Vietnam Free Expression Newsletter No. 3/2022 – Week of January 17-23

Greetings from The 88 ProjectWe bring you news, analysis, and actions regarding human rights and civil society in Vietnam during the week of January 17-23. Author and independent journalist Pham Doan Trang has won a prestigious human rights award, while an associate of hers was sent to prison for mailing her books. The CEO of an NGO has gone on a hunger strike to protest his unlawful pretrial detention. An activist was released after serving five years for protesting against the Formosa disaster. A former political prisoner now in the United States is being hounded online by unknown forces while the website of a journalist in Berlin has been attacked from Vietnam. The UN has raised concerns about human trafficking between Vietnam and Serbia. An in-depth report sent by eight Special Rapporteurs to Hanoi detailing human rights violations in nearly forty cases has been made public. Influential zen master Thich Nhat Hanh, an advocate for peace and non-violence, died at the age of 95.


Political Prisoners

A shipper has been charged with Article 117 and sentenced to six years in prison by a court in Phu Yen Province. Nguyen Bao Tien was arrested in May, 2021, and accused of shipping 46 books, mainly by author Pham Doan Trang. He was also accused of sharing news from international websites whose content was allegedly deemed to be “anti-state.” Tien was also charged with “storing explosives,” which was a grenade that he’s had since his military training days in 2008.

Dang Dinh Bach. Source:

Tran Phuong Thao, the wife of Dang Dinh Bach, reported that his trial date is scheduled for January 24. The family has not been allowed to see him nor invited to the trial. They said because Bach is a vegan, he has been eating very little while in prison. His lawyer said Bach has gone on a hunger strike since January 10 to protest against his prolonged detention and not being allowed family visits. Bach has also demanded to be released on bail. Bach is the director of the non-profit Law & Policy of Sustainable Development (LPSD), which could play an essential role in monitoring Vietnam’s obligations under the EVFTA. He’s been charged with “tax evasion,”  same as fellow civil society leader Mai Phan Loi, who was sentenced to four years in prison earlier this month.

Do Nam Trung’s request to appeal his conviction last December was approved on January 4, but his lawyer, Ha Huy Son, did not receive the court’s notice until January 21, more than two weeks later. It’s not known when the appeal trial will take place. Trung was found guilty of “anti-state propaganda” and sentenced to 10 years in prison in December.

Nguyen Van Oai, an activist who participated in the protests regarding the Formosa environmental disaster in 2016, was released from prison after serving a five-year sentence for “resisting officers on official duty.” He accused the prosecution of falsifying paperwork and forging signatures in order to indict and convict him. Regarding his release, he said, “I am happy because I am free from that small prison, but I return to the large prison.” Oai’s mother, Tran Thi Lieu. told RFA, “I was sad and worried when he was in prison, but I knew that he had sacrificed himself for a cause shared by everyone.”

Nguyen Quoc Nhu Quynh

Former political prisoner Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, also known as Mother Mushroom, who now lives in the United States, said that her YouTube channels have for months been disrupted by “Strike Copyright” reports from anonymous users who she suspects belong to Force 47, the Vietnamese state-run cyber army. The latest wave of attacks came as she tried to report on the controversial case of the Bong Lai Zen Temple and orphanage in Long An. On a related note, journalist Le Trung Khoa in Berlin also reported that his popular online news channel Thoi Bao has been subjected to billions of DDOS message attacks coming from a company in Danang called VisualViet, which is affiliated with the military-run telecom giant Viettel.

Political prisoner Phan Kim Khanh reported to his family that his health is alright. He also notified them that fellow political prisoner Pham Thanh was transferred to Nam Ha prison camp.

Trinh Ba Phuong and Duong Thi Lanh

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

  • Land rights activist Trinh Ba Phuong, birthday January 26, serving ten years in prison on charges of conducting “propaganda against the state”
  • Citizen journalist Do Cong Duong, arrested January 24, 2018, and later sentenced to eight years in prison (reduced to seven on appeal) for “causing public disorder” and “abusing democratic freedoms”
  • Siblings and online commentators Huynh Minh Tam and Huynh Thi To Nga, arrested on January 26 and 28, 2019, respectively, and sentenced to a combined 14 years in prison for conducting “propaganda against the state”
  • Journalist Truong Duy Nhat, abducted from Thailand, arrested on January 28, 2019, and sentenced to ten years in prison for a decades-old land issue in what many believe is a politically-motivated case
  • Online commentator Duong Thi Lanh, arrested on January 30, 2019, and sentenced to eight years in prison for conducting “propaganda against the state”
International Advocacy

Pham Doan Trang has been named one of the laureates of the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders this year. Trang was convicted last month of “anti-state propaganda” and sentenced to nine years in prison. The award ceremony will be held in Geneva in June.

The letter from eight UN Special Rapporteurs sent to the government of Vietnam 60 days ago regarding dozens of human rights defenders has been made public. It describes serious allegations and patterns of abuse, and requests that the government respond to very specific inquiries about each individual case as well as the broader legal framework. The case of Pham Doan Trang also raises serious concerns “where reports shared with the UN were used as evidence against her.”

