Vietnam Free Expression Newsletter No. 4/2024 – Week of Jan. 18-25

Greetings from Project88. We bring you news, analysis, and actions regarding human rights and civil society in Vietnam during the week of Jan. 18-25.

One political prisoner is currently in solitary confinement; another is believed to have been diagnosed with cancer. Hanoi sees developments on energy, the environment, defense, and business with several foreign governments. However, in a stark reminder of the gap between Hanoi’s international commitments and its ability to execute a just, sustainable future for the country, this week marked two years since climate leader Dang Dinh Bach was convicted of “tax evasion.” He is only about halfway through his five-year sentence.


Dang Dinh Bach

Jan. 24 marked two years since climate leader Dang Dinh Bach was convicted of “tax evasion” and sentenced to five years in prison. His wife, Tran Phuong Thao, told Project88 that Bach still cannot buy hot water at the canteen to cook instant noodles, so he’s been eating them with cold water, along with other dried foods like cereal. She has been sending him 5 kg of supplies each month per prison regulations. Even though Bach would also like to read, Thao has chosen not to send him any books in order to maximize the amount of food he can receive. At the last visit on Jan. 15, Bach’s health appeared to have improved and his spirits were up. He told Thao that he has been practicing yoga to stay healthy even though prison conditions have not changed.

Nguyen Thuy Hanh

Imprisoned human rights defender Nguyen Thuy Hanh is believed to have been diagnosed with stage 2 cervical cancer, according to a Facebook post by her husband, Huynh Ngoc Chenh. Since April 2022, Hanh has been kept at the Central Psychiatric Hospital in Hanoi, where she is being treated for clinical depression. He believes the lack of sanitation and clean water might be a contributing factor to her illness. According to Chenh, Hanh has not been given any radiation therapy due to the long waiting list. He is asking the international community to intervene so that Hanh can get proper medical treatment. This is a developing story.

Phan Van Bach, arrested on Dec. 29 last year without charges, was finally charged on Jan 19 with “anti-state propaganda,” according to state media. No reason was given for the delay and no further details were provided. Bach is a former member of the independent news channel Chan Hung TV on Youtube. His activism includes protests against China in 2011, for green trees in 2015, and against the Formosa disaster in 2016.

Huynh Minh Tam

Recently released political prisoner Huynh Thi To Nga visited her brother Huynh Minh Tam at Gia Trung Prison and reported on Jan. 22 that Tam’s health is stable even though he looked very gaunt and skinny. He still was kept in a cell by himself, with a security camera. Tam said he covered up the camera with tape but was not reprimanded by the warden. The visit lasted only one hour, but the roundtrip journey took Nga 30 hours. However, Nga said Gia Trung actually allows prisoners to receive more monthly supplies than the 7 kg she was allowed to receive at An Diem Prison. Tam told Nga that political prisoner Truong Van Dung had just been transferred to Gia Trung and put in a cell next to his, alone.

Truong Van Dung

Truong Van Dung is allegedly under a one-month disciplinary solitary confinement for arguing with prison officials. Luu Van Vinh, a fellow prisoner, told his wife Nguyen Thi Thap over the phone on Jan. 22 that Dung asked him to tell his family the news. During this time in disciplinary confinement, Dung will not be allowed to buy food from the canteen, receive mail or supplies, nor have visits from the family until Feb. 16. Vinh said Dung and officials got into an argument when the package sent by his family was carelessly torn open by guards not wearing gloves and the contents spilled all over the floor. He also loudly protested when they did not let him keep a photo because it had the “Viet Tan” logo in it.

Le Trong Hung

Le Trong Hung’s wife, Do Le Na, verified in a call home on Jan. 15 that prison officials never did send her his letters. Also, two government officials from Hanoi went to the prison and talked to Hung about his wife’s posts on Facebook. They told him she was posting false information about the government, particularly about unidentified men posted around his home monitoring his family. Hung asked them to let his wife come to the prison so they could verify these allegations together. As of now, they have not done so.

A court in Khanh Hoa Province has sentenced a man to 14 years in prison for attempting to overthrow the government, based on Article 109 of the Criminal Code. Nguyen Van Uot (b. 1992) was accused of joining the Vietnam New Democratic Movement based in the United States, which is led by Dao Minh Quan, who calls himself the 3rd president of the Third Republic of Vietnam (a self-installed government-in-exile). In 2022, Quan claimed he was emperor of a new Vietnamese monarchy. Uot is said to have had a secret identity within the organization and posted articles denouncing the government. State media calls the group a terrorist organization but prosecutors did not accuse Uot himself of any terrorist acts.

Political prisoner Nguyen Nhu Phuong told his mother during a recent visit that in November last year he was beaten by guards at a detention center in Ba Ria-Vung Tau Province to the point that he coughed up blood. Phuong’s mother told RFA this week that the incident occurred after he complained about not receiving the shirts that were listed on the package his family had sent him. When Phuong’s mother confronted prison officials about this, they allegedly admitted that the beating did indeed occur, but asked her not to make a big deal about it. Phuong was a member of the No-U movement that opposes the Chinese nine-dash line. He was convicted of “anti-state propaganda” in 2022 and is serving a five-year sentence.

