such short notice while both cities are in total lockdown.


International Advocacy

In an off-camera press briefing by John Kirby, press secretary of Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, en route to the Philippines following a visit to Hanoi, he confirmed that “The Secretary absolutely brought up human rights in his meetings today” with his Vietnamese counterpart. Kirby also reiterated that President Joe Biden has made it very clear “that good friends and partners should be able to have open and honest discussions with one another … about the importance of human rights and civil rights and governing societies where people are empowered to grow and to develop and to be able to freely express themselves.”


Southern provinces apply stricter prevention measures amid worsening situation, Vietnam News, July 28, 2021: “Following HCM City, other provinces in the Southwest region such as Bình Dương, Bình Phước, Đồng Nai, Tiền Giang, Long An, Vĩnh Long, Kiên Giang, Bến Tre, Bạc Liêu and others, have begun imposing strict stay-at-home measures. People in these provinces are no longer permitted to go out, and all activities, except for medical emergencies or COVID-19 coordination efforts, are banned from 6pm until 6am the following day. … The southern provinces will also issue a paper that allows each household to buy food and essential items on even or odd days under various time frames in order to avoid gatherings in food stores or groceries.”

Home Office sending Vietnamese deportees ‘back into harms way’ of traffickers, human rights group warns, Bethany Rielly, Morning Star, July 29, 2021: “A charter flight to the south-east Asian country went ahead on Wednesday despite warnings that there may have been victims of trafficking on board. It’s not clear how many people were on the flight from Birmingham, but campaigners said that there could have been up to 22. … In response to Wednesday’s charter flight, the Home Office said that all those removed had been provided with the opportunity to raise claims, including to be victims of modern slavery and trafficking, prior to deportation. But campaigners warned that the system for identifying victims of trafficking is ‘not fit for purpose’ and subject to delays. At least one person was removed from Wednesday’s flight after being recognised as a potential victim of trafficking.”

Pentagon chief in Vietnam to advance ties but rights concerns linger, Idrees Ali, Reuters, July 28, 2021: “Experts say there are lingering concerns in Vietnam about Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, withdrawing from the Trans Pacific Partnership trade pact in 2017. There are also limits to how far the United States is willing to deepen relations before Vietnam improves its human rights record. Vietnam has undergone sweeping economic reforms and social change in recent decades, but the ruling Communist Party retains a tight grip over media and tolerates little dissent.”

Vietnam says more U.S. vaccine donations expected after first 5 mln doses, Reuters, July 25, 2021: Vietnam may get more COVID-19 vaccine donations from the United States as it struggles to control outbreaks of the fast-spreading Delta variant, the country’s ambassador to the United States said on Sunday. Vietnam took delivery of a shipment of 3 million Moderna (MRNA.O) doses from the United States on Sunday, which brought the amount given by the United States, via the global COVAX vaccine scheme, to 5 million doses. … Vietnam is also in talks with the United States on domestic production of mRNA vaccines, its foreign ministry said on Thursday, adding that production could begin in the fourth quarter or early in 2022.”

COVID-19 Turned Vietnam’s State-Run Union’s Greatest Weakness Into Its Biggest Strength, Joe Buckley, The Diplomat, July 30, 2021: “It is precisely because the VGCL is part of the state, however, that it has been well-placed to help workers during the COVID-19 crisis. Throughout the pandemic, the focus for many workers and unions around the world has shifted away from struggling for better wages and conditions and toward more immediate concerns of trying to ensure that workers are safe and have enough money and sustenance. Unions have campaigned and lobbied both governments and employers over these issues, and directly provided essential financial and food support when needed to prevent people starving. The VGCL, with its vast nationwide network, has close relations with other parts of the government, and significant state funding, has been perfectly positioned to do this.”

Harris Will Be First US Vice President to Visit Hanoi, Carla Babb, VOA, July 30, 2021: “U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris will next month travel to Singapore and Vietnam, ‘two critical Indo-Pacific partners,’ the White House confirmed on Friday. Vietnamese President Nguyen Xuan Phuc first announced the visit on Thursday, as he met in Hanoi with U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, the first Biden administration Cabinet official to visit Vietnam. White House Senior Adviser and Chief Spokesperson Symone Sanders said in Friday’s statement Harris ‘will engage the leaders of both governments on issues of mutual interest, including regional security, the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, and our joint efforts to promote a rules-based international order.’”


Please share PEN International’s letter calling for the immediate release of novelist and journalist Pham Chi Thanh, who was recently sentenced to five and a half years in prison for his writings. 


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