Vietnam Free Expression Newsletter No. 46/2023 – Week of Dec. 6-12

Greetings from Project88. We bring you news, analysis, and actions regarding human rights and civil society in Vietnam during the week of Dec. 6-12.

“As key leaders of Vietnam’s climate change movement remain behind bars and JETP donors fail to condition the disbursement of funding on civil society participation, there is nobody left to hold the government to account for breaking its climate promises,” said 88 Project’s Swanton.
Major international financing deal to get Vietnam off coal moves ahead while it locks up climate defenders


Two former political prisoners have been jailed for a second time. An NGO leader claims he was beaten in prison. A human rights defender was allegedly forced to take medication against her will. There have been negative reactions from human rights groups to Vietnam receiving JETP funding. And much more.


Le Minh The

On Dec. 6, former political prisoner Le Minh The was convicted a second time for “abusing democratic freedoms” under Article 331 by a court in Can Tho Province. Arrested in February, Le Minh The is accused of once again using social media to “discredit the policies of the party and state” and was given a 30-month sentence. The state-run Phap Luat (The Law) website did not provide examples of the content that it says “infringed upon the interests of the state.”

Le Minh The’s family was notified only a few days before the trial took place. His wife was allowed to attend the trial but had to watch the proceedings via CCTV in an adjacent room. According to his daughter, The refused to get a lawyer because he believes he’s done nothing wrong. In 2020, The was released after serving a two-year sentence on similar charges. His sister Le Thi Binh was also sentenced to two years in prison for similar violations in 2020 and was released in November 2022. RSF condemned the conviction, saying: “Le Minh The was only serving the public interest by commenting on his country’s environmental and international issues, and should never have been detained, let alone sent back behind bars.”

Nguyen Hoang Nam

Former political prisoner Nguyen Hoang Nam was sentenced to eight years in prison by a court in An Giang Province on Dec. 11. Nam is charged with spreading “anti-state propaganda.” His wife, Lam Thi Yen Trinh, told RFA the family had hired a lawyer to represent him at trial, but the lawyer didn’t attend the trial because he was not allowed to by the head of the law firm.  A Hoa Hao Buddhist not associated with the state-sanctioned Vietnam Buddhist Sangha, Nam was previously convicted in 2018 and sentenced to four years in prison for “disturbing public order.”

Dang Dinh Bach

Dang Dinh Bach’s wife, Tran Phuong Thao, told Project88 he had received a letter from the Civil Services Bureau of Hoang Mai District in Hanoi requesting him to pay back taxes he allegedly owes in the amount of 1.38 billion dong ($57,000). Bach wrote a letter in response stating that he did not evade paying taxes; that he disagrees with the charges; and that the court had violated trial procedures. He added that because he’s serving a criminal sentence he cannot fulfill any civil obligations, that his family has no obligation to pay the alleged owed taxes, and that he opposes any form of confiscation of property. Thao said the visit on Nov. 21 was cut short when Bach began to tell her about the physical abuse he was receiving and that a guard named Nguyen Doan Anh kicked him in the back of the neck, causing a 7 cm (3in.) long bruise. Five guards immediately grabbed Bach and dragged him from the visiting room as he loudly protested. Some of their names and badge numbers he listed to his wife are: Phạm Văn Luyến (596-846); Trần Ngọc Hải (086-688); Nguyễn Văn Hiệu, badge number unknown; one female guard without a badge and one guard who stood guard by the door.

Democracy activist Tran Van Bang’s sister, Tran Thi Biet, visited him and told Project88 on Dec. 7 that Bang has been moved from Bo La Prison (Binh Duong Province) to Xuyen Moc Prison in Ba Ria Province. She added that he’s now staying in a two-person cell, which is much more comfortable than his previous cell. Bang is in stable health and in good spirits, and he told his sister not to worry about him because everything that happens is God’s will.

Nguyen Thuy Hanh

Human rights activist Nguyen Thuy Hanh’s family told Project88 after their latest visit that Hanh was transferred from the Van Hoa temporary detention center to the Central Psychiatric Hospital, both in Hanoi on April 27, 2022, and has been kept there since. She’s given medication twice a day. Any patient who refuses to take the medication is allegedly tied up and forced to do so, as they did with Hanh. In October of this year, her condition worsened and she could not sleep and suffered from prolonged periods of stress. Since being prescribed a new medication, she has been able to sleep better. Each room is about 15 square meters and holds seven patients, most of whom have committed serious crimes, such as killing a spouse or child. The family is allowed one visit a month. They are separated by a glass window and must talk by phone. A bit of bittersweet news: Hanh has become a grandmother; her daughter-in-law delivered twin boys three weeks ago.

Le Quy Loc, who is under supervised release in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC), was summoned by Quang Ngai police on Dec. 7 and fined 2.5 million dong for not sending them his monthly report. Loc told them that under the conditions of his release, he’s only responsible for reporting to the supervisor in District 8, HCMC. Loc said he had never received any official notice telling him he must report to Quang Ngai police.

Political prisoner Nguyen Ngoc Anh’s wife, Nguyen Thi Chau, continues to be “invited” by Ben Tre provincial police in Binh Dai County to “receive guidance on fire prevention for small businesses and other related matters.” The latest “invitation” was on Dec. 8, with the previous one delivered on Dec. 4. Chau told the police to stop sending her these invitations because it causes her stress and she would not comply the next time.

