Vietnam Free Expression Newsletter No. 48/2020 – Week of December 7-13

Greetings from The 88 Project! We bring you news, analysis, and actions regarding human rights and civil society in Vietnam during the week of December 7-13. Democracy activist Tran Duc Thach’s trial has been rescheduled for December 15, and Facebookers’ Huynh Anh Khoa and Nguyen Dang Thuong trial for December 21. After over two years in pre-trial detention, Nguyen Trung Linh was sentenced to 12 years in prison, and four Khmer farmers have also been convicted after protesting land confiscations. Nguyen Van Hoa, Nguyen Bac Truyen, and Pham Van Diep have ended their hunger strike, but Tran Huynh Duy Thuc continues striking. We also have updates on the conditions of political prisoners Truong Duy Nhat, Huynh Duc Thinh, and Pham Chi Thanh. Read about the situation of religious freedom in Vietnam and view the latest international advocacy items, such as new reports from both ICJ and CIVICUS. In the news and analysis section, there is news about the Britain-Vietnam free trade agreement and a group of hackers that Facebook has traced back to Vietnam. Take action this week for Tran Huynh Duy Thuc as he continues his hunger strike and for jailed writer Pham Doan Trang.


Political Prisoners 

After his initial trial was postponed, the People’s Court of Nghe An Province will hold the first-instance trial of democracy activist Tran Duc Thach on December 15. On November 30, his family arrived at the courthouse for the previously-scheduled trial and were told he was unfit to stand trial. His wife was allowed to see her husband the next day, and he told her he had been hospitalized for a week for high blood pressure. Thach, a member of the Brotherhood for Democracy, is being charged with subversion under Article 109 of the Criminal Code, which has a maximum penalty of life in prison or the death penalty.

The People’s Court of Hanoi has sentenced democracy activist Nguyen Trung Linh to 12 years in prison. Linh was tried back in July in a trial unknown even to his family. He was tried without a lawyer and convicted under the charge of “propaganda against the state,” Article 117 of the 2015 Criminal Code. According to Defend the Defenders, he is currently likely to be held in a mental health facility. Prior to arrest, and as a result of Linh’s many years of activism, “police threatened to take him back to mental health facilities if he continues to write to advocate for multi-party democracy. Hanoi police also disseminated the wrong information saying he is suffering from a mental disease in a bid to isolate him from other activists and people in his area.” Linh was arrested in May 2018 after calling for peaceful protests in response to maritime sovereignty disputes with China.

Huynh Anh Khoa 

The trial for Facebookers Huynh Anh Khoa and Nguyen Dang Thuong, scheduled for December 7, was moved to December 21 after Thuong requested a delay due to poor health. Their families were not notified of the trial date until the morning of the trial, and then they were called and told it’d been postponed. Thuong, 63, and Khoa, 38, were charged with “abusing democratic freedoms,” according to Article 331 of the 2015 Criminal Code, for administering a Facebook page called “Economic and Political Discussions.” Both were arrested on June 13, 2020.

Four Khmer farmers in Kien Giang Province who protested against land confiscation were charged and convicted of “resisting officials carrying out duties.” Huynh Van Dep, 41, Tien Dam, 28,  and Tien Nam, 28, received a combined five years and nine months in prison, while Thi Phich, 64, received a one-year probation sentence. Dep was arrested in June and held for three months without charge, during which time the other three accused were not allowed to leave the village. On December 3, all four were put on trial. The Khmers Kampuchea-Krom Federation (KKF) is calling on the international community to urge Vietnam to drop the charges against these poor farmers.

Huynh Duc Thinh

Huynh Duc Thinh, 68, a political prisoner, who has been serving a one-year sentence, suffered a brain hemorrhage just a few weeks before finishing his sentence, says his ex-wife Nguyen Thi Hue. He’s been transferred to Hospital 115 in Ho Chi Minh City. His son, Huynh Duc Thanh Binh, is also a prisoner at Xuan Loc Prison in Dong Nai Province. Thinh was arrested in July 2018 after his son Binh was kidnapped along with activist Tran Long Phi and American citizen Michael Nguyen, who was later released and expelled to the US.

