Vietnam Free Expression Newsletter No. 44/2020 – Week of November 2-8

Greetings from The 88 Project! We bring you news, analysis, and actions regarding human rights and civil society in Vietnam during the week of November 2-8. After months of detention, Tran Duc Thach has been permitted to meet with his lawyer; meanwhile, three other high-profile political prisoners still have not. There is a report that Le Dinh Cong, a son of Le Dinh Kinh and a defendant in the Dong Tam case, may be on a hunger strike. The EU Ambassador to Vietnam has shown support for detained writer Pham Doan Trang. In the news and analysis section, read analysis on Vietnam-US and Vietnam-India relations. In case you missed it, read our new report documenting cases of torture and inhumane treatment of Vietnamese political prisoners in 2018-2019. And take action in support of Pham Doan Trang and her vision.


Political Prisoners

More than six months after his arrest, writer Tran Duc Thach has finally been allowed to meet with his lawyer, even though his investigation period has previously ended. His lawyer, Ha Huy Son, was barred from copying the indictment against Thach. Thach is suffering from high blood pressure, ulcerative colitis, and gout while in prison. A member of the Brotherhood for Democracy, he was arrested on April 24, 2020, and charged under Article 109 of the 2015 Criminal Code for subversion.

Lawyers for jailed journalists Pham Chi DungNguyen Tuong Thuy, and Le Huu Minh Tuan say they have finally received paperwork that allows them to start working on the cases on behalf of their clients, after the Procuracy office finished its investigation. Attorney Nguyen Van Mieng reported that since their arrests, the three men have not yet been allowed to talk to a lawyer. He also said the men were allowed to receive supplies sent by their families on November 6, but he was not able to see them due to Covid-19 restrictions.

It has been one month since journalist Pham Doan Trang’s arrest. The only thing we know is her family has visited the detention center several times to bring her some supplies but could only see her signature on the receipt for the supplies.

The wife of Le Dinh Uy, a defendant in the Dong Tam casereported on her Facebook page that she went to the detention center on November 1 to put more spending money into the accounts of her husband, his brother Le Dinh Doanh, and their father, Le Dinh Cong. She noticed that the amount in her father-in-law’s account had not decreased since last month, right after he appealed his sentence. When she inquired about it, she was told that perhaps he had not been using the money because he’d been fasting. She is worried that he has gone on a hunger strike, but there is no way to confirm this.

This week, we remember the arrest anniversaries of the following political prisoners:

  • Facebooker Nguyen Van Nghiem, arrested November 5, 2019, and later sentenced to six years in prison

Luu Van Vinh (L) and co-defendants at trial on October 5, Source: AFP
Activists at Risk
Scottish police invited two Vietnamese security officers from Vietnam to help in their efforts to combat human trafficking. This is causing great concern among Vietnamese asylum seekers in Scotland. Many have been contacted by the two officers; some are afraid of being kidnapped and taken back to Vietnam. One person who was called by those officers said he’d escaped Vietnam after being beaten and jailed for participating in protests there, leaving behind his wife and child. It is well known that Vietnam has kidnapped asylum seekers abroad before. In January 2019 blogger Truong Duy Nhat was “disappeared” while in Bangkok seeking asylum. He’s currently serving a 10-year sentence. In 2017, Vietnamese undercover police kidnapped a high-profile official applying for asylum in Berlin; he was flown back to Vietnam via Bratislava, Slovakia, where Minister of Public Security General To Lam was also visiting.
International Advocacy

EU Ambassador to Vietnam, Giorgio Aliberti, tweeted that he raised the case of jailed journalist Pham Doan Trang with other ambassadors of EU member states and “like-minded countries.” In a separate tweet the ambassador said he had an “interesting meeting” with Vu Chien Thang, Vietnam’s Chairman of the Committee for Religious Affairs, to discuss religious freedom.