UN human rights experts have raised serious concerns about allegations of forced labour of a group of about 400 Vietnamese migrant workers who are reported to be victims of trafficking in Serbia. The group of Special Rapporteurs have contacted the governments of Vietnam, China, and Serbia to help resolve the issue.

The US State Department issued a message of condolence on the passing of the Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh, calling him “A world-renowned and beloved teacher and spiritual leader who reached people of all faiths, Thích Nhất Hạnh spent more than 60 years championing religious freedom, human rights, non-violence, and love to all.” The Dalai Lama also offered his condolences, calling Thich Nhat Hanh “my friend and spiritual brother.”


China’s Questionable Extradition Policies And What They Mean For Vietnam, Aerolyne Reed, The Vietnamese, January 18, 2022: “In June 2002, a prominent pro-democracy activist who was exiled to the US, Wang Bingzhang, his girlfriend, Zhang Qi, and their friend, Yue Wu, were abducted in Vietnam during a trip to meet with Chinese labor activists. Safeguard Defenders’ report states that Zhang and Yue were eventually released. However, Wang was taken back to the mainland and was accused of ‘selling state secrets and advocating terrorism through the use of kidnapping and explosives.’ In 2003, he was sentenced to life in prison, becoming the first person to be convicted under China’s new espionage and terrorism laws. The Vietnamese government seemed to turn a blind eye to this event  and even claimed that ‘there was no record that [Wang, Zhang, or Yue] had ever entered Vietnam.’ The Vietnamese government’s inaction and ignorance regarding these three instances of kidnapping were perhaps a reflection of their generally subservient and non-confrontational attitude towards China, which continues to this day.”

Barbs traded after US warship sails in China-claimed territorial sea, Radio Free Asia, January 20, 2022: “In another development, one of the U.S. Navy’s most powerful nuclear submarines – the USS Nevada – made a rare appearance in the Western Pacific over the weekend. The Ohio-class ballistic-missile submarine carrying 20 Trident ballistic missiles and dozens of nuclear warheads made a port visit in the U.S. territory of Guam last Saturday. Since the 1980s the U.S. Navy has announced visits by its submarines to the Pacific island only twice and their movements are generally kept secret. The U.S. has 14 nuclear-powered ballistic-missile submarines (SSBNs), called ‘boomers’, which are capable of launching precision nuclear warheads.”

Biden undoes Trump’s damage to US-Vietnam ties, David Hutt, Asia Times, January 21, 2022: “The Trump administration effectively took human rights and democracy off the table, making relations with one-party, communist Vietnam far more straightforward. … Hanoi almost certainly didn’t expect to attend Biden’s Summit for Democracy last month, although the Democratic Republic of Congo, which was invited, is just one point ahead of Vietnam on Freedom House’s Global Freedom index. But that format has left many US partners, including Vietnam, unsure of how Biden will balance alliances and values. How Southeast Asian states are aligned with or against China will factor into that balance. On some occasions, Biden has sounded more hawkish than Trump on China.”

VinFuture Prize honours mRNA vaccine researchers, VNA, January 20, 2022: “VinFuture Prize, an international award founded in Vietnam to honour scientific achievements, gave out 4.5 million USD worth of prizes to several global scientists on January 20. Managed by the VinFuture Foundation, which was set up by Vingroup Chairman Pham Nhat Vuong and his wife Pham Thu Huong, the annual VinFuture Prize is a global science and technology award to recognise groundbreaking scientific and technological discoveries. It comprised a VinFuture Grand Prize valued at 3 million USD and three special prizes, each worth 500,000 USD, for female innovators, innovators from developing countries, and those with outstanding achievements in emerging fields.”

Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, teacher of mindfulness and nonviolence, dies at age 95. Thomas Fox, National Catholic Reporter, January 21, 2022: “Forced into exile in the 1960s, he lived and taught overseas for more than five decades, speaking out for nonviolence as a way of life while teaching his mindfulness meditation practices. Nhất Hạnh (he was known as ‘Thầy’ to his followers) was said to have been the second best known Buddhist teacher in the contemporary world after the Dalai Lama. (Thích is an honorific and is Vietnamese for Sakya, which is the Buddha’s family name.) Martin Luther King Jr. considered Nhất Hạnh a friend and nominated him for the 1967 Nobel Peace Prize. Years later, Oprah Winfrey interviewed him, saying he had deeply influenced her thinking.”


Le Manh Ha, land rights activist arrested on January 12, 2022, Source: Citizen journalist via RFA

Following a flurry of high-profile trials in the last two weeks of 2021, the People’s Court in Vietnam kept on rolling as the new year began. The first two weeks alone saw an incredible eight arrests under Articles 117 and 331, with a few multi-year sentences tacked on for good measure.


Share this article about nonprofit leader Dang Dinh Bach, who faces trial on January 24, and call for the Vietnamese government to uphold his right to a fair trial and to allow him to see his family and receive adequate supplies.

© 2022 The 88 Project