Vietnam Free Expression Newsletter No. 4/2021 – Week of January 25-31

Greetings from The 88 Project! We bring you news, analysis, and actions regarding human rights and civil society in Vietnam during the week of January 25-31. Journalist Nguyen Tuong Thuy has decided not to appeal his 11-year prison sentence, and environmental activist Hoang Duc Binh has again been denied a visit from his family in prison. Facebooker Pham Le Vuong Cac was summoned for questioning in relation to jailed writer Pham Doan Trang’s case. Dong Tam commune villagers commemorated the one-year anniversary of the violent police raid in their community by visiting the grave of their slain village leader Le Dinh Kinh. Dissident musician Mai Khoi is now a Scholar at Risk at the University of Pittsburgh. In the news and analysis section, read analysis of Vietnam’s National Party Congress and its implications for domestic human rights and international relations. Take action for female activist Dinh Thi Thu Thuy, who was sentenced to seven years in prison last week, as well as for Tran Huynh Duy Thuc, who remains on a hunger strike he started on in late November to protest the authorities’ failure to respond to his legal petition.


Political Prisoners

Nguyen Tuong Thuy, a member of the Independent Association of Journalists in Vietnam, who was recently sentenced to 11 years in prison, has reversed his decision to appeal his sentence. “I later learned that Nguyen Tuong Thuy had finally filed an appeal petition, but the police required him to fill it out according to their instructions, and he refused and tore the document up,” his lawyer Nguyen Van Mieng said.

Environmental activist Hoang Duc Binh has been denied visits from his family once again. Binh was pulled from a car and arrested in 2017, one year after protesting against the Formosa toxic waste spill. He’s serving a 14-year sentence at An Diem Prison in Quang Nam, hundreds of miles from his home province. His brother Hoang Nguyen said, “This morning, I submitted my papers and visit request to the prison officials at An Diem, and after waiting for over 30 minutes I was told I could not see my brother.” Binh has been denied family visits before for insisting he was innocent and refusing to wear a prison uniform.

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

  • Land rights activist Trinh Ba Phuong, birthday January 26, in pre-trial detention on charges of conducting “propaganda against the state”
  • Journalist Truong Duy Nhat, birthday January 31, arrested on January 28, 2019, after being forcibly returned to Vietnam from Thailand, and sentenced to 10 years in prison for his alleged role in a fraudulent land sale

Huynh Minh Tam and Huynh Thi To Nga at trial on November 28, 2019. Source: Dong Nai Newspaper
  • Sibling online commentators Huynh Minh Tam and Huynh Thi To Nga, arrested on January 26 and 28, 2019, and sentenced to nine and five years in prison for conducting “propaganda against the state”
  • Online commentator Duong Thi Lanh, arrested on January 30, 2019, and sentenced to eight years in prison on charges of “conducting propaganda against the state”

From left: Tran Hoang Phuc, Nguyen Van Dien, and Vu Quang Thuan
  • Student human rights activist Tran Hoang Phuc and democracy video bloggers Nguyen Van Dien and Vu Quang Thuan, tried on January 31, 2018, and sentenced to a respective six, six and half, and eight years in prison on charges of conducting “propaganda against the state”
Activists at Risk

Facebooker Pham Le Vuong Cac was summoned by public security on January 21 to answer questions related to imprisoned writer Pham Doan Trang. They told him that “she mentioned his name.” He said he was not involved with the Liberal Publishing House but supported their freedom of expression. He also said Trang was a friend, but since she’d been arrested, he wouldn’t say anything about her lest it be used against her. They requested that he stick to writing about the US presidential election and not Vietnam’s National Congress; he told them not to worry since information on the latter was hard to come by anyway.

Du Thi Thanh (Kinh’s wife) and Le Dinh Kinh, Source: BBC Vietnamese

Dong Tam villagers commemorated the one-year anniversary of the attack on their commune by visiting the grave of village elder Le Dinh Kinh, who was killed by police. Dozens of plainclothes policemen watched and took photos but otherwise did not interfere. Kinh’s son Le Dinh Cong is suffering from a skin disease in prison, according to his daughter, but is not receiving proper treatment. The court has not set a date for those who appealed their sentences.

Ahead of the start of the 13th National Party Congress, public security forces in Hanoi detained many land petitioners and prevented many activists from leaving their houses. Most petitioners were rounded up and sent back to their home areas. Some have been petitioning for their land rights for 10 years. “We are elderly and use appropriate language. We don’t shout,” added a woman named Huong from central Vietnam’s coastal Binh Dinh Province. “We have petitioned peacefully, but still they silence us. They have not settled my case, so I will have to go back to Hanoi again,” she said.

