Vietnam Free Expression Newsletter No. 35/2020 – Week of August 31-September 6

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 31-September 6. Coming up on September 7, 29 defendants from Dong Tam Commune face trial after their arrests in a violent police raid on the area in January 2020. The government has intensified its propaganda campaign ahead of the trial. Land rights activist Trinh Ba Phuong’s wife was summoned for police questioning, and no new information is available about his brother, Trinh Ba Tu, who has been on hunger strike in prison. Also, watch a video that Tu made before his arrest. Another member of the Independent Journalists Association has been summoned for police questioning. In international advocacy, check out a statement from the US Commission on Religious Freedom and news related to Formosa Plastics. In the news and analysis section, read about the repression of minorities in Vietnam and paths forward for US and Southeast Asia relations. Take action by calling for an independent investigation into the Dong Tam raid.


Political Prisoners

Police flood into Dong Tam ahead of the trial, Source.

On September 7, the 29 defendants arrested during a violent police raid in Dong Tam Commune in January 2020 will be tried for murder and resisting public servants. The raid in a community with a long-running land dispute left a local village leader and three police officers dead.

In the days before the trial, the government has intensified its propaganda campaign by “coaching” villagers on its official version of events to relay to reporters from state-run media. Additionally, riot police and security forces have been deployed throughout Dong Tam, ostensibly to keep the peace in case riots break out. According to social media posts, troops have been camping in villagers’ gardens and on their land. The family that is under the severest pressure is that of Le Dinh Kinh, the village elder killed by police. Kinh’s daughter, Le Thi Thoa, said they could not rent a car to go to Hanoi for the trial because the rental company was warned by police not to rent to them. She told one reporter, “We’ll walk if we have to. Our mother wants to see her sons.”

Local leader, Le Dinh Kinh, who was killed in the raid. Source: BBC News Vietnamese

Attorney Le Van Hoa, representing Kinh’s sons Le Dinh Cong, Le Dinh Chuc, and Le Dinh Uy, has sent a letter to the court requesting subpoenas for almost two dozen witnesses, most of whom are current or former government officials. Most notable are Luong Tam Quang, deputy minister of the ministry of Public Security; Hoang Trung Hai, former Party secretary of Hanoi; Nguyen Duc Chung, former chairman of Hanoi People’s Committee, who’s been arrested; as well as several members of Kinh’s family. It is not clear if the requested subpoenas will be issued; meanwhile, the US Embassy in Hanoi has issued a statement saying it will monitor the trial and hopes it will be open, lawful and fair.

Le Dinh Kinh’s granddaughter in-law, Nguyen Thi Duyen, said that four of her family members had met with their attorneys ahead of the mass trial set for September 7, and that a few other people in the group of 29 defendants also met with their attorneys. Duyen also wrote a letter to the People’s Court of Hanoi requesting the court to allow her to be in the courtroom during the trial. She also asked for her personal belongings that were confiscated to be returned to her.

Trinh Ba Phuong

Police in Duong Noi District in Hanoi summoned Do Thi Thu, Trinh Ba Phuong’s wife, for questioning. Phuong, his brother Trinh Ba Tu, and his mother Can Thi Theu, are all well-known land rights activists who were all arrested in late June. Meanwhile, the family still has not been able to obtain information about the status of Tu, who was reported to be on a hunger strike, despite numerous attempts by his father, Trinh Ba Khiem, to learn more about his situation.

Trinh Ba Phuong

In a video clip made before he was arrested, Trinh Ba Tu reiterated that he only protested peacefully and lawfully against what he and fellow Duong Noi residents perceived as an illegal land grab in 2008 by the government in collusion with businesses. In anticipation of potential torture in captivity, he declared that anything that he might say or sign to the contrary should be regarded as forced and not coming from him. He also asked that should he die in captivity that his body must not be cremated but independently examined to determine the true cause of death.

This week, we remember the birthdays, as well as the arrest and trial anniversaries, of the following political prisoners:

  • Pastor Nguyen Trung Ton, birthday September 2, sentenced to 12 years in prison
  • Democracy activist Nguyen Van Tuc, arrested September 1, 2017, and sentenced to 13 years in prison
  • Online commentator Bui Manh Dong, arrested September 1, 2018, and sentenced to two and a half years in prison
  • Online commentator Doan Khanh Vinh Quang, arrested September 1, 2018, and sentenced to two years and three months in prison
  • Facebooker Le Vanh Sinh, tried September 5, 2019, and sentenced to five years in prison

Defendants at trial on July 31, 2020, Source: State media via Radio Free Asia
  • Many of the co-defendants tried on July 31, some of whom are members of the Hien Phap constitutional rights group, originally arrested in September 2018
Activists at Risk

Nguyen Thien Nhan received a summons from Binh Duong police. He is requested for questioning on September 8. Nhan is affiliated with the Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam. Several of its members have been harassed and even arrested in recent months, such as Pham Chi Dung and Le Huu Minh Tuan.

