Vietnam Free Expression Newsletter No. 47/2023 – Week of Dec. 13-19

Greetings from Project88. We bring you news, analysis, and actions regarding human rights and civil society in Vietnam during the week of Dec. 13-19. This will be our last newsletter of the year. We will return the week of Jan. 8.

“Project88’s report presents evidence about a myriad of government persecution tactics that suggests a turn for the worse in Vietnam’s suppression of dissent, even as arrest numbers appear to be falling. From intensive harassment of prisoners’ family members to forcible psychiatric treatment of prisoners behind bars, the international community should be concerned that no tactics are off limits in Vietnam’s quest to stamp out dissent.”

– Kaylee Uland, Project88 Co-Director, on Project88’s new report on human rights violations from 2022 to mid 2023.


In other news, a delegation from Vietnam appeared before a UN committee to answer questions about racial and religious discrimination. A former political prisoner successfully emigrated to Germany. Trial begins in the largest corruption case ever in Vietnam. Xi Jinping’s much anticipated visit to Hanoi generates a slew of news and analyses.



Nguyen Tien Trung

Human rights activist and former political prisoner Nguyen Tien Trung successfully escaped to Thailand in August this year to avoid being arrested by Vietnamese police after getting nearly kidnapped by them in July. In Bangkok, Trung applied for political asylum with UNHCR but continued to be followed by Vietnamese security agents there. After Trung reunited with his wife, the couple was allowed to resettle in Germany, the first country that offered them asylum. In an interview with VOA after their arrival in Frankfurt last week, Trung said it took him two attempts just to get to Cambodia while trying to evade security agents in southern Vietnam. Founder of Viet Youth For Democracy in 2006, Trung was sentenced to seven years in prison in 2010 along with several other democracy activists, such as Tran Huynh Duy Thuc and Le Cong Dinh. He was released early in April 2014 and has been keeping a relatively low profile since his release.

Dao Ba Cuong, whose son Dao Ba Phi died in police custody, was given a two-year sentence by a court in Tuy Hoa Province on Dec. 12 for “abusing democratic freedoms.” Prosecutors claim that Cuong falsely accused the police of mishandling his son’s arrest, leading to Phi’s death by hanging in October 2022. Cuong was arrested in April of this year.

Former schoolteacher Nguyen Thi Xuyen was arrested by Thanh Hoa provincial police on Dec. 13 and charged with “abusing democratic freedoms.” She is accused of making social media posts that “are untrue or contain unsubstantiated information.” On Dec. 1 Xuyen was issued an administrative fine of 7.5 million dong ($300); in March 2021 she also was fined a similar amount for allegedly “giving beer to underage individuals.”

Dang Dang Phuoc

Music teacher Dang Dang Phuoc’s wife told RFA that the police have been spying on her. “Neighbors secretly told me that local police installed cameras on Dec. 15. The camera was installed on the neighbor’s porch across from my house and pointed directly at my house.” Phuoc is serving an eight-year sentence for spreading “anti-state propaganda.” Nguyen Thi Chau, wife of prisoner Nguyen Ngoc Anh, also told RFA that the police of Binh Dai District in Ben Tre Province installed two cameras pointing directly at her house several years ago, after her husband was arrested.

Le Trong Hung

Le Trong Hung’s wife Do Le Na told Project88 that “strangers” have come to their home with cameras to take photos. She said since Hung’s arrest, there have been other harassment incidents as well, but she has learned to ignore them. Na told Hung over the phone that he had been awarded the Human Rights Award by the Vietnam Human Rights Network. Hung said that she was more deserving of it than he. He also said that the conditions in Prison No. 6 have been less intolerable since the weather has cooled somewhat.

Trinh Ba Phuong

Trinh Ba Phuong told his wife on Dec. 11. in a phone call that two men in plainclothes named “Bách and Vũ” came into his cell in An Diem Prison the day before to persuade him to plead guilty so that his sentence “can be reduced.” Phuong told them that not only would he maintain his innocence, but he would continue to oppose the Communist Party once he gets out of jail. When they said to Phuong he needed to be “re-educated,” he told them it was they who needed re-education for supporting activities such as illegal land grabs. Phuong later asked An Diem officials to not allow men like those two to bother him in prison again.

