Vietnam Free Expression Newsletter No. 45/2021 – Week of November 15-21

Greetings from The 88 ProjectWe bring you news, analysis, and actions regarding human rights and civil society in Vietnam during the week of November 15-21. There will be no newsletter next week; we will return on December 5. Two Dong Tam prisoners are said to have serious health problems that need to be looked at immediately. A farmer and sometime poet was sentenced to seven years for his postings on Facebook. Another political prisoner went on a hunger strike after his call home was cut off. Police harassed a noodle seller ostensibly for imitating Salt Bae and making fun of the minister of public security. The crackdown against online speech is expected to increase as the pandemic eases in the south. The pandemic has led to a rise in bad consumer lending practices. Foreign companies operating in Vietnam will have a harder time collecting user data once a proposed law goes into effect. Vietnam’s prime minister becomes the first foreign guest of Japan’s newly elected prime minister. 


Political Prisoners

Slain community leader Le Dinh Kinh (R) and his wife Du Thi Thanh (L), Source: BBC Vietnamese

Serious alarms have been raised about the health of two Dong Tam prisoners. Duyen Nguyen, daughter-in-law of Le Dinh Cong, reported that Cong is very weak but no one knows what’s ailing him; the family is afraid “he could die anytime.” Meanwhile, Le Dinh Chuc, Cong’s younger brother, has apparently become delusional. He has not been eating for at least a week and stays up all night singing. Duyen said Chuc has been unaware of his surroundings and acts “like a crazy man.” Cong ,57, and Chuc, 41, are facing the death penalty on “murder” charges. Cong’s father, Le Dinh Kinh, 83, was shot point blank by police during the raid on Dong Tam on January 9, 2020. No one has been charged for Kinh’s extrajudicial killing.

Nguyen Tri Gioan, 42, was sentenced by a court in Khanh Hoa Province to seven years in prison for conducting “anti-state propaganda.” An aquaculture farmer, Gioan was accused of posting six poems and images that allegedly “defame the communist leadership” on his Facebook account since 2008. He was arrested in January of this year. His lawyer, Nguyen Van Mieng, said he was notified only three days before the trial and thus could not be there on November 15 to represent his client.

Phan Kim Khanh

Phan Kim Khanh’s sister, Trang Phan, said her brother was able to call the family after getting cut off during his last call two weeks ago. When Khanh’s mother asked why the call was cut off, Khanh said prison officials were afraid certain information could be made public. However, Khanh couldn’t be more specific for fear of getting cut off again. He did report that he had been on a 10-day hunger strike and had just resumed eating. Khanh did not say what prompted the hunger strike.

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

Tran Huynh Duy Thuc and Nguyen Chi Vung

  • Blogger and entrepreneur Tran Huynh Duy Thuc, birthday November 29, currently serving 16 years in prison on charges of “subversion”
  • An Dan Dai Dao Buddhists Nguyen DinhNguyen Thai BinhPhan Thanh Y, and Tu Thien Luong, arrested on November 23, 2012, and sentenced to between 12 and 16 years in prison each for “subversion”
  • Nguyen Dinh Khue Vo Thuong Trung, Ngo Xuan Thanh, and Doan Viet Hoan, tried on November 26, 2019, and sentenced to between two years and four months and three years in prison each for “disrupting security”
  • Online commentator Nguyen Chi Vung, tried on November 26, 2019, and sentenced to six years in prison for conducting “anti-state propaganda”
  • Entrepreneur and democracy activist Pham Van Diep, tried on November 26, 2019, and sentenced to nine years in prison for conducting “anti-state propaganda”

Huynh Van Dep and Vu Quang Thuan
  • Blogger and former RFA freelancer Nguyen Van Hoa, tried on November 27, 2017, and sentenced to seven years in prison after filming protests
  • Hoa Hao Buddhist activist Tran Thanh Giang, tried on November 27, 2019, and sentenced to eight years in prison for conducting “anti-state propaganda”
  • Sibling online commentators Huynh Thi To Nga and Huynh Minh Tam, tried on November 28, 2019, sentenced to five and nine years in prison respectively
  • Civil society activist Le Quy Loc, birthday December 2, serving five years in prison on charges of “disrupting security”
  • Khmer Krom farmers Tien DamTien NamThi Bich, and Huynh Van Dep, tried on December 3, 2020, and sentenced to between nine months and two years in prison each for “resisting officers in performance of their official duties”; Thi Bich received a one year probation sentence
  • Vu Quang Thuan, member of the National Movement to Revive Vietnam, birthday December 5, currently serving eight years in prison for conducting “anti-state propaganda”


