Vietnam Free Expression Newsletter No. 42/2021- Week of October 25-31

Greetings from The 88 ProjectWe bring you news, analysis, and actions regarding human rights and civil society in Vietnam during the week of October 25-31. Trials for three high-profile defendants, including celebrated journalist Pham Doan Trang, were postponed at the last minute, less than a day after a UN working group issued a critical opinion calling for Trang’s release. Five defendants from the Clean News group received lengthy prison sentences. More Facebookers were arrested and charged. Facebook is accused of bowing to political pressure from Vietnam, helping the government crack down on users who post things the authorities don’t like. Former Ambassador Ted Osius publishes a memoir about his time in Vietnam. The 88 Project seeks a Co-Director to help shape and lead our international team. Know someone who might qualify? Please help us spread the word.


Political Prisoners

Trinh Ba Tu (left) and Trinh Ba Phuong holding signs in support of their mother, Can Thi They; all three are currently imprisoned, and this is Theu’s third arrest

Trinh Thu Thao, Can Thi Theu’s daughter and the sister of Trinh Ba Tu, has sent prison authorities yet another letter asking to be allowed to visit her mother and brother, whom the family has not seen since their arrests 16 months ago. Both are awaiting their appeals trial after being sentenced to eight years each under Article 117. Meanwhile, the trial of Trinh Ba Phuong (Trinh Ba Tu’s brother) and co-defendant Nguyen Thi Tam, scheduled for November 3, was postponed at the last minute.

The trial of journalist Pham Doan Trang, scheduled for November 4, has also been postponed. The reason given for both delays was that some of the prosecutors have to “self-quarantine due to coming into contact with Covid-positive individuals.” The families were not notified of the delay and only learned about it through others.

Just one day before the delay was announced, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) issued its report on Pham Doan Trang’s arrest, calling it a blatant violation of due process. Also, after Trang was finally allowed to have legal counsel last week, doctors made two visits to check on her health. Their exams revealed a small internal tumor and confirmed the presence of ovarian cysts. Trang has lost 22 lbs since her arrest last October. No new trial dates have been set.

Tran Quoc Khanh at trial, Source: Dan Tri

Tran Quoc Khanh was sentenced to six and a half years in prison for 22 video clips he posted on his Facebook page “Tieng Noi Cong Dan” (Citizens’ Voice). Earlier this year, Khanh had tried to run as an independent for a seat in the National Assembly but was eventually arrested. Before his trial on October 28, his lawyer, Le Dinh Viet, called the family to say that Khanh didn’t want an attorney. However, Khanh’s family confirmed this week that Khanh had sent them a message saying he wanted the family to contact the attorney.

Five journalists from the Facebook group Bao Sach (Clean Newspaper) have been sentenced to years in prison after a short two-day trial. They were accused of “abusing democratic freedoms” according to Article 331; their most controversial topic centered on the highly suspect death sentence of accused murderer Ho Duy Hai, who has always maintained his innocence. The defendants and their sentences are: Truong Chau Huu Danh (39), 4.5 years; Le The Thang (39), 3 years; Doan Kien Giang (36), 3 years; Nguyen Phuoc Trung Bao (39), 2 years; Nguyen Thanh Nha (41), 2 years.

Authorities have finished the investigation of long-time democracy activist Do Nam Trung after only three months of pre-trial detention, his family has reported. Trung’s family is still waiting to hear from his lawyers what the charges against him will be. In 2014, Trung was convicted and sentenced to 14 months in prison for his participation in protests against China. He was arrested again in July of this year, allegedly for spreading “anti-state propaganda.”

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

Nguyen Van Nghiem

  • Online commentator Nguyen Van Nghiem, arrested on November 5, 2019, and sentenced to six years in prison for conducting “propaganda against the state”
  • Luu Van Vinh and Nguyen Van Duc Do, arrested on November 6, 2016, for their alleged affiliations with a civil society group, and later sentenced to 15 and 11 years in prison, respectively
  • Online commentator Nguyen Van Lam, arrested November 6, 2020, and sentenced to nine years in prison for conducting “propaganda against the state”

International Advocacy

In a thoroughly detailed and scathing report, the UN-mandated Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) has determined that journalist Pham Doan Trang was denied her rights and placed outside the protection of the law. The report highlights how the government of Vietnam routinely ignored not only international conventions and UN covenants to which it has adopted but also its own laws. The remedy, WGAD asserts, is to unconditionally release Trang and compensate her appropriately.

