Vietnam Free Expression Newsletter No. 34/2021 – Week of August 30-September 5

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 30-September 5. After Vice President Kamala Harris’s trip to Vietnam last week, things quickly went back to normal. A well known Facebooker with thousands of followers was arrested. Another journalist was finally charged after being held incommunicado for months. A prisoner who led a hunger strike with several others continued to be harassed.  COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc, especially in the south. While the authorities are struggling to cope with the deadly virus, there are disturbing signs that they have also been using it as a pretense to clamp down even more on freedom of speech. Yet without widespread support and buy-in from the public, Vietnam will not be able to contain the disease. Last but not least, a brief history of the Hoa Hao Buddhist movement that’s well worth a read.


Political Prisoners

Pham Doan Trang

Luan Le, lawyer for journalist Pham Doan Trang, has been notified that the investigation has concluded and Trang will be charged with “anti-state propaganda” according to Article 117 of the Criminal Code. Trang was arrested in October 2020.

Bui Manh Tien was released from prison after completing his sentence. Last July, Tien and another person, Nguyen Thi Hue, had their sentences reduced by three months. They both took part in the nationwide protests against BOT toll booths.

Hoang Duc Binh

In a call home, Hoang Duc Binh complained that he was discriminated against by prison guards. He said they did not let him cook congee or buy rice. During the call, when he asked his family to contact his lawyer to file a complaint about his case, the guard listening on the line threatened to cut off the call. After a short argument, his call was indeed cut off. Binh is serving 14 years in prison for his labor and environmental activism.

Bui Van Thuan, arrested on August 30, 2021, Source: State Media via Radio Free Asia

Trinh Nhung, the wife of Facebooker Bui Van Thuan, who was arrested soon after Vice President Harris left Vietnam, said that she has contacted some lawyers to help with her husband’s case. She has not been able to talk to her husband since his arrest but believes that he has done nothing wrong. She said police posed as health workers to enter the home illegally. Thuan has a large following on Facebook, where he posts biting commentaries or sarcastic remarks against the government’s handling of COVID-19 and other political issues. He has not yet been formally charged with any crime.

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

Nguyen Van Duc Do and Nguyen Trung Truc

  • Montagnard Christians Dinh NongKsor KamPuih Bop, and Ro Lan Kly, arrested September 2016, and sentenced to between eight and nine years in prison each for allegedly “undermining the unity policy”
  • Nguyen Van Duc Do, birthday September 10, serving 11 years in prison for his peaceful activism
  • Brotherhood for Democracy member Nguyen Trung Truc, tried on September 12, 2018, and sentenced to 12 years in prison on charges of “subversion”
Internet Freedom

One Facebooker was fined for online criticisms of the government’s poor handling of pandemic relief. Nguyen Thuy Duong said she would challenge the 5 million dong fine, saying she had witnesses who could corroborate her claims. Several other Facebookers have also been either fined or had their accounts locked allegedly for spreading misinformation. This is a developing story.

International Advocacy

Following the arrest of Khmer Krom activist Duong Khai which The 88 Project reported last week, the groups Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization and Khmers Kampuchea-Krom Federation (KKF) launched a report detailing abuses by Vietnamese authorities against the Khmer Krom people in southern Vietnam.

The family of Vietnamese-Australian Chau Van Kham is asking the Vietnamese government to vaccinate the 72-year-old, who is serving a 12-year sentence in Thu Doc Prison for alleged “terrorist activities” in 2019. They were hoping he would be pardoned on September 2, Vietnam’s Independence Day, but that did not happen.


Vietnamese Police Pose as Health Workers to Arrest Dissident Blogger, Giang Nguyen, Radio Free Asia, September 1, 2021: “The power went off at around 8:15 a.m., and the whole area was blacked out.… I then saw three people wearing medical clothes standing at our front gate, and they asked me to let them in to take a statement on our health because we are from another region and only have temporary registration in the area. They said they were in a hurry and urged me to open the door quickly so that they could go to see others, so I invited them to come into the living room.… After I showed him the way to the restroom, he broke into the bedroom and restrained and handcuffed my husband just as he had woken up and was about to come out….”

Ethnic migrants in Hanoi: hit hard by lockdowns, Tran Chung Chau, Nicola Nixon, DevPolicy, August 27, 2021: “In many cases, local governments are now trying to reach informal workers affected by the movement restrictions, with government packages. But the traditional lack of portability of benefits across provincial borders, where papers from places of residence are required to register, hinders that effort, as does the arbitrary application of the rules by local officials. Officials in Ho Chi Minh City, the country’s largest city and the most impacted by the current wave of the pandemic, have recognised this and, according to local media, are considering removing the residence provision for cash transfers. Catching up with three of our interviewees as Hanoi’s latest lockdown stretched into its third week, we found them unable to access government assistance and very, very concerned for the future.”

Danang in Lockdown, Ben Quick, Asia Sentinel, August 31, 2021: “We certainly can’t believe the state media, filled with fluff or blaming the people for problems created by a lack of planning. The supply chain for necessities is broken. Technically, shops are still delivering, but they don’t have the capacity to make a difference. Everything sells out in an hour or less as people wait for more supplies. Most orders have to go through the ward boss, so if you have an inefficient ward government, you are in trouble. If you don’t speak Vietnamese or have somebody to help you, you are in trouble. If you are not ‘connected’ in one way or another, you, my friend, are in trouble. After 10 days of lockdown, the price gouging started. People could order combo packages of vegetables and meat through the ward, but they take four to five days to deliver. The prices of these combo packages have risen higher and higher.”

Vietnam Lost Public Buy-in. Its COVID-19 Struggles Followed, Le Vinh Trien and Kris Hartley, The Diplomat, September 1, 2021: “The COVID-19 pandemic highlights not only the mandate to include a variety of voices in the policymaking processes (including experts, politicians, civil society, and the general public) but also the importance of political legitimacy and public buy-in. Most pandemic containment strategies include participation by the public at the individual level: wearing masks, social distancing, and practicing proper hygiene. To effect such behavioral changes, the legitimacy of the policy project is essential. One way to achieve this legitimacy is for government to practice cross-sectoral facilitative leadership and to involve the public in the policymaking process.…  Anti-pandemic measures developed without collaboration fail to reflect the voices of diverse communities. When the political power among these communities is imbalanced, policy inconsistencies arise and a chain reaction emerges.”

The Tumultuous And Tragic History Of Hoa Hao Buddhism. Will Nguyen, The Vietnamese. September 1, 2021. “In 1975, as their religious activities proliferated, Hoa Hao Buddhist groups also operated six high schools, a university, and two hospitals. However, after the upheaval of April 30, 1975, which saw the fall of the government of the Republic of Vietnam in the south, the vibrant religious scene in the south darkened under the shadow of the victors. From the day Huynh Phu So disappeared, Hoa Hao Buddhists fiercely opposed the Viet Minh; thus, from April 30, 1975, onwards, the religion was completely banned from operating.”


Calling on those interested in Vietnam, human rights, and international advocacy: We are looking for an Advocacy Officer to join our dynamic, international team! This is a remote, part-time, independent contractor position with flexible working hours and negotiable compensation. Apply by September 15. Learn more, here.


Watch and share this short interview that was filmed prior to her arrest, in which Pham Doan Trang discusses her activism in starkly personal detail and explains her goals and wishes, not just for herself but also for the groups she’s been involved with. Trang has officially been charged with “anti-state propaganda” after being held incommunicado since October 2020.

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