Vietnam Free Expression Newsletter No. 44/2021 – Week of November 8-14

Greetings from The 88 ProjectWe bring you news, analysis, and actions regarding human rights and civil society in Vietnam during the week of November 8-14. A political prisoner in pre-trial detention was allowed to see a lawyer before being charged, a departure from past practice. A prisoner’s wife pleads directly to UN organizations on behalf of her husband. A deeply personal interview with author-journalist Pham Doan Trang, well worth a watch. An illuminating analysis of the UN WGAD’s opinion on Trang’s case by a prominent HR lawyer. WGAD issued its opinion on yet another Vietnamese prisoner. The annual US-Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue took place, and no one was arrested afterward, as happened last year.


Political Prisoners

Do Nam Trung

Do Nam Trung was allowed to see his lawyer on November 11. According to lawyer Ha Huy Son, Trung’s health is stable. Since his arrest, Trung has been neither physically abused nor pressured to confess. He has lost about 2kg and weighs around 70kg. Trung has received money that his family sent but not any other items. He was arrested in July and accused of “anti-state propaganda,” but has not yet been charged.

Le Trong Hung

Do Le Na, the wife of jailed journalist Le Trong Hung, has sent a letter to several UN Human Rights organizations seeking help to get her husband released. Hung tried to run as an independent for a seat on the National Assembly and was arrested in March. Na told RFA “I would also like people living in Vietnam—and especially the families of detainees who don’t dare to speak up—to know that it is everyone’s right to speak out against injustice, and that we shouldn’t be afraid of [the government] if we are in the right.”

Journalist Pham Doan Trang shared with The 88 Project some of her personal stories shortly after the Liberal Publishing House, which she co-founded, was suppressed by the government in October 2019. Trang was arrested about a year later and had no access to a lawyer until last month. Watch her video interview here. 

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

Thich Nhat Hue and Phan Cong Hai

  • Buddhist Thich Nhat Hue, arrested November 16, 2016, and sentenced to eight years in prison for “subversion”
  • Montagnard Christian A Quyn, arrested November 18, 2013, and sentenced to nine years in prison for “undermining the unity policy”
  • Blogger Phan Cong Hai, arrested November 19, 2019, and sentenced to five years in prison for conducting “propaganda against the state”
  • Journalist Pham Chi Dung, arrested November 21, 2019, and sentenced to 15 years in prison for conducting “propaganda against the state”

International Advocacy

Pham Doan Trang

Human Rights Watch urged the US to press Vietnam to release political prisoners at their annual dialogue to discuss human rights issues. “The US should place human rights concerns at the center of all its engagements with Vietnam, instead of relegating it to just one dialogue per year,” Human Rights Watch said, noting that journalist Pham Doan Trang was arrested just hours after the conclusion of last year’s dialogue.

Human Rights lawyer Kurtuluş Baştimar has filed a petition to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) on behalf of journalist Pham Doan Trang. He spoke with RFA and broke down the case against Vietnam’s government, explaining what should happen next.

Nguyen Nang Tinh

The UN WGAD has issued another opinion on the arrest and detention of Nguyen Nang Tinh, which it also considered a violation of international norms. “The present case is one of many cases brought before the Working Group in recent years concerning arbitrary detention in Viet Nam. These cases follow a familiar pattern [that] indicates a systemic problem with arbitrary detention in Viet Nam which, if it continues, may amount to a serious violation of international law.” November 15 marks two years since Tinh, a music teacher, was sentenced to 11 years in prison on charges of conducting “anti-state propaganda.”


Facebook unblocks ‘#saltbae’ after Vietnamese minister’s golden steak, James Pearson, Reuters, November 9, 2021: “Vietnam routinely asks social media companies to censor content it deems to be ‘anti-state’. Last year, Vietnam threatened to shut down Facebook in the country if it did not remove more local political content from its platform. Facebook declined to comment on whether the Vietnamese government had requested that the video be removed. Vietnam operates one of the largest and most sophisticated online influence networks in Southeast Asia. Earlier this year, Facebook said it had removed some groups identified by Reuters as being part of a government influence operation for ‘coordinating attempts to mass-report content’.”

U.S.-Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue, U.S. Department of State, November 9, 2021: “The Dialogue featured discussions on a wide range of human rights issues, including freedom of expression, freedom of religion and belief, labor rights, rule of law and legal reform, multilateral cooperation on human rights, and individual cases of concern. The Dialogue also covered the human rights of persons in vulnerable situations, such as members of ethnic minority groups, LGBTQI+ persons, and persons with disabilities. The United States’ commitment to advancing respect for human rights is foundational to our nation and an essential element of our foreign policy. Advancing and protecting respect for human rights in Vietnam remains a priority for the Biden-Harris Administration and the U.S.-Vietnam relationship.”

ASEAN’s last hope for regional security relevance, Mark Valencia, Asia Times, November 5, 2021: “If ASEAN and China could agree on a formal COC, it could provide a shaky status quo and keep the US and its allies at political arm’s length. But then the issue would become, what happens when a country violates the COC? This in turn depends in part on the parties to it.  Can, should, would the US, Japan and Australia be allowed to join? If so, that would make its implementation subject to the ebb and flow of the US-China contest. The core of the problem is that ASEAN has tried to face China collectively and unanimously. But the burgeoning US-China struggle for domination of the region is tearing the region and ASEAN apart. Its solidarity is fragile and fleeting. So what can be done?”

The Official’s Gold-Flecked Steak And The Underlying Problems Of Vietnam, Jason Nguyen, The Vietnamese, November 12, 2021: “At the same time, Vietnam does not have an independent media environment that carries out investigations into the government’s wrongdoings and holds these corrupt officials accountable for their alleged misconduct. The public in Vietnam only learns about these issues via social media and Vietnamese language services of non-governmental newspapers such as Radio Free Asia (RFA) and BBC. Meanwhile, state-owned media and government mouthpieces remain silent about such issues, as observed by The Vietnamese Magazine. Nonetheless, according to public opinion, the exposed luxurious dinner is just the tiny tip of a giant hidden iceberg.”


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. Please also share her video interview. Trang has been detained for over a year, and her trial, which was scheduled for early November, was suddenly postponed; it has not yet been rescheduled.
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