Former political prisoner Pham Thanh Nghien, who emigrated to the United States with her husband earlier this year, reported that HCMC Police have surrounded their former neighborhood, Loc Hung Vegetable Garden in Binh Thanh District, which for years has been a contentious flashpoint against land-grabbing by the authorities. Since Dec. 6, work trucks have been bringing dirt, sand and other construction material to the site. Ambulances, fire trucks and frequency-jamming vehicles have been stationed in two schools near the area. All roads going in and out are monitored and controlled by police. Several people who live right outside Loc Hung have also been ordered not to leave their homes.

International Advocacy

NGOs at COP28 demand Vietnam free climate advocates before it gets energy funding. Mongabay; 2023-12-08: “And it’s absolutely shocking that the EU, the U.S. and other big donors … are going ahead with this investment without addressing the critical concerns of civil society.”

Secretary Antony J. Blinken and Human Rights Leaders Before Their Meeting. U.S. Dept of State; 2023-12-07: “President Biden has made promoting and defending human rights a priority for our foreign policy, and it’s a priority for this department. It’s a priority in every bureau of this department, in every part of the world.  Our efforts are especially important as the universality of human rights is under severe challenge and rights are being violated in far too many places.

Findings by Civicus Monitor on the state of civil space worldwide in 2023: Concerningly in Asia, the Closed category has grown this year from seven to eight countries. Afghanistan, China, Hong Kong, Laos, Myanmar, North Korea and Vietnam remain in this category, and Bangladesh has now joined them.


Major international financing deal to get Vietnam off coal moves ahead while it locks up climate defenders. CNN; 2023-12-11: Tran Phuong Thao worries for the health of her husband as she takes care of their 2-year-old son who was only two weeks old when the environmental lawyer was detained for tax evasion in 2021. Weak from a hunger strike, Danh Dinh Bach is serving a 5-year sentence on charges he and his supporters believe were designed to silence his calls for stronger action from Vietnam’s Communist leaders on climate change.

Diplomatic cables reveal UK fears over $15B Vietnam coal deal. Politico; 2023-12-08: The diplomats complained that Vietnam’s environment ministry —  which led talks with the international donor group — was “politically weak,” and that the final deal did not “reflect the limited engagement and buy-in” from the “sceptical” energy, finance and planning ministries in Hanoi. Those other ministries had engaged in “persistent obstructionism” and “foot dragging,” the document said, with “blockages and bureaucracy” on the Vietnamese side hindering the work.

Vietnam expels Khmer Krom monk for being ‘uncooperative’. RFA Vietnamese and RFA Khmer; 2023-12-03: The Khmer Kampuchea Krom Federation said the Nov. 22 “task force” visit cited in the state media report was actually a planned attack on Dai Tho Pagoda by more than 50 members of the VBS. Three monks were injured in the altercation. The advocacy group said the Dec. 3 order to expel Ra is the Vietnamese state’s way of punishing the monk for defending the pagoda.

Khmer Krom Buddhists say they face persecution at Vietnam pagoda. RFA; 2023-12-05: “When the abbot took out his phone, one of the officials hit the phone with his elbow, then a representative of the State government kicked the phone outside allowing plainclothes police to take it away. The abbot fell and when they kicked the phone they hit the abbot’s finger, making it bleed. His knee was scratched when he fell so the abbot brought the government people into the main hall to make them apologize according to old customs.” According to a video provided by locals at the time, monks holding sticks protected the inside of the temple yard while outside people in civilian clothes yelled, cursed and finally kicked down the temple door.

China’s Xi visits Vietnam after Biden, seeks ‘shared future’ with Hanoi. Reuters; 2023-12-12: China’s President Xi Jinping starts a two-day visit to Vietnam on Tuesday to build a “community with shared future”, three months after U.S. President Joe Biden travelled to Hanoi as the major powers vie for influence in the Southeast Asian nation. The trip, Xi’s first in six years, has been months in planning and was even briefly considered to take place days before Biden’s visit, according to officials.


The multibillion dollar scandal involving Than’s Van Thinh Phat and Saigon Commercial Bank shows that regulators are overwhelmed – and on the take. Not only does Vietnam’s banking system remain fragile and vulnerable to simultaneous bank runs, but corruption is endemic even at the highest levels. Vietnam’s corruption, poor economic management will hinder its growth — as Truong My Lan scandal shows. Zachary Abuza, South China Morning Post; 2023-12-03.

Following the watershed decisions to decriminalize same-sex marriage and codify the rights of transgender people into the Civil Code in 2015, Vietnam was seen as relatively progressive on LGBTQ+ issues in Southeast Asia. However, further pushes for LGBTQ+ rights, including legal recognition for same-sex unions as well as a Gender Affirmation Law to allow legal sex changes, have been stalled at discrete stages of the lawmaking process for years. (Note: A draft of the Gender Affirmation Law has reached the last round of consideration and could be codified by Vietnam’s National Assembly in 2024.) Outed, Shamed, and Unfairly Treated: Harassment of LGBTQ+ is Driving Them Away from Vietnam’s Public Office. T.L., The Vietnamese, 2023-12-09.


Nguyen Qui Duc, Whose Salon Became a Hanoi Hub, Dies at 65. Seth Mydans, New York Times; 2023-12-06: “I no longer have a single identity,” he wrote in a 2008 essay titled “America Inside the Vietnamese Soul,” published on the website of the PBS documentary series “Frontline.” “I’m split in two — parts of me still deeply Vietnamese, parts of me thoroughly American. There are times I can hardly explain myself to myself.”

© 2023 The 88 Project