Vietnam Free Expression Newsletter No. 5/2022 – Week of January 31-February 6

Greetings from The 88 ProjectWe bring you news, analysis, and actions regarding human rights and civil society in Vietnam during the week of January 31-February 6. A priest was murdered in cold blood in a remote area long known for religious suppression; state-run papers are mum. The family of an Australian citizen serving time in Vietnam seeks help for his release, fearing he might die. A group of UN Special Rapporteurs published a must-read report on dozens of human rights defenders in Vietnam that describes disturbing patterns of abuse and lawlessness. A coalition of organizations is working to nominate Pham Doan Trang for the Nobel Peace Prize. Vietnamese workers in Japan face cultural and language problems, with some having been physically abused. Writer Jason Nguyen looks at the Tet celebration with a somber eye toward the future. In case you missed it, check out the first piece in our new periodic series on domestic legal developments and how they affect freedom of expression in Vietnam. 


Political Prisoners

Chau Van Kham

The family of Chau Van Kham, a Vietnamese-Australian citizen serving a 12-year sentence allegedly for “financing terrorism,” has asked the Australian government for help getting the 72-year-old released. Jailed since 2019, Kham has not been allowed to talk to his family for three years, and his wife, Truong Quynh Trang, fears that his health might be worsening and “he may die” in prison. Australian Foreign Minister Marisa Payne said she raised his case with the Vietnamese authorities during her visit last November.

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

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

  • Twenty An Dan Dai Dao Buddhists, arrested in February 2012, and sentenced to prison on charges of “subversion,” including several double-digit sentences and life in prison for the sect’s founder
  • Activist Vo Thuong Trung, birthday February 10, serving three years in prison for “disputing security”
  • Hoang Duc Binh, activist with The Viet Labor Movement and No-U Saigon, birthday February 10, sentenced to 14 years in prison for “abusing democratic freedoms” and “resisting officials in performance of official duties”
  • Factory worker Phan Van Binh, arrested on February 8, 2018, and sentenced to 14 years in prison on charges of “subversion”
  • Online commentator Nguyen Van Truong, arrested on February 9, 2018, and still awaiting trial on charges of “abusing democratic freedoms”
  • Activist Nguyen Huy, arrested on February 10, 2021, and charged with “abusing democratic freedoms,” currently awaiting trial
  • A family of Hoa Hao Buddhists and their friends– Bui Van Trung, Bui Van Tham, Nguyen Hoang Nam, Le Thi Hoang Hanh, Bui Thi Bich Tuyen, and Le Thi Hen– tried on February 9, 2018 for “causing public disorder”
Community at Risk

Tran Ngoc Thanh, a young Dominican priest, was hacked to death while hearing confessions at a newly established diocese in the remote highlands in Kontum Province. Although this was not the first such attack against a Catholic priest in this area, it was the first one resulting in death. In the past few years, there have been citizen reports of at least four incidents of harassment and assault against other priests, none of which was investigated and with no one charged. Following the killing of Father Thanh, it took a few days before the Kontum Police acknowledged that a suspect had been apprehended by people at the church — but only after tremendous pressure was generated via social media. The People’s Police main web portal, however, still has not run this extraordinary story, leading some to wonder whether this case is in any way related to the broader state suppression of religious freedom in the community.

International Advocacy

Pham Doan Trang

The UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders has published a thorough and detailed statement on 39 cases of arbitrary detentions in Vietnam, which has been sent to the government for an official response. The report concludes with a list of serious concerns about patterns of abuse and disregard for UN conventions. The report states: “The criminalization of such activities does not only go against international human rights obligations that Viet Nam is bound to, but it ultimately undermines the UN human rights system as a whole.”

A coalition of Vietnamese diaspora organizations in Canada and the United States is spearheading an effort to nominate Pham Doan Trang for the Nobel Peace Prize. The group has been joined by dozens of other organizations all over the world.