Journalist Han Ni has been charged with “abusing democratic freedoms” for her articles allegedly exposing wrongdoings by business tycoon Nguyen Phuong Hang. Hang was convicted in September 2023 and sentenced to three years in prison also for “abusing democratic freedoms” based on Article 331. Before her arrest, Phuong Hang sued Han Ni, accusing her of penning falsehoods that caused damages to the Dai Nam conglomerate of which Hang was chairwoman and CEO. For her part, Han Ni said all the information she used came from state media sources. It is not unusual for some civil lawsuits in Vietnam to be treated as criminal cases, especially if they involve large corporations that by default have deep connections with the ruling party.


The United States Advances Cooperation with Vietnam on Economic Security. US Department of State; 2024-01-26. Under Secretary Fernandez lauded Vietnam’s ambitious goal to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. The Under Secretary highlighted that the United States and its private sector partners stand ready to assist Vietnam in accelerating its just energy transition while stressing the need for an updated and modernized regulatory framework on energy. Under Secretary Fernandez also reiterated the vital role played by NGOs in tackling global challenges and advancing sustainable prosperity.

U.S.-Vietnam Cooperation Growing, Maturing, DOD Official Says. US Department of Defense; 2024-01-23. Defense cooperation between the United States and Vietnam is growing, but it is only one aspect of the growing relationship between the two countries, said Lindsey W. Ford, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for South and Southeast Asia. Ford spoke at the 2024 U.S.-Vietnam Conference sponsored by the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.

German president praises partnership, raises rights issues in Vietnam. Yahoo/DPA International; 2024-01-24. German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier expressed concerns on Wednesday about the human rights situation in Vietnam during a state visit to the country. Steinmeier, speaking at the Vietnamese-German University in Ho Chi Minh City, said that although Vietnam and Germany share some values in common, there are things that still stand in the way of mutual cooperation or that worry Berlin – “for example in the area of freedom of the press and freedom of opinion.”

Denmark ready to support Vietnam in green transition: Danish Ambassador. Vietnam+; 2024-01-18. During an interview granted to the Vietnam News Agency on the occasion of New Year 2024, Danish Ambassador to Vietnam Nicolai Prytz stressed Denmark is ready to support Vietnam in green transition. He also expressed his belief that the Green Strategic Partnership (GSP) will open a series of new opportunities and take Denmark-Vietnam bilateral relations to a new level.

Vietnam, New Zealand cooperate effectively in climate change responses. Vietnam+; 2024-01-23. Deputy Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Le Cong Thanh on January 23 had a working session with New Zealand Ambassador to Vietnam Trenede Dobson on cooperation between the two sides in the field of climate change response. At the meeting, the Vietnamese official informed the guest that his ministry is assigned to build a legal framework to certify carbon credit management, towards building a carbon market in Vietnam. He hoped that in that process, the ministry will receive support and exchange from partners, including New Zealand.


Vietnam court sentences 9 people to death for drug trafficking. Reuters; 2024-01-22. A court in Vietnam on Monday sentenced nine people to death after being convicted of involvement in one of the country’s largest drug trafficking cases in months. They were found guilty of trafficking 105 kg (231.49 lb) of methamphetamine and heroin from Laos to Vietnam from 2021 until early 2022 when the ring was busted.

Vietnam says US ‘non-market economy’ label is bad for bilateral ties. Reuters; 2023-01-23. Vietnam’s ambassador to the United States on Tuesday urged Washington to end its “non-market economy” label on Hanoi, warning that maintaining the resulting punitive duties on Vietnamese goods is bad for increasingly close bilateral ties. Last year, the U.S. Commerce Department said it was reviewing Vietnam’s non-market economy status after Hanoi argued that it should be removed from the list applied in anti-dumping cases given economic reforms of recent years.

Coverage about this in Vietnamese from the BBC Vietnamese. 

Chipmakers among 15 US firms eyeing $8 billion Vietnam investment – US official. Yahoo Finance/Reuters; 2024-01-26. Fifteen U.S. companies, including semiconductors firms, have expressed interest in investing $8 billion in Vietnam in clean energy infrastructure, contingent on the country’s progress on renewable energy rules, a senior U.S. official said on Friday. Vietnam is seeking to attract chipmakers and wants to boost its renewable energy sector but it has so far struggled to adopt rules that would allow the expansion of its solar and onshore wind industry and the development of offshore wind farms of which it has none now.

Homeless man arrested after allegedly burning flag to cook dinner. Radio Free Asia; 2024-01-17. A homeless man in Vietnam has been arrested after he allegedly posted a video to Facebook of himself burning the country’s flag as fuel to cook his dinner, state media reported. Pham Cong Hung Nhan, 43, was detained by the Ba Ria City Police Investigation Agency on charges of “insulting the national flag” under Article 351 of Vietnam’s Penal Code, according to the People’s Public Security online newspaper.  The violation is punishable by up to three years in jail and community service.

Vietnam’s former minister of commerce accused of ‘wrongdoings’ in oil deals. Radio Free Asia; 2024-01-19. A Politburo member who is the son of a former state president is under investigation by the Vietnam Communist Party’s Central Inspection Committee for suspected wrongdoings in his dealings with the oil and gas industry while he was minister of commerce. As minister from 2016 to 2021, Tran Tuan Anh was responsible for “wrong advice” in the issuance of the mechanism for the development of solar energy and wind power under the country’s ambitious plan to transition away from coal usage, according to state media reports.

Vietnam moves towards smart governance of water resources. Vietnam+; 2024-01-20. The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MoNRE) has said it will step up digital transformation and maintain the operation of the online surveillance system over water exploitation and use for about 600 works licensed by it in 2024. This move aims to ensure the effective management, exploitation and protection of water resources online based on smart governance.

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