Vietnam Free Expression Newsletter No. 32/2021 – August 16-22

Greetings from The 88 Project! We bring you news, analysis, and actions regarding human rights and civil society in Vietnam during the week of August 16-22. The overriding news for this week is the upcoming visit by VP Harris to Hanoi. Dozens of organizations, including The 88 Project, wrote separate open letters to her requesting that the US apply more pressure on Vietnam on the human rights front. COVID-19 has forced severe lockdown measures in southern provinces and Ho Chí Minh City (HCMC) as checkpoints are set up with the help of the military. Citizens continue to boycott Chinese vaccines out of distrust. Social media has gotten ahead of state media in pandemic reporting, fueling more speculation. In the good news column, a religious prisoner finished his sentence and was released. 


Political Prisoners

Nguyen Hoang Nam

Nguyen Hoang Nam, a Hoa Hao Buddhist, was released after spending four years in prison for “causing public disorder” according to Article 245 of the 1999 Criminal Code. Nam said the conditions inside the Xuan Loc Detention Center were “very harsh … prisoners are confined to a narrow space, are not allowed to exercise … food is not hygienic, soup is very dirty, food from the canteen is often expired and with a bad smell, and drinking water is contaminated.”



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

Le Anh Hung

  • Journalist Le Anh Hung, birthday August 27, who has been in pre-trial detention since 2018 and who has been subjected to forced mental health treatment while in detention
  • Catholic activist Ho Duc Hoa, arrested August 2011, and serving 13 years in prison for “subversion” 
  • Activists Ngo Xuan Thanh and Nguyen Dinh Khue, arrested in 2019, convicted on charges of “disrupting security,” and expected to be released from prison on August 25 after completing their sentences of two years and four months each

International Advocacy

In an open letter, The 88 Project and 12 international human rights organizations are calling for Vice President Kamala Harris to challenge the Vietnamese government over the treatment and continued imprisonment of persecuted democracy activist Tran Huynh Duy Thuc during her upcoming visit to Vietnam. Read the letter here

The wives of four political prisoners in Vietnam wrote an open letter to Vice President Kamala Harris asking her to pressure Vietnamese leaders to release their husbands when she meets with the officials  this week. The men are: Truong Minh Duc, Nguyen Nang Tinh, Luu Van Vinh, and Tran Duc Thach. The letter was initially circulated only on Facebook, but by August 17 it was co-signed by 60 Viet-American pro-democracy, religious, media and community organizations.

Nine US congressmen sent a letter to Vice President Harris on August 16, asking her to raise human rights and prisoner of conscience issues with the Vietnamese government when visiting the country from August 24-26. The letter was co-signed by Congressman Alan Lowenthal and eight fellow members of Congress: Lou Correa (California-46th District), Michelle Steel (California-48th District), Katie Porter (California-45th District), Zoe Lofgren (California-District 19), Young Kim (California-District 39), Ro Khanna (California-District 17), Marilyn Strickland (Washington-District 10), and Scott Peters (California-District 52).

Forty-three organizations and individuals have joined forces to send an open letter to Vice President Harris, urging her to press Hanoi for the release of political prisoner Nguyen Bac Truyen who is serving an 11-year sentence for “carrying out activities that aim to overthrow the people’s government” according to Article 79 of the Criminal Code.

Amnesty International has also written to Vice President Harris asking her to put human rights at the center of any discussions with Vietnam. Specifically, it urges the US to call on Vietnam to “stop weaponizing online platforms” and investigate “unlawful targeted surveillance of human rights defenders…”


Directive 16, Ben Quick, Mekong Review, August, 2021: “Something new and different is happening, too. Over the past few months, scores of Vietnamese friends and even strangers have ranted to me at length about internal politics. Even a year ago, to speak like this to a foreigner was exceedingly rare. Now neighbours complain loudly for hours about the lack of vaccines and the state news being nothing but propaganda. Things have changed in a very short time. People, it seems, are fed up. Tonight, a Son Tra-style lockdown is scheduled to take hold in every part of Da Nang. More than 1 million people will be locked in their homes for a week. This weekend, families have crowded outside supermarkets three hours before doors open. With mass vaccinations unlikely anytime soon in Da Nang and social capital running low, what happens next is anyone’s guess.”