Nguyen Lan Thang

Political prisoner Nguyen Lan Thang is allegedly being psychologically abused, according to his wife. Le Bich Vuong told RFA, “Since his arrival at Prison No. 5, he has been held in cell block K1. It’s not a solitary confinement area, but he has had to share the cell with two or sometimes three inmates, some of whom showed signs of mental illness.” Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at New York-based Human Rights Watch, told RFA, “Guards’ use of so-called trustee prisoners to terrorize political prisoners is particularly common since the prison officials will then claim they are not responsible.”


International Advocacy

On Dec. 19, Project88 released a new report highlighting key types of human rights violations by the Vietnamese state in 2022 and early 2023 that Project88 believes, when taken together, are indicative of an intensification of repression in Vietnam. These human rights violations include: government use of surveillance, intimidation, and restriction of movement to silence activists and commit reprisals; the targeting of climate defenders with false charges of tax evasion; rampant use of pre-trial incommunicado detention; and the forced psychiatric treatment of political prisoners. Read the full report here.

A Joint Submission by PEN International, Vietnamese Abroad PEN Centre, and PEN America in Advance of the Fourth Universal Periodic Review of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam addresses issues related to laws restricting freedom of expression and the jailing of writers and activists.

The UN Committee on Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) grilled a delegation from Vietnam during its hearing on Nov. 30 in Geneva, demanding answers for credible reports on suppression of ethnic and religious minorities.


Chairwoman and 85 accomplices indicted in high-profile corruption case. RFA; 2023-12-15: From Feb. 9, 2018, to Oct. 7, 2022, [Truong My] Lan directed the creation of nearly 920 bogus loan applications, appropriating more than 304,000 billion dong, or $12.5 billion, from the bank, the indictment said. The case is considered to be one of the biggest corruption cases in Vietnam ever and the value of the known embezzled funds amounts to about 6% of Vietnam’s GDP. The indictment said that from 2012 to October 2022, Lan acquired 85-91.5 percent of Saigon Joint Stock Commercial Bank, or SCB, and then controlled and manipulated the bank’s activities.

Vietnamese Response to Xi Jinping Visit Muted Amid Activism Crackdown. VOA; 2023-12-18: Although leading activists are incarcerated, officials still took action to block potential public outcry, and meted out “very harsh sentences” to government critics in the days surrounding Xi’s trip to “deter political dissidents,” [Tran Anh] Quan said. He pointed to the cases of Phan Thi Nha and Nguyen Hoang Nam, both of whom were accused of sharing information online that criticized the Communist Party. Nha was sentenced to six years in prison on December 12 and Nam was given eight years of jail time on December 11. Activists were also prevented from leaving their homes and police patrolled public meeting places, according to Quan.

Xi Jinping meets with Vietnam’s leaders during official visit to Hanoi. Reuters; 2023-12-12: “A close neighbor is better than a distant relative,” Xi wrote on Tuesday in a signed article printed in Vietnam’s official Nhan Dan Newspaper. “Hegemonism, unilateralism and protectionism are on the rise,” he wrote. “Peace and development in the region are confronted with fairly grave challenges of instability and uncertainty.” The neighboring countries announced 37 deals on Tuesday, including agreements on railways and telecommunications, according to Reuters.

US sees no impact on Vietnam ties from Hanoi-Beijing defence pledges. Reuters; 2023-12-18: Despite language in a China-Vietnam statement that may be seen as directed against the United States, concerns that may hamper Washington’s plans to deepen relations with Hanoi have so far been underplayed. “Our relationship with Vietnam is not about any third country,” said Cameron Thomas-Shah, spokesperson at the U.S. embassy in Hanoi. “Our close cooperation with our Vietnamese partners across various sectors, including health, education, technology, and trade, will continue for the foreseeable future,” he added in reply to Reuters questions.


Vietnam has the world’s second-largest reserves of rare-earth metals and the third-largest reserves of tungsten, both of which are vital to the production of technology and armaments. Vietnam’s wealth of resources has attracted the attention of the U.S. and its allies, presenting an alternative to dependency on China. China Railway Plans to Test Vietnam’s Foreign Policy Equilibrium. Brandon Tran, The Diplomat; 2023-12-18.

Government policies continue to hinder the growth of Khmer Buddhism in Vietnam. The Shadow on the Saffron Robe: Unveiling the Hidden Narratives of Khmer Buddhism in Vietnam. Lee Nguyen, The Vietnamese; 2023-12-15.


Vietnam Launches National Portal for Data Protection. Vietnam Briefing; 2023-12-20. In line with recent updates to data protection regulations in Vietnam, the Department of Cyber ​​Security and Crime Prevention and Control has unveiled the National Information Portal on Data Protection.

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