Vietnam Free Expression Newsletter No. 46/2020 – Week of November 16-22

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 16-22. Democracy activist Tran Duc Thach will face trial on November 30, and three members of the Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam (IJAVN) are expected to face trial in January. A group of hackers suspected to be sponsored by the Vietnamese government is targeting activists and journalists in Germany. Five UN working groups are seeking information on the recent arrests and detentions of several Vietnamese political prisoners. In the news, read about a new environmental protection law in Vietnam, allegations of Vietnam pressuring Facebook to censor more content, and updates on Vietnam’s international relations. Take action in support of Vietnamese political prisoners by sharing a statement from the Delegate of the Committee for the Defence of Persecuted and Imprisoned Writers of the Pen International Suisse Romand Centre. We will not have a newsletter next week, due to the US holiday, but will resume publication on December 6.


Political Prisoners

Tran Duc Thach, a co-founder of the Brotherhood for Democracy, will have his first-instance trial in Nghe An Province on November 30, according to his lawyer, Ha Huy Son. Thach was arrested on April 23, 2020 and charged with “activities against the state” under Article 109 of the 2015 Criminal Code, for Facebook posts that allegedly sought to incite social disorder. He was arrested once before, in 2009, and spent three years in prison for “anti-state propaganda” under Article 88 of the 1999 Criminal Code.

Attorney Nguyen Van Mieng, lawyer for (pictured above from left to right) Pham Chi DungNguyen Tuong Thuy, and Le Huu Minh Tuan, said the order for their temporary detention was signed on November 12, 2020, allowing for three months and 15 days of additional detention. It is thus expected that their first instance trials will take place toward the end of January 2021. Dung said that after reading the 12-page indictment against him, “I could not see where I broke the law.” Thuy said, “Of the 45 articles attributed to me, some weren’t even mine.” He said he’d appeal the indictment within 15 days. All three men are members of the persecuted IJAVN.

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

  • Female blogger Huynh Thuc Vy, birthday November 20, sentenced to two years and nine months in prison, which she will have to serve once her youngest child turns three
  • Montagnard Christian activist A Quyn, arrested November 18, 2013, and sentenced to nine years and six months in prison
  • Blogger Phan Cong Hai, arrested November 19, 2019, and sentenced to five years in prison
  • Chairman of the Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam, Pham Chi Dung, arrested November 21, 2019, and in pre-trial detention
Activists at Risk

Vietnamese activists and journalists in Germany have been subjected to cyber attacks perpetrated by a group of suspected state-sponsored hackers from Vietnam called OceanLotus (or APT 32). The group uses techniques such as spear-phishing and watering-hole to target the expats. “Berlin-based Vietnamese blogger Bui Thanh Hieu talks of his fears that any successful malware attack on his computer could expose the identities of people in his home nation that are feeding him intelligence,” says the article about the report, which was compiled by a German broadcaster and online magazine.

Former political prisoner Tran Huu Duc has now moved to the United States, where he will effectively live in exile. Duc served three years in prison on charges of conducting propaganda against the state. According to Defend the Defenders, since his release in 2015, “Mr. Duc has been under constant persecution of authorities in the central province of Nghe An as he continues his activism.”

International Advocacy

Nguyen Nang Tinh and Nguyen Van Hoa

In a special virtual ceremony, the US-based Vietnam Human Rights Network (VHRN) awarded its 2020 prizes to IJAVN, imprisoned music teacher Nguyen Nang Tinh, and imprisoned journalist Nguyen Van Hoa. According to VHRN, the annual awards are given to “ individuals and organizations who have made outstanding contributions to and have demonstrated influence on the promotion of justice and human rights movements in Vietnam.” Family representatives and colleagues of the three recipients were present to accept the awards on behalf of the recipients.

Five working groups at the UN have written a letter to the government of Vietnam to demand specific information regarding the arbitrary arrests of a number of journalists in the past few months, including Pham Doan TrangNguyen Tuong Thuy, and several others. If there is no answer within 60 days, the groups said they will raise the issue publicly with the Human Rights Council as required by their charter.

IJAVN’s President Pham Chi Dung in a 2016 demonstration against China’s aggressions in the China Sea. Source

As co-chairs of the Media Freedom Coalition, comprising 40 countries, Canada and the UK have issued a statement calling attention to Vietnam’s arbitrary arrests of journalists such as Pham Chi Dung and Pham Doan Trang. They urged Vietnam to “ensure its actions and laws are consistent with Vietnam’s international obligations and commitments.”



