Vietnam Free Expression Newsletter No. 4/2022 – Week of January 24-30

Greetings from The 88 ProjectWe bring you news, analysis, and actions regarding human rights and civil society in Vietnam during the week of January 24-30. Two female activists with histories of clinical depression have not been allowed to receive medications sent by their families. An arrest warrant has been issued for an activist currently in Thailand seeking asylum. Another Facebooker was sentenced to seven years in prison. Multi-year-sentences against the Clean News group were upheld on appeal. An NGO leader accused of tax evasion was sentenced to prison. A political prisoner says he was tortured and beaten in jail. Hundreds of workers have been kept isolated in a plant since June. Rapid Covid tests for international passengers arriving in Vietnam are no longer required. Taiwan’s Supreme Court is about to rule on a civil suit against Formosa that caused an environmental disaster in Vietnam. Inmates struggle to find comfort and solace as the Lunar New Year approaches. Happy Tết!


Political Prisoners

Nguyen Thuy Hanh and Huynh Thuc Vy

Huynh Ngoc Chenh, husband of Nguyen Thuy Hanh, posted that he finally heard some news about her after nine months. Hanh was taken from her prison cell to a hospital to be examined and monitored for depression, a condition for which she had been taking medication before she was jailed. Chenh’s previous attempts to bring Hanh her medication were always rejected by prison officials. Several patients at the hospital recognized Hanh and were able to talk to her and relayed her messages to Chenh. Hanh is said to have lost some weight but otherwise looks healthy and in good spirits. She has been taken back to the detention center.

Huynh Thuc Vy’s brother said the family still has not been able to give Vy her depression medication because prison officials did not allow it. Vy also wrote to let them know she would be transferred to another location soon, but she said she didn’t know exactly when or where.

Le Quy Loc was beaten by prison guards at the An Phuoc Detention Center last May for asking to be allowed to play sports, as guaranteed by law. Loc was said to have gone on an eight-day hunger strike to protest the beating that left his face badly bruised. The news of his torture has only just been revealed.

Nguyen Van Trang and Dang Dinh Bach

Nguyen Van Trang, a dissident currently seeking political asylum in Thailand, says local police in his hometown in Thanh Hoa Province have issued a warrant for his arrest even though they know he’s been living in Thailand for the past three years. The police have also urged his fellow villagers to publicly denounce Trang so he can’t return. Trang is part of the disbanded group Brotherhood for Democracy, many of whose members have been arrested and sentenced to between 5 and 15 years in prison.

On January 24, 2022, a court in Hanoi sentenced Dang Dinh Bach to five years in prison for “tax evasion.” Bach is the director of the non-profit Law & Policy of Sustainable Development (LPSD), which could play an essential role in monitoring Vietnam’s obligations under the EVFTA. His charge of “tax evasion” was the same as fellow civil society leader Mai Phan Loi, who was sentenced to four years in prison earlier this month.

Nguyen Tri Gioan, who was sentenced in November 2021 to seven years in prison for engaging in “anti-State propaganda,” has begun to serve his prison sentence—but in a location at least 300km from his hometown near Cam Ranh.

An appellate court in Can Tho Province upheld the sentences against members of the Bao Sach (Clean News) group for violating Article 331—”abusing democratic freedoms.” Truong Chau Huu Danh received four years and six months in jail; Doan Kien Giang and Le The Thang each received three years in prison, and Nguyen Phuoc Trung Bao and Nguyen Thanh Nha each received two years of imprisonment.

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

Hoang Duc Binh and Phan Bui Bao Thy

  • Journalist Truong Duy Nhat, birthday January 31, sentenced to ten years in prison over a decades-old land purchase, a case which many observers believe is politically-motivated
  • Student leader Tran Hoang Phuc and video bloggers Nguyen Van Dien and Vu Quang Thuan, tried on January 31, 2018 and sentenced to six, six and a half, and eight years in prison, respectively, for conducting “propaganda against the State.”
  • Land and labor rights activist Hoang Duc Binh, tried on February 6, 2018, and sentenced to 14 years in prison on charges of “abusing democratic freedoms” and “resisting officers”
  • Former state journalist Phan Bui Bao Thy, arrested on February 5, 2021, and still in pre-trial detention on charges of “abusing democratic freedoms”
  • Online commentator Le Anh Dung, arrested on February 6, 2021, and still in pre-trial detention on charges of “abusing democratic freedoms”
International Advocacy

Pham Doan Trang

The Martin Ennals Award has announced that Pham Doan Trang, an independent Vietnamese journalist and author, is one of the Laureates of the 2022 Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders. The award ceremony has been delayed until June so that it can take place in Geneva instead of online. Let’s hope that Trang will be able to attend in person.

