Vietnam Free Expression Newsletter No. 49/2020 – December 14-20

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 14-20. Poet Tran Duc Thach was sentenced to 12 years in prison this week, and authorities in Can Tho Province arrested journalist Truong Chau Huu Danh for “abusing democratic freedoms.” On December 21, authorities will resume the trial of Facebookers Nguyen Dang Thuong and Huynh Anh Khoa, and on January 5, the People’s Court of Ho Chi Minh City will try well-known journalists Nguyen Tuong Thuy, Le Huu Minh Tuan, and Pham Chi Dung. Catholic activist Ho Duc Hoa has been reported to be on hunger strike. In international advocacy, jailed human rights lawyer Nguyen Bac Truyen’s wife sent a video recording to accept his 2020 Stefanus Prize. In the news and analysis section, read about preparations and political predictions for Vietnam’s January 2020 National Party Congress. And please continue to take action for Tran Huynh Duy Thuc, who has been on hunger strike since November 23 to protest the government’s failure to respond to his legal petition. The 88 Project will not publish a newsletter on December 27 or January 3 and will resume publication on January 10. We wish everyone a safe and joyful holiday season!


Political Prisoners 

Tran Duc Thach at trial on December 15, 2020, Source: AFP
Poet Tran Duc Thach, 69, was sentenced to 12 years in prison with three years of probation for “activities aimed at overthrowing the government.” The trial lasted less than three hours, and his wife and son were allowed in the courtroom. Thach was a member of the Brotherhood for Democracy, many of whose members have also been imprisoned. Ha Huy Son, his lawyer, argued that he was not allowed to review materials related to his client, that the prosecution violated trial procedures and failed to produce any incriminating evidence or witnesses, and that some of the charges actually predate Article 109 of the 2015 Criminal Code and therefore should be thrown out.

Pham Van Troi and Ho Duc Hoa

Writer Pham Van Troi‘s wife went to visit him on December 13, 2020. She said that Troi’s health is stable. She also said that Ho Duc Hoa, a social activist, was then on his 5th day of a hunger strike and was in poor condition. Hoa has been on a hunger strike previously because he wasn’t allowed to practice his Catholic faith in jail. Troi is serving seven years in prison, and Hoa is serving 13 years.

Journalist Truong Chau Huu Danh was arrested in Can Tho Province on December 16 and charged with “abusing democratic freedoms” under Article 331 of the 2015 Criminal Code. The 38-year-old has worked for several state-run newspapers. In recent years, he became better known for supporting the BOT tollbooth anti-corruption protests and for Facebook posts about the violent police raid in Dong Tam Commune and other social unrest. Colleagues describe him as an even-keeled, objective reporter and expressed surprise at his arrest.

Nguyen Tuong Thuy, Pham Chi Dung, and Le Huu Minh Tuan

Vietnam will put three prominent journalists on trial on January 5, 2021. The men — Nguyen Tuong ThuyPham Chi Dung, and Le Huu Minh Tuan — are members of the Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam. They have been charged with “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 of the Criminal Code. The trial in Ho Chi Minh City will allegedly be open, and relatives of the plaintiffs have been invited to attend. Dung has already been in pre-trial detention for over a year, and Tuan and Thuy have been in detention since the first half of 2020.

Huynh Anh Khoa

The trial for Facebookers Huynh Anh Khoa and Nguyen Dang Thuong, scheduled for December 7, will now take place on December 21 after Thuong requested a delay due to poor health. Thuong, 63, and Khoa, 38, were charged with “abusing democratic freedoms,” according to Article 331 of the 2015 Criminal Code and for administering a Facebook page called “Economic and Political Discussions.” Both were arrested on June 13, 2020.