International Advocacy

Nguyen Bac Truyen and A Dao
The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) congratulated the government of Vietnam on its National Day and encouraged the government to take steps to improve religious freedom conditions in the country. “USCIRF welcomes Vietnam’s progress, but we remain deeply concerned about the harassment of unregistered religious groups and religious freedom advocates,” noted USCIRF Vice Chair Anurima Bhargava. “We urge the government of Vietnam to release all individuals detained because of the peaceful expression of their beliefs, including Nguyen Bac Truyen and Pastor A Dao.”

Norway’s sovereign wealth fund is divesting from three foreign companies due to human rights violations. One of these is Taiwan’s Formosa Plastics, as well as a subsidiary of the company. The company is alleged to have unsafe working conditions at a factory in Vietnam, required excessive overtime work, and under-paid employees. It has also denied workers the right to organize. Formosa was responsible for a massive toxic waste spill and environmental disaster that engulfed Vietnam’s central coast starting in April 2016.


Vietnam Issues Decree Against Illegal Oil and Gas Operations in its Waters, Drake Long, Radio Free Asia, September 1, 2020: “Vietnam has issued a new decree against illegal energy exploration in its territory on land and sea, threatening violators with a fines and potentially seizing their property, state media reported Monday. The law applies to both Vietnamese entities and foreign nationals, and is not explicitly aimed at any particular companies or countries. But Vietnam has long-standing differences with China over their competing claims to the South China Sea and the rights to resources there.”

The Tumultuous Lives of Three Monks: Thich Nhat Hanh, Thich Tri Quang, and Thich Quang Do, The Vietnamese, September 2, 2020: “When the communists arrived, the paths of these three diverged. Nhat Hanh became world-famous with his Plum Village Monastery. Tri Quang was imprisoned and refrained from speaking about politics again. Quang Do continued the struggle for religious freedom and human rights, ultimately serving the longest period of house arrest of any monk in Vietnam.”

How the US Can Win Back Southeast Asia, Charles Dunst, The Diplomat, September 1, 2020: “In 2017, 80 percent of Vietnamese deemed China’s power and influence a ‘major threat.’ In 2020, over 95 percent of Vietnamese business, public sector, and civil society elite expressed worry about China’s ‘growing regional political and strategic influence.’ On the other hand, 84 percent of the Vietnamese public holds favorable opinions of the United States. Of those same elites, over 76 percent said that they welcomed American political and strategic influence. Meanwhile, Washington and Hanoi have become strategic partners in all but name.”

Vietnam Has a Thriving Drag Scene, But It Still Has Ways to Go in Advancing LGBTQ Rights, Soraya Kishtwari, Vice, September 4, 2020: “While the country’s recent pro-LGBTQ actions have been welcomed as a step in the right direction, they fall short of providing a legal regulatory framework enabling implementation. With regards to trans people, a transparent and accessible procedure for changing one’s legal gender is still outstanding and hormone therapy and gender reassignment surgeries remain unregulated. While same-sex unions are no longer banned, they are also not legally recognized.”

Vietnam cracks down on minorities amid pandemic, Kasthuri Patto, The Jakarta Post, September 4, 2020: “Vietnam’s actions during the first wave were globally praised from a public health perspective. But Vietnam used other countries’ preoccupation with the pandemic to deepen its own rights crackdown, using its strong system of surveillance. In one instance, in March, at the height of concern about the COVID -19 pandemic, Vietnamese authorities arrested three leaders of the unregistered religious group named Ha Mon in the Jo Mong mountain region in Gai Lai province. Forced to live in the forest for the last eight years, they now face lengthy imprisonment for the allegation of ‘sabotaging implementation of solidarity policies’ under Article 116 of the Penal Code.”


In light of the upcoming trial of Dong Tam residents on September 7, share Amnesty International’s statement on the events at Dong Tam and the restriction of information that ensued, and call for an independent investigation into the events of that day.

© 2020 The 88 Project