The Taiwan Supreme Court should consider the repression of human rights in Vietnam in ruling over an environmental disaster: The International Federation For Human Rights calls on the Taiwan Supreme Court to take into account the human rights situation and Vietnam’s pandemic restrictions when making its decision in the civil lawsuit filed against the Formosa Plastics Group on behalf of Vietnamese victims of the disaster in 2016.

Vietnam’s civic space remains listed as ‘closed’ in ratings published by the CIVICUS Monitor in December 2021. The report gives a detailed summary of the most important human rights abuses in Vietnam last year and is well worth a read.


Vietnam scraps rapid Covid test requirements for int’l passengers, Viet Tuan, VNExpress, January 28, 2022: “Passengers on international flights only need to present their Covid-19 PCR test results, according to document regarding international flights to Vietnam issued by the Government Office on Friday. Fully vaccinated people will be isolated at their residence or hotels for three days, and others for seven days. Deputy Prime Minister Pham Binh Minh also agreed to increase the commercial flight frequency to Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, as well as Europe and Australia in the trial program for flight resumption. The decision seeks to facilitate overseas Vietnamese returning home for Tet, the document added.”

Thousands in Vietnam mourn Thich Nhat Hanh, Zen Buddhist monk who brought mindfulness to West, Agence France-Presse, January 23, 2022: “Thich Nhat Hanh spent 39 years in France and advocated for religious freedom around the world. Vietnamese authorities permitted him to return to the country in 2018 but plainclothes police kept a vigil outside the pagoda compound closely monitoring his activities. His messages have not always been welcomed as authorities in one-party Vietnam are wary of organised religion: in 2009 his followers were driven from their temple in southern Lam Dong province by hired mobs. But Cong An Nhan Dan newspaper – considered the official mouthpiece of the public security ministry – published on Sunday a glowing tribute to the writer, poet, scholar, historian and peace activist.”

Vietnam’s path forward on COVID-19 and corruption, David Brown, East Asia Forum, January 25, 2022: “In December, after exposes that made headlines abroad, Facebook vowed to cease enabling regime efforts to suppress online criticism by Vietnamese bloggers. Hanoi has in the past brought foreign social media to heel simply by squeezing their local advertising revenues. Now that the leaders of the once robust ‘democracy movement’ are in jail or exile, it’s hard to see why the regime doesn’t ease up. Prime Minister Chinh in particular seems to have been stung by criticism of the regime’s record on political liberties. He told reporters several times that human rights in Vietnam are not as imagined in the West.”

300 Vietnamese workers held in isolation in China-backed power plant, RFA, January 26, 2022: “Around 300 Vietnamese workers have been held in isolation for the last eight months at a China-backed power plant amid COVID-19 concerns and have been refused permission to return home for the Lunar New Year, sources in the country say. The workers have been held at the Vinh Tan 1 Thermal Power Plant in the Tuy Phong district of Vietnam’s southeastern Binh Thuan province, with anyone caught leaving the plant immediately fired, one worker told RFA this week. ‘We have been isolated in this plant since June 1. We all work, eat and sleep here and have no contact with the outside world,’ the worker said, speaking on condition of anonymity for security reasons.”

As Vietnam celebrates ‘Tet,’ inmates struggle with little contact from home, RFA, January 28, 2022: “Prisoners live in squalid or crowded cells, may suffer from severe health problems, and can be subjected to torture and solitary confinement at any time of the year. But during the Lunar New Year many say a pervasive loneliness can often overcome them. That’s been made worse by a pandemic that has further restricted access to their loved ones behind bars. Sometimes families are only allowed to speak with prisoners for 10 minutes each month, Truong Thuc Doan, the daughter of imprisoned RFA blogger, Truong Duy Nhat, told RFA.”


Le Manh Ha, land rights activist arrested on January 12, 2022, Source: Citizen journalist via RFA

Following a flurry of high-profile trials in the final weeks of 2021, the People’s Court in Vietnam kept on rolling as the new year began. The first two weeks of the new year saw an incredible eight arrests under Articles 117 and 331, with a few multi-year sentences added on as well.


Brothers Trinh Ba Tu (left) and Trinh Ba Phuong, prior to their imprisonments, holding signs saying: “Freedom for my Mother” at a praying mass for victims of injustice. Source: Facebook Trinh Ba Phuong

Take action in support of political prisoners and their families this Tet. Share one of our recent video interviews and raise awareness for the cases of imprisoned activists and their loved ones. Select a video from our full archive, here.

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