Vietnam Free Expression Newsletter No. 43/2021 – Week of November 1-7

Greetings from The 88 Project. We bring you news, analysis, and actions regarding human rights and civil society in Vietnam during the week of October 31 – November 6. A journalist at a state-run newspaper was tried for his Facebook posts, a former police captain was jailed and allegedly tortured for his Youtube videos; both cases involve exposing corruption by government officials. Political prisoners continue to be denied visits by families and they are not allowed to receive reading materials such as the Bible. One warned of imminent danger to himself before his phone call was cut off. Another said interrogators threatened to arrest his wife. The 88 Project submitted its midterm UPR assessment of Vietnam to the UN. A campaign to send letters to jailed journalist Pham Doan Trang to cheer her up is underway. Vietnam is urged to investigate and stop the trafficking of women and girls to Saudi Arabia. The minister of security police in charge of a 2016 kidnapping in Berlin was filmed splurging on thousand-dollar gold-leafed steak while in the UK for COP26, causing an uproar in COVID-stricken 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

Le Trong Hung

Le Trong Hung’s wife, Tu Dinh Huong, said that on October 26 her husband met his lawyer for the first time since his arrest in late March. He asked for a copy of the Bible and 50 copies of Vietnam’s Constitution to give to prison guards and officials. On October 29, the visually-impaired woman brought the books to the detention center, but the guard at the front desk refused to let her see her husband or give him the books, so she had to take them home.

Phan Bui Bao Thy

On October 29 Phan Bui Bao Thy, a former journalist for the state-run online magazine Giáo Dục và Thời Đại (Education and the Times), was put on trial with two co-defendants — Nguyen Huy and Le Anh Dung. They are accused of setting up several Facebook pages for the purpose of smearing the reputation of the police chief of Quang Tri Province by posting 79 articles exposing his supposed wrongdoings. The three men were initially charged with “abusing democratic freedoms” under Article 331, but after two days of hearing, the court has asked the prosecutors to revise the charges and add “libel” to the case. The trial therefore has been suspended.

Hoang Duc Binh’s mother, Pham Thi Van, reported that she was able to talk to her son for a second time in October and she said that Binh was in good spirits. It had been over a year since she last saw Binh, partly because of Covid, partly because Binh always refuses to wear a prison uniform when the family visits, insisting that he’s wrongly imprisoned. He said for the past six months he only ate what the family sent him, and not prison food. Arrested in 2017, environmental and labor rights activist Binh was sentenced to 14 years under Articles 330 and 331 of the Criminal Code.

Le Chi Thanh

Former police captain Le Chi Thanh, who was arrested in April 2021 for posting videos of police abuse on Youtube, has allegedly been severely tortured in prison. His mother claims that her son had been beaten and “hung by his arms and legs for seven days in a pit full of feces.” It is not known from whom she got this information. Before 2020, Thanh had been honored as a model police officer. His videos exposing corruption and abuse by police and prison guards have since been removed from Youtube.

Thu Do, the wife of land rights activist Trinh Ba Phuong, said his lawyer told her that Phuong’s health has stabilized after complaining earlier of having pain in his eyes. Phuong said he lost 10kg and weighed only 59kg when he was put in a mental institution for a month in March. Phuong is reported to be strong mentally. He told the lawyer that at one point investigators tried to pressure him by telling him that if he did not plead guilty they would arrest his wife as well. It is not known when his trial will take place.

Phan Kim Khanh

Jailed blogger Phan Kim Khanh, former member of the US-sponsored Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative, had his call with his family cut off after he warned that if they don’t hear from him within 15 days then “something bad will have happened.” Khanh is serving a six-year sentence for “anti-state” propaganda. In 2020 the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention called Khanh’s imprisonment “a violation of international law.”