Mai Khoi, photo from Mai Khoi via Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Vietnam’s Lady Gaga, Mai Khoi, has settled into her ‘Bad Activist’ role as a Scholar at Risk at the University of Pittsburgh, where she’s been since November of last year. Read all about the singer-songwriter and freedom fighter here.

International Advocacy 

The EU Parliament has called on Vietnam to immediately release three independent journalists. “Respect for human rights constitutes a key foundation of the bilateral relations between Vietnam and the EU and is an essential element of the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement,” the Parliament said in a resolution approved by lawmakers with 592 votes in favor, 32 against, and 58 abstentions. “Parliament calls on all involved parties to make use of the existing EU-Vietnam agreements to improve the human rights situation in the country.”


Vietnam: National Party Congress begins amid escalating crackdown on Internet freedom,, January 25, 2021: “Following its 2019 Universal Periodic Review, Vietnam received nine country recommendations on the Cybersecurity Law and supported the recommendation from France to ‘take steps to guarantee freedom of opinion and freedom of expression, including on the Internet, in the context of the adoption of the law on cybersecurity.’ Despite this, no effective steps have been taken to bring the Cybersecurity Law into compliance with Vietnam’s international obligations.”

Coronavirus jolt in Vietnam casts pall over Communist Party’s coronation congress, Phuong Nguyen and  Khanh Vu, Reuters, January 27, 2021: “After 84 new cases were detected in the northern provinces of Hai Duong and Quang Ninh, the health ministry massively ramped up testing and quarantine calls. State television quoted the coronavirus taskforce chief as saying preparations should be made for a scenario of up to 30,000 COVID-19 cases. The health ministry has proposed halting international flights and banning large gatherings ahead of the Lunar New year holiday season, just two weeks away.… Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc urged calm and promised swift action at an urgently called meeting on the sidelines of the congress.”

The Secretive Meeting Where Vietnam Changes Leaders, John Boudreau and Nguyen Dieu Tu Uyen, Bloomberg, January 30, 2021: “It’s an opaque process. Vietnam has a collective ‘four pillar’ leadership structure made up of general secretary, prime minister, president and chair of the National Assembly, the nation’s parliament. It governs in consultation with a 17- to 19-member politburo. Nguyen Phu Trong, the current general secretary, also became president in 2018 following the death of President Tran Dai Quang, meaning the top leadership was down to three. Observers anticipate the government will revert to four pillars in 2021.”

Vietnam’s Foreign Policy Post-13th National Party Congress, Carlyle A. Thayer, January 28, 2021: “Q7. How will leadership change/generation transition shape policy that could help Vietnam develop a better foreign policy? ANSWER: The proposed age structure for the 13th Central Committee does not augur well for a new generation of leaders on the Central Committee having a decisive say in policy. Party officials have indicated that 70% of the next Central Committee should fall between 50 and 60 years of age. The target for new members under 50 is 15-20%. It will take the new members at least five years before they are eligible for election to the Politburo.”

Vietnam Leadership Transition Will Not Loosen the Party’s Grip, Huong Nguyen, The Diplomat, January 22, 2021: “If Nguyen Phu Trong remains in power or succeeds in installing a trusted protégé, the crackdown trend will likely continue. Time will tell. One thing is certain, however: the one-party regime will continue to rule Vietnam and the crackdown on dissidents will persist. The difference, if there’s any, will just be a matter of degree. Hundreds of political prisoners who were heavily convicted under the reign of Nguyen Phu Trong will remain behind bars for 10 or many more years to come, under harsh prison conditions. They need continuing attention and our support.”

Vietnam retains top leader, shuts Hanoi schools in COVID-19 battle, Khanh Vu, Phuong Nguyen, Reuters, January 31, 2021: “Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party re-elected its 76-year-old chief Nguyen Phu Trong for a rare third five-year term on Sunday, as the Southeast Asian country battled its biggest coronavirus outbreak since the pandemic began.”


Take action with FrontLine Defenders by submitting an Urgent Appeal on behalf of female activist Dinh Thi Thu Thuy, who was sentenced to seven years in prison on January 20.

Imprisoned blogger and entrepreneur Tran Huynh Duy Thuc started a hunger strike on November 23 to protest the authorities’ failure to respond to his petition for a reduction of his sentence based on changes to the 2015 Criminal Code. Still on hunger strike, his health condition is critical. Take action in support of Thuc here. 

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