Vietnam police chief vows crackdown on online ‘crime’, Anna Vu, RFA, November 15, 2021: “The police chief of southern Vietnam’s Can Tho City is vowing a crackdown on online ‘crime,’ including the posting on social media of criticism of the country’s one-party communist state, according to state media reports on Monday. Maj. Gen. Nguyen Van Thuan, director general of the Can Tho City Police, said that when pandemic restrictions begin to lift, authorities will need to guard against what he called ‘sabotage activities by hostile and reactionary forces.’ … Limits on permissible online speech in Vietnam are vague, though, and red lines can easily be crossed, a Can Tho resident who was released from prison in June after serving an 18-month jail term for his postings told RFA’s Vietnamese Service on Monday.”

Big Tech warns Vietnam data rules risk ‘damage’ to digital economy, Lien Hoang, Nikkei, November 17, 2021: “But unlike many governments, Hanoi takes a centralized approach to sensitive data, which it defines much more broadly. Any data related to health, finances, politics, location, life and social relationships can be considered sensitive under the proposed rules. This ‘very extensive’ view of what constitutes sensitive data is critical, says Graham Greenleaf, professor at the University of South Wales in Sydney, because it means companies will have to register in order to process just about any data they wish to collect. The powerful Ministry of Public Security, which also enforces the controversial cyberlaw, will handle registrations.”

Vietnam lenders adopt loan shark tactics, Govi Snell, Southeast Asia Globe, November 18, 2021: “Although a burgeoning consumer finance industry has taken root in Vietnam, weak regulation has allowed many financial institutions to harass borrowers, pushing the bounds of legality. Some legal lenders mirror loan sharks: disturbing borrowers’ relatives, posting smear photos online and going to borrowers’ houses to pressure them to pay off their loans. The economic impact of Covid-19 has left many financially drained in Vietnam and issues surrounding bad debt have been exacerbated. During the first quarter of 2020, local banks reported a 45% increase in past-due loans. … From July to September, Vietnam’s gross domestic product shrunk by 6.17%, the steepest decline on record since the General Statistics Office began reporting quarterly growth rates in 2000. A survey taken in September found 62% of 69,132 participants lost their jobs because of Covid-19.”

Vietnam PM to visit Japan next week, 1st leader Kishida to host, Kyodo News, November 19, 2021: “Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh will visit Japan next week, becoming the first foreign leader Prime Minister Fumio Kishida will host since taking office last month, the Japanese government said Friday. ‘Vietnam is a partner to realize a free and open Indo-Pacific. We expect to further strengthen Japan-Vietnam relations and build personal trust between the leaders,’ Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said at a press conference. The four-day visit will start Monday. In September, the two countries signed an agreement allowing the export of Japanese-made defense equipment and technology to Vietnam amid China’s growing assertiveness in regional waters.”

Vietnam Needs to Bolster Its ‘Soft Balancing’ Against China, Pham Ngoc Minh Trang, The Diplomat, November 19, 2021: “There are other options to manage and settle a maritime dispute besides just talking about it that Hanoi should take into account. Recently, small states have been more inclined to meticulously employ legal procedures provided in international law to protect their interests from bigger states. Timor-Leste initiated a compulsory conciliation against Australia to settle their maritime boundary dispute. Mauritius requested an advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice concerning the U.K.’s continued administration of the Chagos Archipelago, over which Mauritius claims sovereignty. Ukraine brought Russia before several tribunals under the UNCLOS regime to secure their maritime interests after the annexation of Crimea (in one case concerning the detention of three Ukrainian naval vessels, and a case concerning coastal states’ rights in the Black Sea, Sea of Azov, and Kerch Strait). And, of course, the Philippines filed an arbitration case against China’s South China Sea claims and actions, which resulted in the 2016 award heavily in Manila’s favour.”


Thu Do and her children

Watch and share this statement from Trinh Ba Phuong’s wife, Thu Do, in which she describes the difficulties of supporting her family after Phuong’s arrest and also calls for international support to release him from prison. She said: “I have never regretted marrying Phuong. In fact, I am very proud of him because he is a wonderful husband, a disciplined father who gives his wife and children whatever best he can. He is also a very courageous man, unafraid to speak out against social injustice.” Phuong, a land rights activist, was originally scheduled to be tried in early November, but the trial was postponed and has yet to be rescheduled.

© 2021 The 88 Project