Nguyen Van Hoa ended his hunger strike after eight days. Hoa had been on a hunger strike at An Diem Prison since at least November 20, along with Nguyen Bac Truyen and Pham Van Diep. They were protesting violations of their human rights, such as not being allowed to send or receive letters, not being given adequate healthcare, and being transferred to prisons far from their hometowns, causing hardship for their families. Truyen and Diep also ended their hunger strike. The three reportedly resumed eating after their demands were approved by the prison administration, though it is unclear exactly what those demands were.

Imprisoned entrepreneur and blogger Tran Huynh Duy Thuc remains on hunger strike that he began at least 20 days ago, as the Vietnamese government has refused to answer his petition for an appeal of his sentence based on new changes to the criminal code. His family was able to visit him on November 30 and reported that he was extremely weak. He asked his family to make public this message: “I’m sorry that I could not reach the end successfully with you all, but please keep moving forward on the path of enlightening our compatriots and the world, keep up the battles for Human Rights. Make the most use of my departure by pushing this struggle to its end by this year or the next.”

Truong Duy Nhat at trial on March 9, 2020, Source: Tuoi Tre

Truong Duy Nhat’s family shared an update on his condition in prison. On November 18, he was transferred to Prison No. 3 in Nghe An Province. On December 3, his wife went to visit him, and he informed her that he is being detained in a room with over 40 other prisoners, including those convicted of drug crimes; each prisoner has only about two square meters for himself. Nhat is suffering from a herniated disk, which he also battled when he was previously imprisoned in 2014. The issue is being aggravated again due to his work schedule sitting in the same position for eight hours, five days a week, as well as the cold climate at his new prison. The prison has denied medication from the family. His family is very worried about him and is not sure when they will next be permitted to visit him. Nhat, a blogger, was tried on March 9, 2020 and sentenced to 10 years in prison in what many believe was a politically-motivated trial over a decades-old charge.

Author and veteran journalist Pham Chi Thanh, who has been detained at Hoa Lo Prison since his arrest in May, was reportedly moved to a mental health facility in late November. Authorities reported he was moved to the Central Institute of Forensic Psychiatry for an evaluation but did not provide specific details about the transfer. Thanh’s wife said of the move: “I’ve been living with him for years, I know that his mental health is normal. He doesn’t have a problem.” She has not been allowed to see or speak with him since he was moved to the hospital. His case is reminiscent of that of detained journalist Le Anh Hung, who has been moved to a mental health facility several times and has also been forcibly medicated.

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

  • Montagnard Christian missionary Y Drim Nie, arrested December 2012, and sentenced to eight years in prison on unknown charges

  • Environmental and democracy activist Le Dinh Luong, birthday December 10, sentenced to 20 years in prison for subversion

  • Hien Phap (Constitution) group member Ho Dinh Cuong, birthday December 13, sentenced to four and a half years in prison on charges of disrupting security
Activists at Risk

Nguyen Thuy Hanh, Source: her Facebook page

Well-known activist Nguyen Thuy Hanh was served a “summons” even though such a document should only be served to a suspect, a defendant, a plaintiff or a victim — and she is none of those. Hanh complied, had her meeting with security police, and immediately went back to advocating for human rights again.

Read The Vietnamese’s Religion Bulletin September 2020. This edition focuses on the persecution of the Cao Dai religion and confiscation of their temples, as well as harassment against Falun Gong practitioners. They also recently released a feature covering developments in religious freedom in Vietnam in 2020: “2020: 10 Religious Problems That The Vietnamese Government Doesn’t Want You To Know About.”

Mrui, son of imprisoned Montagnard Pastor Y Yichhas reported harassment against him and his family as authorities attempt to get him to renounce his faith. Of the harassment, he said: “Village, district officers continuously visit our home to monitor us, they invited [meaning summoned] me 5, 6 times, threatened to bash me and kill me, forcing me to abandon my faith.” He also reported that his father, who is serving 12 years in prison, has been denied medical care in prison.

International Advocacy 

The International Commission of Jurists, ICJ, has called on Vietnam to reform its internet laws and “stem the pattern of accelerating human rights abuse of individuals online.” ICJ issued a report titled “Dictating the Internet: Curtailing Free Expression and Information Online in Vietnam,” which details the deteriorating human rights environment online in Vietnam. Case studies include the Dong Tam raid and its subsequent trial, as well as the practice of cybersurveillance and policing online platforms.

