Vietnam Free Expression Newsletter No. 5/2021 – Week of February 1-7

Greetings from The 88 Project! We bring you news, analysis, and actions regarding human rights and civil society in Vietnam during the week of February 1-7. Imprisoned blogger Tran Huynh Duy Thuc ended his hunger strike after more than two months. Female political prisoner Dinh Thi Thu Thuy has been hospitalized with health issues and has also decided not to appeal her seven-year sentence. Anti-corruption protester Ha Van Nam was released from prison. In international advocacy, read an in-depth report on OceanLotus, a large-scale hacking operation based in Vietnam that targets dissidents and critics of the government, and advocacy efforts by a group of German lawmakers in support of Tran Huynh Duy Thuc and fellow political prisoner Nguyen Bac Truyen. In the news and analysis section, read about US-Vietnamese ties and analysis following the end of Vietnam’s National Party Congress. And please take action for Dinh Thi Thu Thuy with Frontline Defenders.


Political Prisoners

Tran Huynh Duy Thuc has ended his hunger strike after 72 days. In a call to his family on February 3, he said, “The goal to start a revolution of light has been accomplished, therefore I will end my hunger strike. I want to thank all who have supported me through this battle. And please keep up the fight, for only light can drive out darkness, which can befall us anytime like it just did in Myanmar. I hope to see you soon.” His family reported that Thuc is no longer losing weight and that his voice sounded positive.

Environment advocate Dinh Thi Thu Thuy is seriously ill. Thuy has been admitted to Hau Giang Provincial Hospital for a vestibular disorder and heart valve regurgitation. She is also suffering from a calcium deficiency and insomnia due to the unhealthy conditions at the temporary detention center in Hau Giang. As such, she’s chosen to not appeal her sentence so that she can be moved to a regular prison which at least would allow her to work outside and get some sunlight. Born in 1982, Thuy holds a Master’s degree in Aquaculture. She was sentenced to seven years in jail pursuant to Article 117 of the 2015 Criminal Code. She has a 10-year-old son who now has to live with her mother, who also suffers from heart disease. Thuy’s family situation has pushed her to the brink, according to a friend who saw her recently.

Ha Van Nam upon release, Source: Facebook

Ha Van Nam was released from prison after serving a 30-month sentence. In 2018, Nam was arrested and charged with “disturbing the peace” for peaceful acts of protest against illegal BOT toll booth locations in and around Hanoi. He first wrote letters to the authorities, but after not getting any response, Nam and a few others went to the sites to protest directly. It is estimated that his action helped save truckers and other drivers billions of dong in illegal fees. After his release, Nam was given a hero’s welcome.

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

Phan Van Thu (left) and his followers in the closed trial in 2013. Source.

  • Environmental and labor activist Hoang Duc Binh, tried on February 6, 2018, and sentenced to 14 years in prison
International Advocacy

On February 10, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom will host a virtual hearing about ways the U.S. government can better protect and support individuals fleeing religious persecution through the U.S. refugee resettlement program, the U.S. asylum system, and overseas assistance. Witnesses will provide an overview of U.S. refugee resettlement, asylum, and humanitarian aid policies and present recommendations for improving these programs to better protect the most vulnerable.

Read an in-depth report on OceanLotus, a large-scale hacking operation based in Vietnam that targets dissidents and critics of the government using techniques such as spear phishing. Malicious codes have been found on hundreds of government websites including those belonging to neighboring countries such as Laos, Cambodia, the Philippines. The operators also set up news sites to lure unsuspecting victims.

Nguyen Bac Truyen

On January 27, 2021, a group of German lawmakers led by Rene Kunast wrote a letter to the government of Vietnam to express their extreme concerns about the health of political prisoners Nguyen Bac Truyen and Tran Huynh Duy Thuc; the latter was at the time on a two-month hunger strike. The lawmakers requested that the two men be given immediate medical attention and be released.