California Congressman Alan Lowenthal wrote a letter to the new ambassador to Vietnam, Marc Knapper, asking him to raise the issue of ongoing human rights abuses with the government. The letter named nearly two dozen human right defenders wrongly persecuted who need to be released.


Kon Tum: Vietnamese Catholics demand the truth about Fr Thanh’s murder, Asia News, February 4, 2022: “After the killing of the Dominican priest Fr Tran Ngoc Thanh, the local Vietnamese community is demanding truth about the reasons for the murder, expressing sadness at the scant media coverage given to such a serious event in Vietnam. On 31st January, the eve of the Lunar New Year, Fr Thanh was administering the sacrament of confession shortly after evening mass in Dak Mót parish, when an armed man entered and stabbed him to death with a knife. According to local police, the attacker was a mentally ill person called Kien Nguyen. More details, reported by VietCatholic News, have emerged in recent days. While the few faithful still present in the church were running away, the choir director, Dominican Brother Phan Van Giao, who was on the opposite side of the chapel, managed to stop the assailant and pin him to the ground with the help of other parishioners before he could commit a massacre.”

The Freedom to Write – Vietnamese Dissident Writers, Z.M. Quynh, Diasporic Vietnamese Artists Network, January 26, 2022: “As Vietnamese writers, someone’s always telling us not to write. If it’s not the reactionary politics of our communities, then it’s our families who censor us either out of genuine love and concern for our well-being and livelihood (or lack thereof), or out of shame, guilt, and a preference for extreme privacy. If it’s not any of the above—then we censor ourselves for fear of the above. Through these essays, I will explore Vietnamese literature through the lens of the dissident writer, individuals who disagree or have a dissenting opinion or attitude about an established religious, political, or belief system that is in power and who engage in some form of activism to express or attempt to express their thoughts. I will explore Northern and Southern writers alike. The cultural, political, and ideological world of these writers was an extremely complex knot of ideological differences.”

Vietnamese man punched, beaten, kicked and insulted as an intern in Japan, Walter Sims, Straits Times, January 29, 2022: “The torrent of physical and verbal abuse began just one month after a Vietnamese migrant worker came to Japan in October 2019. The 41-year-old construction worker, who left behind his wife and five-year-old daughter for the promise of better wages, instead found himself being treated as an outcast by colleagues at a company in Okayama in western Japan. He was not only mocked for his sub-par Japanese, but was also constantly brutalised, treated as a punching bag, beaten and kicked by his colleagues as bystanders watched on and laughed.”

Tet Offensive, Tet Amnesia, Jason Nguyen, The Vietnamese, February 1, 2022: “Frankly speaking, I foresee no significant changes in Vietnam’s political and social structures in the near future. The current government leaders only care about themselves and their monopoly of power, even at the expense of our country’s development, sovereignty, and even integrity. The reality has already proven that they will use all kinds of repressive tactics, ranging from propaganda, arbitrary arrests, or even long prison sentences, to subdue their own citizens and maintain their grip on power. At the same time, I observe the increasing differences between the youth born in a post-war Communist Vietnam, their parents, and the second generation of Vietnamese descendants who were born and educated in Western democratic countries.”


Catch up on recent domestic legal developments in Vietnam. Our new periodic legal update is an effort by The 88 Project to monitor and document legal developments related to freedom of expression in Vietnam. While the crackdown against freedom of expression, freedom of the press and internet freedom in Vietnam has been blatant, there are many other behind-the-scenes legal developments that have failed to attract the same attention by Vietnamese citizens, human rights organizations and the international community. However, these hidden practices play an important role in consolidating censorship and in the suppression of freedom of expression by the Vietnamese government.


Take action this week by sharing the One Free Press Coalition’s list of “10 Most Urgent” cases of injustice against journalists. The list includes one Vietnamese journalist, Nguyen Van Hoa, a regular contributor to RFA, who is serving a seven-year prison sentence for conducting “anti-State propaganda.”

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