Vietnam’s Virtual Charm Offensive,  Nguyen Phuong Linh and Nguyen Khac Giang, The Diplomat Magazine, November 2020: “Upon passing the ASEAN chairmanship to Vietnam, Sihasak Phuangketkeow, a Thai senior diplomat, hoped Vietnam could address three key issues: the Rohingya crisis, the acceleration of negotiations on the South China Sea Code of Conduct (CoC), and generating a clearer outlook for the Indo-Pacific, as a response to fast changing environment of great power competition between the U.S. and China in the region. Up to now, Hanoi seems to have lacked either interest or capability to adequately handle all three. Human rights have never been an issue receiving much attention from the ASEAN members in their summits unless the consequences affect them directly. The pandemic, which has showed the advantage some authoritarian regimes have in monitoring people and restricting movement, raises concerns that it might further constrain freedoms and fundamental rights in some countries. Vietnam – as a one-party state – has never been seen as a leader in human rights issues.”

Vietnam: Citizens Must Pay Trillions Of Dong For The Party Congress, Regardless Of Party Membership, Will Nguyen, The Vietnamese, October 29, 2020: “Therefore, if I use the figure for Lang Son (85 billion dong) as the average for each province, then I can extrapolate that the total costs for organizing Party congresses in all 64 cities and provinces is nearly 5.5 trillion dong, not including the central Party organizations and the National Party Congress. And this is a conservative estimate. According to the data Luat Khoa Magazine has gathered in previously articles, this amount is enough to keep the Government Inspectorate and the Government’s Committee for Ethnic Minority Affairs operating for more than 25 years, with enough left over to fund the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development—one of Vietnam’s pivotal ministries—for up to a year (the 2020 estimate is 5.3 trillion dong).”

Southeast Asia eyes US democracy stress test, Nile Bowie, Asia Times, November 5, 2020: “Southeast Asian nations have been impacted in various ways under Trump, with countries like Vietnam benefiting from his trade war against China as a result of supply chain diversification, while other trade-geared nations like Singapore were pushed toward the brink of recession in part as a disruptive consequence of unilateral American tariffs. A new Cold War atmosphere has taken hold partly by virtue of Trump becoming the first US president to comprehensively challenge China, which has raised pressure on ASEAN members to choose sides between the two superpowers and take firmer stances on issues of concern, stoking fears of the region being split into rival US and China-aligned blocs. ‘If Biden wins, Southeast Asian countries will be looking for a president that is more engaged with multilateralism and less transactional. But they will not welcome a strong human rights and democracy agenda, and will be very apprehensive about the intensification of Sino-US rivalry,’ said ISEAS’ Storey.”

Vietnam’s rising stature: Chinese palpable nervousness, SD Pradhan, The Times of India, November 4, 2020: “The year 2020 has witnessed substantial raise in the Vietnamese stature in the region and also at the international platform. Vietnam witnessed high level visits recently. Japanese PM Suga’s first foreign visit after taking over was to Vietnam. His predecessor Abe also made his first foreign trip to Vietnam. Recently US Secretary of State Pompeo wrapped up his South East Asian tour in Vietnam.”

Three views on the US election, Andrew Yeo, Global Counsel, November 6, 2020: “An emerging arena of strategic competition is the Mekong delta, which the Trump administration recognised by launching the Mekong-US Initiative. Pompeo’s recent trip to Vietnam also discussed Chinese development activities along the Mekong River which has affected the access of Vietnamese to freshwater. While it is unclear how a Biden administration plans to engage with the region, a narrow win scenario means domestic priorities will likely take precedent. Biden is also unlikely to fundamentally differ from Trump on China, leaving pragmatic countries in the region adopting a stance that is more wait-and-see than enthusiastic.”


Our new report focuses on incidents of torture and other inhumane treatment of political prisoners by the Vietnamese government in 2018-2019. We have documented 19 cases of possible torture of Vietnamese political prisoners during that period. In addition to documented cases of torture, we describe cases in which political prisoners are subject to prolonged incommunicado pre-trial detention, denial of legal representation, unfair trials, solitary confinement, and other types of inhumane treatment.


Pham Doan Trang and her books in Vietnam. Source: Pham Doan Trang Facebook

We have added a post to the “Take Action” section of our website where you can find relevant actions in support of Pham Doan Trang. We will update the post as more actions become available.
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