The independent group of experts also recommends that Vietnam amend its Criminal Code, particularly the intentionally vague Articles 117 and 331, in order to be compliant with international norms. In a separate news release, WGAD also confirms that the UN Special Rapporteurs are in contact with the Vietnamese government regarding Doan Trang.

Truong Chau Huu Danh and Nguyen Phuoc Trung Bao of the Clean News group

The US State Department has released a statement raising concern about the conviction of the five members of the Clean News group. “We understand this group of journalists focused on investigative reporting on corruption, which, of course, is not a crime. … Press freedom is fundamental to transparency and accountable governance.  Authors, bloggers, and journalists often do their work at great risk, and we urge the Vietnamese government and other governments and citizens worldwide to ensure their protection.”


Facebook Bowed to Vietnam Government’s Censorship Demands, Peter Wade, Rolling Stone, October 25, 2021: “Mark Zuckerberg in 2020 bowed to demands from Vietnam’s government to censor posts with anti-state language rather than risk losing an estimated $1 billion in annual revenue from the country, The Washington Post reported on Monday. The decision to side with Vietnam’s government led to a significant increase in censorship of posts in the country, according to the Post, which spoke with three people familiar with the decision in addition to local activists and free speech advocates. Facebook’s own transparency report shows that the company more than doubled the number of posts it blocked in the country — from 834 in the first half of 2020 to more than 2,200 posts in the second half of the year.”

Facebook a ‘propaganda tool’ for Vietnam govt: activists, AFP, Bangkok Post, October 26, 2021: “Activist [Huynh Ngoc] Chenh said his account had been blocked twice, for a month each time, over a ‘violation of community standards’ but he was not told which posts were at fault. Two posts criticising the government’s pandemic response were also restricted from view, he said. Nguyen Tuan Khanh, a prominent musician and activist who has regularly criticised the government, told AFP many Vietnamese were ‘disappointed to see Facebook choose profit’ over values associated with the United States, ‘a country that chose democracy and freedom.’ … The activists’ comments come after Amnesty International warned in a report late last year that Facebook — along with Google — were fast becoming ‘human rights-free zones’ in Vietnam.”

Vietnam’s addiction to coal shows tough climate choices developing Asia faces on emissions pledges, Sen Nguyen, SCMP, October 25, 2021: “A recent report from non-profit financial think-tank Carbon Tracker showed that five Asian countries – China, India, Indonesia, Japan and Vietnam – are responsible for 80 per cent of the world’s planned coal-fired power stations. As more of the region’s financial institutions slow down or stop their investments in coal, environmentalists are urging wealthier nations to help poorer ones build up infrastructure and know-how for renewable energy generation. But a closer look at Vietnam’s economy and power generation sector reveals the tough choices developing countries face in reducing carbon emissions, as part of the 2015 Paris climate deal to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius.”

China’s ‘bullying’ in S. China Sea helped advance US-Vietnam ties, says former envoy, Radio Free Asia, October 25, 2021: “‘I carry in my shirt pocket all the time a little card. It was America’s asks on human rights, and there were names on that card,’ said Osius. ‘Every six months we would refresh that card with a top list of names, top list of requests. We were urging the release of certain people who had spoken out to express their own views, and I was frustrated at times because I would call for the release of somebody and then more people would be put in jail. There were activists who were beaten up, there were people who blogged and then were put in jail for expressing their views,’ he recalled. ‘I raised those issues all the time, and sometimes I was successful and some people were released, and sometimes I was not successful. So the record was mixed.’”

Vietnam land-filling on disputed reef in Spratlys, imagery shows, Radio Free Asia Staff, October 22, 2021: “Vietnam appears to be doing new construction and land-filling on a remote reef it occupies in the disputed South China Sea, commercial satellite imagery shows. The feature in question is Pearson Reef in the Spratly island chain. Vietnam has occupied the reef since 1978 and has previously reclaimed about six acres of land there. Planet Labs imagery taken Friday, when compared with a picture from March, shows new work has been underway at the southern tip of the northern part of the reef.”


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Pham Doan Trang

Take action this week for Pham Doan Trang, whose trial was suddenly postponed, by sharing this statement from The 88 Project and 27 international organizations calling for her unconditional release.

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