Vietnam Free Expression Newsletter No. 3/2021 – Week of January 18-24

Greetings from The 88 Project! We bring you news, analysis, and actions regarding human rights and civil society in Vietnam during the week of January 18-24. Journalist Le Huu Minh Tuan will appeal his 11-year prison sentence, while Pham Chi Dung will not appeal his 15-year sentence. On January 20, The People’s Court of Hau Giang Province sentenced female activist Dinh Thi Thu Thuy to seven years in prison. Political prisoner Tran Huynh Duy Thuc has lost considerable weight and remains on hunger strike after two months. In the international advocacy section, read updates on various organizations’ plans for the coming year and their statements ahead of Vietnam’s National Party Congress, which starts on January 25. In the news and analysis section, read analysis of the Party Congress and its implications for dissidents and human rights in the country. Take action this week for Dinh Thi Thu Thuy, Tran Huynh Duy Thuc, and blogger Nguyen Van Hoa, who was arrested four years ago this month after reporting on an environmental disaster.


Political Prisoners

From left to right: Thuy, Tuan, and Dung at trial on January 5, 2021, Source: Vietnam News Agency via Reuters/NY Times

Journalist Le Huu Minh Tuan has decided to appeal his prison sentence. He appears to be in good health and spirits, according to his lawyer, Dang Dinh Manh. Tuan and two other members of the Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam (IJAVN) were sentenced to a total of 37 years in prison after a trial lasting half a day on January 5. Pham Chi Dung, 55, received 15 years; Nguyen Tuong Thuy, 69, received 11 years; and Le Huu Minh Tuan, 32, 11 years. All three were convicted of “anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 of the 2015 Criminal Code. Pham Chi Dung decided not to appeal his sentence. In a statement, Dung said the reason is because there is no independent judicial system in Vietnam, the verdicts are mostly pre-determined anyway.

A court in Hau Giang sentenced Dinh Thi Thu Thuy to seven years on January 20, five days before the start of the National Congress. The trial, which lasted less than four hours, took place after she was temporarily detained for nine months. Thuy was charged with “conducting anti-state propaganda” for five Facebook posts that had just 130 Likes and 50 Shares; the government said the postings “satirized, ridiculed, and offended” Party leaders. The 39-year-old aquaculture engineer was held incommunicado for seven months before being allowed to see her relatives in November and her lawyer for the first time in December. Unlike many other trials in which family members are prohibited, Thuy’s father was allowed into the courtroom. 

On January 11, Tran Huynh Duy Thuc’s family sent a request to Prison Camp No. 6 asking for information about his health condition while continuing his hunger strike. On January 19, the prison responded, saying that Thuc has never been hospitalized and is still healthy enough to serve his sentence. The family received news from another source that Thuc was put on an IV for a few days. On January 21, Thuc called his family. He reported he was still on his hunger strike. He only drinks milk and has lost a lot of weight, now weighing only 56 kg. He said he was never in the hospital. He will continue his hunger strike. The family is still extremely concerned about his health, as it has now been over two months since he started the strike. Thuc, a blogger and entrepreneur, was tried 11 years ago this week, and sentenced to 16 years in prison.

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

  • Catholic social activist Nguyen Van Oai, arrested January 19, 2017, and sentenced to five years in prison for “failing to execute judgments” and “resisting officers”
  • Camera installer and democracy activist Tran Van Quyen, arrested January 23, 2019, and sentenced to ten years in prison for “terrorism”
  • Blogger Do Cong Duong, arrested January 24, 2018, and sentenced to eight years in prison for “abusing democratic freedoms” and “causing public disorder”
  • Montagnard Christian activist Rmah Hlach, tried January 14, 2010, and sentenced to 12 years in prison for “undermining the unity policy”
  • Activist and factory worker Phan Van Binh, tried January 22, 2019, and sentenced to 14 years in prison for “subversion”
International Advocacy 

Nguyen Bac Truyen 

Commissioner James Carr of the USCIRF (US Commission on Religious Freedom) told Voice of America that the Commission in very concerned about the wave of arrests of religious activists in 2020 and that it will continue to press for the release of Nguyen Bac Truyen, whom the Commission sponsored in November 2019, and many others who are imprisoned simply for exercising their faith. Carr noted some positive signs with the early release of Pastor A Dao but said more pressure needs to be applied and maintained.

The EU has passed a resolution requiring its president and member states to raise their concerns regarding jailed Vietnamese journalists and other political prisoners ahead of Vietnam’s Party Congress. It also asked the European Commission and the European External Action Service to carry out an assessment of how the current free trade agreement could affect human rights in Vietnam. The resolution was adopted 592-32, with 58 abstentions.