The High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy of the EU released a declaration on Human Rights Day, December 10. Most notably, it said: “The establishment of an EU Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime, giving us the power to impose sanctions, with asset freezes and travel bans, on those involved in serious human rights violations and abuses is another tangible step that will further strengthen collective action on human rights.”

Vietnam Human Rights Network and Defend the Defenders released a statement in support of political prisoner Tran Huynh Duy Thuc, who is currently on hunger strike. They stated: “Mr. Tran Huynh Duy Thuc is completely innocent; his activities were solely aimed at exercising his basic rights guaranteed by the international human rights conventions that the Vietnamese communist government has signed and ratified.”

The 2020 report by the global alliance of civil society organizations CIVICUS states: “When civic space is open, citizens and civil society organisations are able to organise, participate and communicate without hindrance. … In Vietnam, where civic space is rated ‘closed’ … the authorities continue to harass those who criticize the one-party regime. Scores of individuals were arrested or jailed after summary trials under an array of restrictive laws for ‘abusing democratic freedoms’ and ‘anti-state propaganda’.”


Facebook tracks ‘OceanLotus’ hackers to IT firm in Vietnam, Jack Stubbs and James Pearson, Reuters, December 10, 2020: “The hackers, known as OceanLotus or APT32, have been accused for years of spying on political dissidents, businesses and foreign officials. Reuters reported this year that the group had attempted to break into China’s Ministry of Emergency Management and the government of Wuhan as the COVID-19 outbreak first spread. Facebook said it had found links between cyberattacks previously attributed to OceanLotus and a Vietnamese company called CyberOne Group, which lists an address on a sidestreet in a commercial district of Ho Chi Minh city.”

Group Applauds Taiwan Supreme Court Ruling in Favor of Vietnam Victims of Toxic Spill, Radio Free Asia, December 3, 2020: “A group representing victims of an environmental catastrophe caused by a Taiwan-owned steel plant off of Vietnam’s central coast on Thursday applauded a decision by Taiwan’s Supreme Court to allow their lawsuit against the plant’s owner to proceed after it was earlier dismissed by a lower court. Formosa Plastics Group steel plant caused a toxic spill in 2016 that killed an estimated 115 tons of fish and left fishermen and tourism workers jobless in four of Vietnam’s central provinces.”

Vietnam’s Balancing Act Between Biden and Trump, Du Nhat Dang, The Diplomat, December 10, 2020: “In other words, the Democrats would not be too upset by Vietnam’s delayed message of congratulation, while the Trump side might have been piqued if Vietnam chose to act early. Second, Vietnam’s pursuit of an independent and autonomous foreign policy, especially as regards China, helps explain why Vietnam did not act immediately after Chinese President Xi Jinping sent his congratulation message to Biden on November 8. Considering the current U.S.-China tensions, Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry wanted to avoid the congratulatory message being seen as any reflection of U.S.-China or Vietnam-China relations. As a result, Hanoi made a point of not ‘following’ China’s action in congratulating Biden.”

Britain finalises free trade pact with Vietnam, AFP, December 11, 2020: “Britain and Vietnam on Friday finalised a free trade agreement, the second deal London has reached in Southeast Asia in as many days while deadlock continues over post-Brexit European Union arrangements. The deal with Vietnam comes into force January 1, 2021 and will be Britain’s third, following Thursday’s pact with Singapore and October’s first post-Brexit trade deal with Japan.”


Pham Doan Trang

Take action for Tran Huynh Duy Thuc by asking international organizations and foreign governments to immediately press the Vietnamese government for an update on Thuc’s health and for the Vietnamese High Court to review his request to have his sentence reduced based on changes in the 2015 Criminal Code. See visuals you can share, an example text you can use on social media, and template letters to send, here. You can also take action in support of Thuc with Frontline Defenders.

Take action with RSF for dissident writer Pham Doan Trang, who was arrested in October on charges of “propaganda against the state,” by signing and sharing their petition for her release. See a list of all the existing actions for her here.

© 2020 The 88 Project