Vietnam’s Congress ends with focus on growth, graft fight and managing US-China ties, Chris Humphrey and Bac Pham, South China Morning Post, February 1, 2021: “Among other things, delegates at the party Congress also approved a five-year economic blueprint that calls for private companies to account for more than half of the economy by 2025, from 42 percent now, and to almost double per-capita gross domestic product to between US$4,700 and US$5,000 by 2025, from US$2,750 at the end of 2020 and US$1,331 in 2010.”

The Fallout From Vietnam’s Communist Party Congress, Zachary Abuza, The Diplomat, February 2, 2021: “… despite Trong’s power, he could not marshal the votes to get his protege, Tran Quoc Vuong, who spearheaded the anti-corruption campaign, to succeed him. Indeed, Vuong wasn’t even re-elected to the Politburo. Yet in sacrificing Vuong, Trong held on to his position, despite legitimate concerns about his health. The selection of Trong, with his two requisite waivers, suggests compromise and a hint of insecurity, rather than strength.”

Vietnam’s General Secretary Trong Maneuvers to Stay on Top, David Brown, Asia Sentinel, January 27, 2021: “The elevation of Chinh and the retention of Trong at the expense of Hue and Phuc has the practical effect of subordinating the party’s government faction. That and the coincidentally reduced representation of cadre from the southern half of the country in top echelons are said to be broadly unpopular. Allies of Phuc and Hue might protest their relegation either by urging the central committee to reconsider its reported compromises or by demanding that the matter be referred to the entire party congress. In extremis, the previous prime minister, Nguyen Tan Dung, tried something of this sort at the 12th Congress in 2016; he didn’t get far.”

US-Vietnam defence ties expected to strengthen with new governments in place and China looming, Maria Siow, South China Morning Post, January 30, 2021: “… many Vietnamese view Washington as the only partner with the political will to act as a counterweight to China in the region, but [Le] also pointed to the challenges faced by Hanoi and Washington in furthering defence ties. … Among the challenges the two sides must overcome, Le said, are the technical limitations Vietnam faces in its ability to conduct high-level defence activities, Hanoi’s reluctance to take actions that will upset China, and the lingering distrust that Washington might seek to undermine the Communist regime in Vietnam.”

Watching The US Presidential Election While Dreaming About Vietnam’s Free Election At The Commune Level, Jade Ng, The Vietnamese, January 29, 2021: “The secret desire of many Vietnamese people, including myself, is to have the freedom to make our decisions and to choose our state leaders, and even the National Assembly delegates who actually represent our voices when deciding the big decisions for the country. That desire is expressed indirectly by many people through monitoring and discussing the US presidential election, as if we were voting for our own state leaders. A friend of mine lamented on Facebook: ‘I look at the US election and all I can feel is pain for the Vietnamese people.’ IIt is impossible not to feel hurt.”

Stand-up Comedian Condemns National Newspaper For “Defamation and Humiliation”, Jason Nguyen, The Vietnamese, January 27, 2021: “Despite being an influential icon for the young, Mr. Huy is not particularly favored by the authorities. This is not the first time the comedian has provoked the ire of the government. In 2016, he was first summoned by Ho Chi Minh city police after claiming in one of his videos that ‘there’s no freedom of speech in Vietnam.’ After the incident, Mr. Huy made a video addressing his fans, under the stage name Dua Leo [cucumber], reassuring them that nothing would stop him from doing what he is doing now. ‘I just want to deliver a simple message in this video: I’m just a comedian, as I always am, and my main goal is to gain [as many] views and likes for my videos [as possible],’ he sarcastically joked. ‘[And] my secondary goal is as important as my main goal, [and that] is to make Vietnam a better country’.”


Take action with FrontLine Defenders by submitting an Urgent Appeal on behalf of female activist Dinh Thi Thu Thuy, who was sentenced to seven years in prison in January and was recently hospitalized with several health issues.

© 2021 The 88 Project