If Vietnam’s Military Has Grown in Influence, Why Has Defence Expenditure Declined?, Carlyle A. Thayer, August 15, 2021: “Two recent publications by Vietnamese scholars raise what appears to be a paradox. Le Hong Hiep asserts that since 2016 Vietnam’s military has enjoyed a resurgence of influence, while Nguyen The Phuong argues that Vietnam’s military modernisation has slowed considerably since 2016. The paradox comes into sharper focus when the explanations for what appears to be two contrary trends are examined in detail. Hiep argues, inter alia, that the military’s growing influence is based on the financial success of military-owned enterprises. Phuong attributes the slowing of military modernisation to a fall in the military’s budget due to corruption by senior officers involved in arms procurement.”

Anti-Chinese rhetoric chills Vietnam’s vaccines enthusiasm, Eric San Juan, La Prensa Latina, August 18, 2021: “Vietnam’s enthusiasm for vaccines cooled in recent days when Ho Chi Minh City authorities began administering Chinese company Sinopharm’s doses, rejected by some of the population. The distrust was revealed Friday, when a viral social media video showed angry citizens leaving a vaccination center when it was announced Sinopharm, not AstraZeneca jabs, would be used that day. Since the inoculation of 1 million doses of the Chinese pharmaceutical company began, many centers have become half-empty, very different from the previous days, when neighbors waited their turn for hours before AstraZeneca and Moderna vaccines ran out.”

State Media And Social Media During The COVID-19 Pandemic: A Tale Of Two Cities In Vietnam, Jason Nguyen, The Vietnamese, August 19, 2021: “Amid the worsening Covid-19 predicament, many social media users in Vietnam chose social networks to share their personal experiences and to seek financial and medical help from the community. This circumstance has thus created a stark contrast between the government’s efforts to portray a positive picture of the pandemic and the appalling stories shared by ordinary citizens. The Vietnamese Magazine has analyzed the contents from both state media and public postings on social networking sites in Vietnam to create a more comprehensive picture of the current situation through three main criteria: the reports of state-owned media regarding the death toll, the government’s assistance for affected individuals, and the vaccination program.”

Vietnam to deploy troops, issues stay-home order as COVID-19 deaths spiral, Reuters, August 20, 2021: “Vietnam will deploy troops in Ho Chi Minh City and prohibit residents from leaving their homes, authorities said on Friday, as the country’s biggest city turns to drastic measures to slow a spiralling rate of coronavirus deaths. Vietnam’s toughest order yet comes amid a spike in fatalities and infections, despite weeks of lockdown measures in the business hub of 9 million people, the epicentre of the country’s deadliest outbreak. … The government said it was preparing to mobilise police and military to enforce the lockdown and deliver food supplies to citizens.”

Vice President Harris Heads To Vietnam As The Shadow Of Afghanistan Looms, Ayesha Rascoe, NPR, August 20, 2021: “The trip has long been in the works but is now complicated by the chaotic and messy U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, which is drawing dire comparisons to the fall of Saigon in the aftermath of the Vietnam War. A senior administration official said Harris will continue to be briefed on the situation on the ground in Afghanistan during her time abroad. ‘Southeast Asia and the Indo-Pacific are really important and that’s why she’s going,’ the official said. ‘We can do more than one thing at a time and we’re going to do more than one thing at a time as we focus on these two huge priorities for the United States.’”


Tran Huynh Duy Thuc

Please help share our open letter, to which 12 renowned international human rights organizations have joined to ask Vice President Kamala Harris to call upon the government of Vietnam to immediately and unconditionally release long-term political prisoner Trần Huỳnh Duy Thức. The VP is scheduled to be in Vietnam next week, so please take action now. 

Please go to the White House’s contact page and submit this message:

“Dear Madame Vice President, I would like to join 13 international human rights organizations to ask that you use your mission to Vietnam to express your strictest concerns over the  human rights situation in Vietnam and call upon the government of Vietnam to immediately and unconditionally release political prisoner Tran Huynh Duy Thuc. Please read more about Thuc’s situation in their open letter:

Thank you!”

If you are on Twitter, please also tweet:

Dear @VP Harris, please use your mission to #Vietnam to call upon the Vietnamese government to free Tran Huynh Duy Thuc. Read 13 int’l orgs open letter here:


© 2021 The 88 Project