John Sifton, Asia advocacy director of Human Rights Watch, has called on countries to raise their voices on the sharp increase of arrests and imprisonments of democracy activists in Vietnam, especially in the weeks leading up to the Party Congress. Citizens are not allowed to discuss the candidates for the top positions, leading many to use sports terminology as a disguise to bypass the censors. “The critics of one-party rule in Vietnam are not going away,” said Sifton.

Ahead of the Party Congress, Amnesty International is also calling on the new leadership to seize this opportunity to reverse the decline in human rights in the country. “The Vietnamese authorities’ intolerance of peaceful dissent has peaked under the outgoing leadership. The nomination of new national leaders provides an invaluable opportunity for Viet Nam to change course on human rights,” said Yamini Mishra, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific regional director.


Everything You Need To Know About Vietnam’s 13th National Party Congress. Trinh Huu Long, The Vietnamese, January 22, 2021: “No one needs to call the party by its full name. Often, people call it ‘the Party’, or ‘Đảng’; sometimes ‘our Party’, or ‘Đảng ta’. The word ‘Đảng’ (Party) is almost always written with a capital ‘Đ’. Thus, unlike how Americans call the Democratic Party’s conventions the ‘DNC’ and the Republican Party’s conventions the ‘RNC’, the Communist Party of Vietnam’s conventions, or congresses, are often called ‘the Party Congress’ (Đại hội Đảng). Say it to anyone in Vietnam and they know exactly what you mean. Now, the next congress of the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) is approaching. Here is everything you need to know to understand the event.”

Vietnam steps up ‘chilling’ crackdown on dissent ahead of key Communist Party congress. James Pearson, Reuters, January 18, 2021. “For some, the crackdown has a connection with fluctuations in global trade ties with Vietnam. ‘During the (former U.S. President Barack) Obama administration, pressure on rights connected with TPP (trade) negotiations helped the cause of human rights activists and political dissidents,’ said Phil Robertson, Deputy Asia Director at Human Rights Watch. The early visit of Prime Minister (Nguyen Xuan) Phuc in 2017 to the Trump White House saw human rights completely dropped from the agenda,’ he said.”

Vietnamese workers still in the dark about potential of new representative organisations. Mike Tatarsky, China Labour Bulletin, January 21, 2021: “Vietnam’s new Labour Code, which went into effect on 1 January 2021, has been hailed as an important step towards compliance with ILO Convention 87 on Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise, in particular the Code’s provisions allowing for the creation of worker representative organisations (WROs) independent of the Vietnam General Confederation of Labour (VGCL). Although both the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA), signed last year, and the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) require the Vietnamese government to ratify ILO Convention 87, little effort has been made so far to publicise the new Labour Code or the advantages of WROs.”

‘Calamitous Year’ for Vietnamese Democracy. David Brown, Asia Sentinel, January 21, 2021: “It is commonly explained that the regime has clamped down on independent media in anticipation of the Communist Party congress later this month, the implication being that after the new leadership is installed, controls will be relaxed. Don’t bet on it. As long as the police and the regime’s censors can manipulate social media at will, there’s little reason to stop doing so, and under such circumstances, less reason to expect a revived democracy movement to arise from the present wreckage.”

Vietnam’s Prisoners of Conscience: ‘Like Fish Under the Blade’. Judith Bergman, The Diplomat, January 18, 2021: “The EU’s credibility has not been burnished by its response to the journalists’ convictions. Instead of condemning Vietnam, the EU timidly called the heavy sentences a ‘negative development’ and expressed its ‘concern’ about the severity of the sentences. The EU also stressed that it has no plans for exerting meaningful pressure on Vietnam, such as suspending trade preferences or utilizing the recently passed Magnitsky-style global human rights sanctions regime, which allows the EU to target individuals, entities, and bodies responsible for human rights abuses worldwide.”

When President Biden gets tough on China, can US count on Vietnam? Maria Siow, South China Morning Post, January 23, 2021: “With Joe Biden’s inauguration as US president and a leadership shake-up expected at the Vietnamese Communist Party’s National Congress, which starts on Monday, experts say there will be opportunities in the months ahead to strengthen the relationship between Vietnam and its former Cold War foe. However, they caution, attempts to do so will be constrained by both Hanoi’s lack of trust in Washington and Washington’s criticisms of Hanoi’s human rights record.”


Nguyen Van Hoa

Take action with FrontLine Defenders by submitting an Urgent Appeal on behalf of female activist Dinh Thi Thu Thuy, who was sentenced to seven years in prison this week.

Imprisoned blogger and entrepreneur Tran Huynh Duy Thuc started a hunger strike on November 23 to protest the authorities’ failure to respond to his petition for a reduction of his sentence based on changes to the 2015 Criminal Code. Now past the two-month mark, his health condition is critical. Take action in support of Thuc here. 

This month marks four years since Catholic blogger Nguyen Van Hoa was arrested after reporting on the 2016 Formosa environmental disaster. See a list of actions you can take to support him and call for his release here.

© 2021 The 88 Project