Vietnam Free Expression Newsletter No. 37/2021 – Week of September 20-26

Greetings from The 88 Project! We bring you news, analysis, and actions regarding human rights and civil society in Vietnam during the week of September 20-26. The big news of the week was, of course, the AUKUS deal. Included are several articles on this watershed geopolitical shift and its potential impact on Vietnam. In the meantime, more Vietnamese were arrested and harassed for online postings that criticized the government’s handling of the pandemic. The UN released its report on reprisals for cooperation. Freedom House published a sobering assessment of the continuing downward slide of freedom and democracy worldwide, which started years before the pandemic and has only gotten worse in 2020. On an upbeat note, pop artist and freedom fighter Mai Khoi held a jazz performance in the US titled “Bad Activist.”


Political Prisoners

Linh with the Be Tre Province police, Source.

Facebooker Nguyen Duy Linh was arrested by Ben Tre provincial police on September 15. He is accused of conducting “anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 of the Criminal Code. The authorities allege that since 2017 Linh has been using his Facebook account to post comments, articles and videos whose content “misrepresent, discredit, lie about the people’s government, cause confusion among the people, insult the leadership.” Linh’s latest offense, according to the police, was his criticisms of the government’s mishandling of the pandemic.

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

Nguyen Viet Dung

  • Democracy activist and founder of the Republican Party of Vietnam, Nguyen Viet Dung, arrested September 27, 2017, and sentenced to six years in prison for “conducting anti-state propaganda.”
  • Environmental activist Ha Van Thanh, arrested October 2019, and still detained in pre-trial detention

Activists at Risk

Professor and dissident Mac Van Trang has received death threats for his online postings opposing Chinese vaccines from Sinopharm. The anonymous caller told Trang that “I shouldn’t keep talking about it and should behave myself; otherwise I would put my life in danger.” Trang is a former member of the Communist Party, who quit over the case of Chu Hao, and has been a supporter of land rights activists like Can Thi Theu.

Mai Khoi, Source: Mai Khoi via The Pitt News

On September 20, 2021, artist/activist Mai Khoi performed a jazz show called “Bad Activist”  in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where she’s currently an Artist Protection Fund Fellow at City of Asylum and the University of Pittsburgh. According to the program, the show “charts the extraordinary trajectory of Mai Khoi’s life—from renowned Vietnamese pop star to dissident activist, fighting for artistic freedom in Vietnam and pitting herself against the strong arm of the communist government.”

International Advocacy

The UN has released its annual report on reprisals for cooperating with the UN on human rights abuses. The section on Vietnam highlights many familiar organizations and individuals such as VOICE, IJAVN, Nguyen Tuong ThuyNguyen Bac Truyen, as well as their spouses and family members who were harassed by police for talking to UN representatives.

The Freedom House report for 2020 has been released. The overall picture looks bleak as human rights abuses continue their upward trend globally, especially with the global pandemic. Vietnam’s low score of 19 puts it at No. 34 from the bottom; China ranks even worse, #16, with just nine points on the Global Freedom scale. The report’s detailed analysis is well worth a read.


The Threat Of A Free And Open Internet In Vietnam, Aerolyne Reed, The Vietnamese, September 23, 2021: “The U.S Department of State’s 2020 ‘Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Vietnam’ tackles several issues plaguing the country: internet freedom. The report states that the Vietnamese government ‘restricted and disrupted access to the internet, censored online content, imposed criminal sentences for online expression, and monitored private online communications without legal authority.’ Also mentioned are several restrictions on local internet service providers in the country, which the government controls. Those few that are allowed to operate are either in part or wholly owned by the state, which can actively monitor the online activities of the subscribers of these internet services.”

AUKUS-France Crisis: Impact on the Indo-Pacific, Carl Thayer Consultancy, September 21, 2021: “The creation of the AUKUS trilateral security partnership is a momentous strategic development that binds Australia to the United States for decades to come. But other equally important developments are taking place besides the transfer of nuclear propulsion technology. The Quad is about to hold its first face-to-face meeting to map out a strategy to counter China’s rise in the Indo-Pacific. Quite separately Australia has firmed up bilateral defence relations with Japan, India, Indonesia, and South Korea.”

Australian Navy Ships Touring SE Asia Make Port Call in Vietnam, Radio Free Asia, September 20, 2021: “Three Australian naval ships arrived in Cam Ranh port in central Vietnam on Monday as part of Canberra’s push to engage with partners in Southeast Asia, Vietnamese state media reported. The deployment came as Australia’s foreign ministry sought to reassure the region that a new security pact with the United Kingdom and the United States, unveiled last week, would not sideline the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and would not fuel the spread of nuclear weapons. The Australian maritime task group arrived in the Vietnamese port for a four-day stopover after visiting Brunei, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand.”

Philippines Throws Support Behind AUKUS Pact, Radio Free Asia, September 21, 2021: “The Philippines backs a new U.S.-U.K.-Australia defense pact that addresses a military “imbalance” in Southeast Asia, Manila’s top diplomat said Tuesday, in remarks that contrasted sharply with Indonesian and Malaysian concerns about a regional arms race. Philippine Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. did not name any countries responsible for this so-called imbalance, but he was likely referring to China. Manila and Beijing have had several verbal spats over China’s increased militarization in the South China Sea.”

Japan, Vietnam gently coming together against China, Nate Fischler, Asia Times, September 21, 2021: “In Hanoi, the two defense chiefs signed an unprecedented agreement allowing for the sale of military equipment and sharing of defense technology between Japan’s Self Defense Forces and Vietnam’s military. The deal also allows for joint military exercises and elevates the bilateral relationship to a new level, including through deeper cybersecurity collaboration. Most significantly, the deal is also expected to pave the way for Vietnam’s acquisition of Japanese naval vessels in the near future.”

US-Vietnam Relations: From Reconciliation to a Relationship of Substance, Le Hong Hiep, The Diplomat, September 20, 2021: “Osius is well positioned to write the book. He served twice at the U.S. diplomatic mission in Hanoi, first as a political officer shortly after normalization, and then as U.S. ambassador to Vietnam almost 20 years later. Osius’ extended engagement with Vietnam, which he summarized as ‘pursuing diplomacy with Vietnam for twenty-three years – under four presidents and seven secretaries of state,’ enabled him to gain a deep understanding of the different contours of bilateral relations. This, in turn, provided him with the necessary ingredients to fill his book with fascinating accounts of how Washington and Hanoi have worked together to promote reconciliation and strengthen their ties.”


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Brothers Trinh Ba Tu and Trinh Ba Phuong (right)

As we await news on the rescheduled appeal trial for son Trinh Ba Tu and mother Can Thi Theu, please watch and share this interview with Tu’s brother and Theu’s other son, land rights activist Trinh Ba Phuong, conducted shortly before his arrest. This intimate video covers a variety of topics, ranging from his background to his relationship with his wife and his dreams and aspirations for Vietnam. Phuong is still awaiting trial over 15 month after his arrest for “conducting propaganda against the state.”

The 88 Project aims to showcase the multi-faceted lives of activists in order to press for their release and pass on their wisdom to a larger audience. We hope that viewers will understand the critical societal and personal reasons why Phuong and other political prisoners should be freed.

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