Vietnam Free Expression Newsletter No. 41/2021 – Week of October 18-24

Greetings from The 88 ProjectWe bring you news, analysis, and actions regarding human rights and civil society in Vietnam during the week of October 18-24. Pham Doan Trang sees a lawyer for the first time since her arrest a year ago; the family asks that she get medical attention. Trinh Ba Phuong’s wife, Thu Do, was given the run-around by authorities when she tried to visit her husband. There was another pandemic-related arrest of a Facebooker. Vietnam plans to accept vaccine passports from 72 countries. China warns the US to stay out of the South China Sea while India and Indonesia plan to ramp up defense and economic cooperation with Vietnam.


Political Prisoners

Pham Doan Trang

More than a year after her arrest, Pham Doan Trang, a prominent journalist and author, was finally allowed to see her lawyer, Luan Le, on October 19. Her trial date has also been set for November 3, which gives her lawyer two weeks to work on the case. During repeated interrogations during her pre-trial detention, Trang refused to answer any questions until she could see her lawyer; she did not admit to being the author of anything posted on social media, only to several articles in English and two interviews with RFA and the BBC — for which she’s being accused of “anti-state propaganda.”

While mentally strong, Trang is suffering from low blood pressure and prolonged menstrual periods that can last up to 15 days. The cyst that she was diagnosed with before her arrest is still there (at this time we don’t know what type it is). Her legs, which were severely injured by police a few years ago, have been giving her pain. Trang has lost 10kg and has not been seen by a doctor since her detention. Her family has written to the authorities requesting that she get immediate medical attention.

Trinh Ba Phuong (right) and his brother Trinh Ba Tu, holding signs supporting their mother, fellow activist and political prisoner Can Thi Theu

Political prisoner Trinh Ba Phuong’s wife, Thu Do, received a letter from the Hanoi’s People Court informing her that she could visit her husband on October 21. But when she got to the prison, she was turned away by prison officials who told her she could not see him due to COVID-19. When she asked to see the official paperwork with that decision, they produced an old order from April. They also refused to give her an explanation on paper. She has sent a complaint to the Court and the Ministry of Public Security about this and vowed to return next week.

Nguyen Thien Nghia, Source: Toui Tre

Another Facebooker has been arrested allegedly for “disseminating misinformation” during the pandemic. Nguyen Thien Nghia was taken into custody in Vung Tau on October 21, 2021, for violating Article 288 of the Criminal Code. The authorities claim that Nghia has been sharing information about the government’s handling of the pandemic that is “untrue and causes confusion among the people.

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

Nguyen Van Nghiem and Ksor Ruk

  • Online commentator Nguyen Van Nghiem, birthday October 25, serving six years in prison on charges of conducting “propaganda against the state”
  • Montagnard Protestant missionary Ksor Ruk, arrested October 30, 2018, and sentenced to ten years in prison for “undermining the unity policy”
  • Student activist Phan Kim Khanh, tried on October 25, 2017, and sentenced to six years in prison for conducting “propaganda against the state”
  • Online commentator Nguyen Van Phuoc, tried on October 29, 2019, and sentenced to five years in prison for conducting “propaganda against the state”


The days of U.S. tech companies fighting back against authoritarian regimes are long gone, Gerrit De Vynck, Washington Post, October 18, 2021: “In Vietnam, Google took down a video game from its app store that allowed users to battle with characters named after local leaders. Facebook has also agreed to cut off content the Vietnamese government said was illegal. The company says it restricts some content so that it can stay open for the millions of other people who use its services in the country. It’s not clear that American tech companies’ presence in China and other authoritarian countries improved human rights in those places.”

Vietnam accepts vaccine passports from 72 countries, territories, Vu Anh, VNExpress, October 21, 2021: “Vietnam currently accepts Covid-19 vaccine passports from 72 countries and territories, and is discussing the issue with 80 others, the foreign ministry said Thursday. … In September, Quang Ninh’s Van Don Airport welcomed several flights with vaccine passport holders on a trial basis, allowing hundreds of Vietnamese from the U.S., France and Japan to return to Vietnam. All passengers were fully vaccinated, in good health and had coronavirus negative results from tests done within 72 hours before their flights.”

Rethinking India’s economic policy towards Vietnam, Kannan Reghunathan Nair and Phan Xuan Dung, East Asia Forum, October 20, 2021: “India should begin by fast-tracking its review of the ASEAN–India FTA through multilateral dialogues, which in turn will help cover the uneven market access of Indian traders to ASEAN countries. Since its inception in 2010, the ASEAN–India FTA has shown scant results due to the failure of both parties to reduce non-tariff barriers. In 2018, the Vietnamese Ambassador to India Ton Sinh Thanh advocated for updating and reviewing the ASEAN–India FTA to deepen its economic engagement with India. In the case of Indian foreign direct investment in Vietnam, India should try to develop faculties to diminish the information asymmetry among Indian companies about opportunities in Vietnam.”

What’s Next for Indonesia-Vietnam Defense Relations?, Prashanth Parameswaran, The Diplomat, October 20, 2021: “As Indonesia-Vietnam relations have developed over the years, from a comprehensive partnership inked in 2003 that was then elevated to a strategic partnership in 2013, both sides have also looked to make progress in the security aspect of their relationship as well. The two fellow Southeast Asian countries have attempted to build progressively upon the initial memorandum of understanding reached in 2010, including better coast guard collaboration and a coordination mechanism for protecting fishermen and fishing vessels in the wake of maritime infringements. Among these developments is the creation of the Indonesia-Vietnam defense policy dialogue.”

China Tells U.S. to Stay Out of South China Sea After Submarine Accident, John Feng, Newsweek, October 20, 2021: “China has seized upon the U.S. Navy’s recent submarine accident in the South China Sea to call for an end to American military operations in the contested waters, with an official on Tuesday accusing the United States of lacking transparency and creating anxiety among regional countries. Chinese Defense Ministry spokesperson Tan Kefei said Washington, D.C. had taken a ‘covert approach’ to its handling of the incident involving USS Connecticut—one of three Seawolf-class nuclear-powered boats operated by the U.S. Navy—which collided with a mysterious underwater object on October 2. The U.S. Pacific Fleet confirmed the incident via a statement six days later, saying no sailors were seriously injured and that the ship was headed for repairs in Guam.”



Trinh Ba Phuong

Amidst his wife’s difficulties in visiting him and his impending trial, please watch and share this interview with Trinh Ba Phuong. The interview was conducted shortly before his June 2020 arrest and paints a deeper picture of Phuong than what observers may see through bits of his social media posts, state media articles, and the rare international news piece, and allows Phuong to tell his story in his own words. We hope that viewers will understand the critical societal and personal reasons why Phuong and other political prisoners should be freed.

© 2021 The 88 Project