Pham Doan Trang Goes to Prison, Thomas Bass, Common Dreams, November 11, 2020: “Before her arrest, Trang was investigating a violent clash between farmers and the police, something that happens regularly in Vietnam when farmland is seized by Party officials. Trang has no fixed address and moves regularly to avoid the kind of beating that in 2018 left her dumped on the roadside with a concussion and wounds to her face and legs. ‘Pham Doan Trang is a true heroine given the situation of press freedom in Vietnam, where journalists and bloggers who do not toe the line of the current direction of the Communist Party face extremely severe repercussions,’ said Daniel Bastard, who heads the Asia-Pacific Desk of Reporters Without Borders (RSF).”

RCEP trade pact heralds dawn of Asian Century, David Hutt and Shawn W. Crispin, Asia Times, November 15, 2020: “With Brunei taking over the chairmanship [of ASEAN], there are already certain concerns it could be more willing to accept the terms that Beijing wants to set in a long-negotiated Code of Conduct for the South China Sea. Moreover, with Bandar Seri Begawan hosting next year’s summits, it could add one more problem for US relations with ASEAN at a time Biden will likely seek to restore alliances and ties. Successive US administrations have made peace with Vietnam’s repressive government – and have no problem showing up in Hanoi or Da Nang for summits. But they have been more willing to openly critique Brunei’s repression, including President-elect Biden’s comments last year that its treatment of homosexuals is ‘appalling and immoral.’”

Vietnam Revises Environmental Protection Law But Enforcement a Concern, Radio Free Asia, November 18, 2020: “Vietnam’s National Assembly Tuesday amended the country’s environmental protection law to give communities a bigger role in conservation and impose responsibilities on corporations, but critics say monitoring mechanisms in the country are not adequate to enforce it. Lawmakers overwhelmingly approved the Revised Law on Environmental Protection, with 92 percent voting in favor. The draft law to replace the 2014 version was presented to the assembly in May this year. The new law, which will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2022, requires owners of factories to use the best available technology to control pollution and limit environmental impact, and defines residential communities as an essential part of the environment to be protected.”

Exclusive: Vietnam threatens to shut down Facebook over censorship requests – source, James Pearson, Reuters, November 19, 2020: “Facebook complied with a government request in April to significantly increase its censorship of ‘anti-state’ posts for local users, but Vietnam asked the company again in August to step up its restrictions of critical posts, the official said. ‘We made an agreement in April. Facebook has upheld our end of the agreement, and we expected the government of Vietnam to do the same,’ said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity citing the sensitivity of the subject. ‘They have come back to us and sought to get us to increase the volume of content that we’re restricting in Vietnam. We’ve told them no. That request came with some threats about what might happen if we didn’t.’”

Vietnam shining bright as Covid crisis winner, David Hutt, Asia Times, November 20, 2020: “The Lowy Institute also found earlier this year that Vietnam had the third-highest improvement in international reputation because of its handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, trailing only Taiwan and New Zealand. The uptick in Vietnam’s international image is concomitant with a noticeable positive shift in media coverage of the Communist Party’s governance, drowning out previous reports that focused on its persistent assaults on journalists, activists and social media users. In an article published by Foreign Policy in May, the former Vietnam-based journalist Bill Hayton noted that one reason why ‘Vietnam’s disease control mechanisms have been so effective, and the reason why they are unlikely to be copied, is that they are the same mechanisms that facilitate and protect the country’s one-party rule.’”


Share Nguyen Hoang Bao Viet’s statement condemning Vietnam’s arrest of prominent journalists, the deaths of political prisoners behind bars, and forced mental health treatment of political prisoners (like Le Anh Hung, pictured above). The statement asks Vietnam to release political prisoners without the condition of exile, improve prison conditions, and facilitate fair trials. Nguyen Hoang Bao Viet is the president of Pen International Centre Suisse Romand, and a delegate of the Committee for the Defence of Persecuted and Imprisoned Writers of Pen International Centre Suisse Romand.
© 2020 The 88 Project

**Note: In the newsletter No. 46/2020 email version, we reported on Hanoi’s ex-Chairman Nguyen Duc Chung’s prosecution. We should have clarified that Mr. Chung is being prosecuted for an economic crime that is unrelated to the first Dong Tam crisis.