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

Tran Anh Kim and Le Thanh Tung

  • Military veterans and democracy activists Tran Anh Kim and Le Thanh Tung, tried on December 16, 2016, and sentenced to 13 and 12 years in prison on charges of alleged “subversion”

  • Montagnard Christian activist Siu Thai, tried December 2011 and sentenced to 10 years in prison for “undermining the unity policy”

Community at Risk

Father Peter Nguyen Thanh Tung from Thi Nghe Parish has sued the People’s Committee of Ho Chi Minh City for passing into public hands land and two schools that have belonged to the parish since the 1950s. The properties were supposedly “borrowed” by the government after the Communist takeover in 1975. A joint communique issued by the government and church officials at the time stated that “the archdiocese agreed to transfer to the government the right to use its educational facilities from the academic year 1975-1976 to serve educational purposes,” and “the local church retains the ownership of those facilities.”

International Advocacy

At the award ceremony for the 2020 Stefanus Prize, Bui Thi Kim Phuong, the wife of recipient Nguyen Bac Truyen was only able to send a video statement since she’s not allowed to travel abroad. The human rights lawyer is currently serving an 11-year sentence at An Diem Prison. The Stefanus Prize was established by the Norwegian NGO Stefanus Alliance International. It is awarded every other year to a person who has made a great contribution to human rights.

Human Rights Watch put out a statement on dissident poet and government critic Tran Duc Thach before his recent trial. The article gives a thorough look at his background as a PLA soldier and member of the Brotherhood for Democracy. Days after this HRW article was published, Thach was given a 12-year sentence.

Reporters sans Frontières has published its 2020 report on freedom of the press: “For the second year in a row, China, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam and Syria represent the world’s five largest prisons for journalists.” The report, in French, emphasizes that the number of female journalists in detention has increased 35 percent since last year, from 31 to 42 people, including the 2019 RSF Prize winner Pham Doan Trang.


Vietnam leadership wrangling heats up as Communist Party meets, James Pearson, Reuters, December 13, 2020: “A government statement said the latest plenum would include discussion of ‘personnel documents’ – a euphemism for deciding who holds the most important posts, which will be formally assigned at the Communist Party Congress due in January. The congress will shape policy five years after General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong, a party ideologue, emerged to lead an anti-corruption drive after ejecting a former leadership that had closer ties to business. ‘No matter who will be elected into the new leadership, there will be more continuity than change, and Vietnam will maintain its current trajectory,’ said Le Hong Hiep, a fellow at Singapore’s ISEAS Yusof Ishak Institute.”

Trump’s parting blow wrong-foots Biden in Vietnam, David Hutt, Asia Times, December 18, 2020: “Indeed, several bills put before Congress would have imposed penalties on Vietnam’s leader for their one-party rule and widespread repression, but these have either died in both houses or faced considerable pressure from the executive, especially under the Obama administration, to be dropped. Yet the symbolism of the Treasury’s announcement this week will not be lost on Vietnam, China or other Southeast Asian states. For starters, there is confusion in Hanoi over why US officials won’t accept that one of the main reasons why Vietnam’s trade surplus with the US has risen in recent years is because of Washington’s trade war with China, which has resulted in international firms shifting their operations from China to alternative manufacturing hubs like Vietnam.”

Vietnam Party Conclave Readies Key Personnel Appointments, Sebastian Strangio, The Diplomat, December 15, 2020: “From what we know, next month’s Congress is widely expected to be ‘competitive’ and ‘unpredictable’ compared to the last party conclave in 2016, as Du Nhat Dang wrote in these pages last week, while media reports have noted the lack of obvious frontrunners for the ‘four pillar’ positions. One pressing question is whether Nguyen Phu Trong will retain his post as general secretary of the VCP. Since the last National Congress in 2016, when Trong engineered the removal of former Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, the 76-year-old has earned credibility among both the party and wider society for his ‘furnace blazing’ campaign against corruption.”


Please continue to take action for imprisoned blogger and entrepreneur Tran Huynh Duy Thuc, who started a hunger strike on November 23 protesting the government’s failure to respond to his appeal for a reduction in his sentence based on changes to Vietnam’s criminal code. Thuc was last reported to be in poor health, and his family is unable to obtain much information about his current condition due to covid-19 visitor restrictions.

© 2020 The 88 Project