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

Kham (left) and Quyen at trial, Source: Vietnam News Agency 

  • Brotherhood for Democracy member Nguyen Van Vien, Australian retiree Chau Van Kham, and democracy activist Tran Van Quyen, tried together on November 11, 2019, and sentenced to between ten and 12 years in prison each on charges of “terrorism to oppose the people’s government”
  • Democracy activists Nguyen Quoc Hoan and Tu Cong Nghia, arrested November 2016, and sentenced to 13 and ten years in prison, respectively, on charges of conducting “propaganda against the state” and “subversion”

International Advocacy

The UN Special Rapporteurs on Human Trafficking has released an urgent statement calling on Vietnam and Saudi Arabia to immediately investigate human rights abuses against migrant workers, particularly women and girls, citing “truly alarming allegations” of physical mistreatment and illegal transport of minors.


Vietnamese upset over video of Salt Bae feeding gold-leaf steak to security minister, ABCNews. November 4, 2021: “Minister of Public Security To Lam — whose agency deals with the monitoring of dissent and surveillance of activists in the authoritarian state — was seen tucking into the hunk of meat at Nusr-Et Steakhouse in the upper class west London suburb of Knightsbridge. Nusr-Et, named after Turkish chef Nusret Gokce — known to his nearly 40 million Instagram followers as Salt Bae — serves up steaks wrapped in edible 24-carat gold leaf, reportedly costing more than $1,000 each.”

Oxford college to change its name after £155m donation, Damien Gayle, The Guardian, November 3, 2021: “A University of Oxford college is to change its name to honour Vietnam’s richest woman after she offered it a £155m donation. Linacre College says it will ask the privy council for permission to change its name to Thao College after signing a memorandum of understanding over the money with Sovico Group, represented by its chair, Nguyen Thi Phuong Thao. The graduate college, founded in 1962, is named after the Renaissance humanist, medical scientist and classicist Thomas Linacre.”

Vietnam Seeks Information From Iran About Seized Oil Tanker, Hau Dinh, The Diplomat, November 5, 2021: “Vietnam was seeking more information Thursday about a Vietnamese oil tanker that was seized at gunpoint last month by Iranian soldiers in the Gulf of Oman, while vowing to ensure the safety and humane treatment of the ship’s crew members. Iran’s powerful paramilitary Revolutionary Guard troops on October 24 took control of the MV Sothys, a vessel that analysts suspect of trying to transfer sanctioned Iranian crude oil to Asia. U.S. forces had monitored the seizure but ultimately didn’t take action as the vessel sailed into Iranian waters.”

9 cities that could be underwater by 2030, Ed Cunningham, Timeout, November 3, 2021: “Climate Central’s map shows that the areas most at risk in Ho Chi Minh City are its eastern districts – particularly the flat, heavily built-up marshland of Thủ Thiêm. But it also looks like the city will be increasingly threatened along the Mekong Delta. While the centre of Ho Chi Minh City itself is unlikely to find itself underwater by 2030, it will almost certainly be more vulnerable to flooding and tropical storms.”

COP26: ADB announces 665 million USD programme to aid green recovery in ASEAN, VNA, November 2, 2021: “Four partners have collectively pledged 665 million USD toward a platform managed by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) that aims to mobilise an additional 7 billion USD for low-carbon and climate-resilient infrastructure projects in Southeast Asia and accelerate the region’s recovery from COVID-19. The funding, which was announced at the 26th Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow, the UK, includes 110 million GBP (151 million USD) from the UK Government, 132 million EUR (155 million USD) from Italian state lender Cassa Depositi e Prestiti (CDP), 50 million EUR from the European Union (EU), and 300 million USD from the Green Climate Fund.”


As part of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process, The 88 Project, together with the University of Chicago’s Global Human Rights Clinic (GHRC), has submitted to the UN Human Rights Council its midterm review on Vietnam. You can read our full report, based on first-hand accounts and interviews, here.


Pham Doan Trang. Credit: Jin Jin 

Take action this week with The 88 Project, The Vietnamese Magazine, and Luat Khoa Magazine by sending a note of support to jailed journalist Pham Doan Trang ahead of her impending trial. Trang has been detained for over a year, and her trial, which was scheduled for last week, was suddenly postponed; it has not yet been rescheduled. Learn more about Trang, her career, and her inspirations via the illustrated journey (excerpt above) on The Vietnamese’s website.

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