Vietnam Free Expression Newsletter No. 36/2021 – Week of September 13-19

Greetings from The 88 ProjectWe bring you news, analysis, and actions regarding human rights and civil society in Vietnam during the week of September 13-19. The appeal trial for mother-son defendants was abruptly postponed without notice. A Facebooker was released after completing his sentence. Read a detailed update on a prominent blogger who was kidnapped and jailed. Journalist Pham Doan Trang will be represented before the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention by a prominent lawyer. The United Kingdom voices concerns to the UN about Vietnam’s human rights abuses. COVID-19 continues to dominate the news, with more arrests of Facebookers and others. Japan and Vietnam get cozy militarily as China and the United States duel over the Mekong. Last but not least, President Nguyen Xuan Phuc will be in New York to attend the 76th U.N. General Assembly.


Political Prisoners

Can Thi  Theu and Trinh Ba Tu at the first instance trial, Source:  State Media via Radio Free Asia

On September 13, the family of Can Thi Theu and Trinh Ba Tu requested that their appeal trial, scheduled for September 17, be postponed due to COVID-19. The current lockdown requirements, they said, make it too difficult for the family and the lawyers to travel to attend the trial. They did not receive any response from the court. As a result, the family had to leave its house at 4am on the morning of September 17, according to daughter Trinh Thi Thao, and had to travel 100km to the courthouse. When they arrived, they were told verbally that the trial had been postponed. There was no official notice of any kind.

Huynh Anh Khoa

Huynh Anh Khoa (Nino Huynh) was released from prison on September 13, after serving a sentence of 15 months allegedly for “abusing democratic freedoms” by hosting a Facebook page called “Economic and Political Discussions” with two other persons. Their page had more than 46,000 followers. Khoa’s co-defendant, Nguyen Dang Thuong, received an 18 month sentence and Tran Trong Khai 12 months. Using his wife’s Facebook page after he was released, Khoa stated that he’d would focus on getting his life back on track and would not get involved with politics.

Truong Duy Nhat

Truong Duy Nhat was finally allowed to get a visit from his family for the first time since December of last year. His daughter reported that her father is still being held at No. 3 Nghe An Prison and has to work 45 hours a week with a herniated disc. We have compiled a more detailed update on his conditions here.

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

Tran Anh Kim and Nguyen Duc Quoc Vuong

  • Democracy activist and military veteran Tran Anh Kim, arrested September 21, 2015, and sentenced to 13 years in prison for “subversion”
  • Teaching professionals Hoang Minh Tuan and Pham Dinh Quy, arrested September 21 and 25, 2020, respectively, due to writings about government corruption; they are currently in pre-trial detention
  • Online commentator Nguyen Duc Quoc Vuong, arrested September 23, 2019, and sentenced to eight years in prison for “anti-state propaganda”

International Advocacy

Kurtulus Bastimar, a Kurdish human rights lawyer at the UN, has submitted the case of Pham Doan Trang with the UN Working Group Against Arbitrary Detention. He said the case against Trang has some serious flaws. Bastimar said he expected to hear back from the UNWGAD on September 17. Bastimar has represented Vietnamese  journalist Le Huu Minh Tuan before UNWGAD, as well as Cuban activist Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara, who was later released.

UN Human Rights Council 48: UK statement under item 2 general debate: Rita French, the UK Ambassador for human rights at the UN, gave a speech on September 14 on the human rights situation in Afghanistan, Guinea, Cameroon, Vietnam, Nicaragua and Nigeria. Regarding Vietnam, she said “we are concerned about the harassment and arrest of journalists, bloggers, human rights educators, and by the harassment of certain ethnic minority groups. Freedom of expression must be protected, including online….”


Counting the cost of Vietnam’s Covid meltdown, Bac Pham and Bennett Murray, Asia Times: September 14, 2021. “According to a survey by the state-run Private Economic Development Research Board in conjunction with the VnExpress news site carried out from August 12-22, nearly 70% of more than 21,000 businesses surveyed have permanently closed, mostly due to broken supply chains. The rest reported struggling to stay afloat, with many expected not to survive into next year if the situation does not improve. Major General Vu Quoc Binh, a medical doctor and former director of the Vietnam Military Medical Department, said that recent missteps by authorities have led to a ‘perplexing’ situation.”

US, China dueling for power on the Mekong, Bertil Lintner, Asia Times, September 5, 2021: “While the US and other Western countries have condemned political repression not only in Myanmar but also Cambodia and to a lesser extent even Vietnam, China raises no qualms in light of its own human rights record. Then US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused Chinese companies of ‘exploitative practices’ in the Mekong River, for which he blamed the China Communications Construction Company as a big offender. He also said the Chinese Communist Party was responsible for an increase in human, wildlife and drug trafficking in the region. The Joe Biden administration is also putting emphasis on the Mekong-US Partnership, seen in US Vice President Kamala Harris’ visits to Singapore and Vietnam earlier this month.”

What’s in the Newly Regionalized Japan-Vietnam Defense Partnership?, Prashanth Parameswaran, The Diplomat, September 13, 2021: “The development that captured the most headlines was the signing of the Japan-Vietnam Defense Equipment and Technology Transfer Agreement. The pact, which was also a point of focus during Suga’s visit to Vietnam last year, is expected to accelerate consultations for the transfer of specific equipment including vessels, coming after Tokyo’s similar agreements being advanced with Southeast Asian countries such as the Philippines and Indonesia. Yet defense equipment transfers were only part of the agenda for a more regionalized Japan-Vietnam defense partnership. In terms of functional areas of cooperation, for instance, both sides also specified a commitment to promote coordination towards the signing of memorandums in military medicine and cybersecurity.”

A Vietnamese Sentenced To Five Years In Jail For “Spreading Coronavirus”: Rules For The People But Not For The Government, Jason Nguyen, The Vietnamese, June 17, 2021: “In most cases, the defendants are working-class citizens struggling to make ends meet day by day. Now, they are facing pending criminal prosecutions and harsh criticisms from state media for their alleged ‘recklessness and indiscipline.’ Setting aside all legal grounds for imprisoning or penalizing citizens on charges of “spreading disease,” it is utterly unfair how criminal prosecutions are deployed to punish ordinary people. At the same time, the Vietnamese government is given a free pass, despite being responsible for mishandling the coronavirus through controversial policies and their fault in hosting mass gathering events that could have been the original cluster of the current COVID-19 outbreaks.”

Vietnam President to Seek Allies Against COVID-19 During US Visit, VOA News, September 16, 2021: “Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry announced plans for the visit Wednesday, saying Phuc will pay an official visit to Cuba from September 18 to September 20 before arriving in New York to attend the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly. He will be in the United States from September 21 to September 24. In his first overseas trip since being elected president by the National Assembly in April, Phuc is expected to introduce Vietnam’s diplomatic policy to the United Nations. In an interview Thursday with Vietnamese media, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Dang Hoang Giang stressed that Phuc would express Vietnam’s desire to work with other countries on COVID-19 prevention and other urgent problems.


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