Vietnam Free Expression Newsletter No. 5/2024 – Week of Jan. 26-Feb. 1

Greetings from Project88. We bring you news, analysis, and actions regarding human rights and civil society in Vietnam during the week of Jan. 26-Feb. 1. A human rights defender who’s been in pre-trial detention for over two years has been diagnosed with cervical cancer. A rare admission by a prison official of physical abuse of a detainee. Another ethnic religious activist is jailed. More arrests of social media users, another hunger strike, and some rare good news for one family of prisoners.


Political Prisoners

Nguyen Thuy Hanh

Huynh Ngoc Chenh, the husband of Nguyen Thuy Hanh, along with Hanh’s lawyers, has filed a petition asking the government to allow her to be released from temporary detention to be treated for cancer. Hanh, founder of a fund to support political prisoners’ families, was arrested and charged with “anti-state propaganda” in July, 2021, but has not been convicted. She has been kept at the Central Psychiatric Hospital in Hanoi for the past 22 months allegedly to be treated for depression. At the beginning of this year, Hanh started to have unusual symptoms and was taken to Hospital K in Tan Trieu, in Hanoi, for further examinations. On Jan. 25, a team of doctors at the hospital confirmed that she has “middle stage” cervical cancer, according to Chenh. Doctors have recommended a treatment plan for Hanh that includes both chemotherapy and radiotherapy; she has begun treatment.

Nguyen Thi Thu Ha, the mother of political prisoner Nguyen Nhu Phuong, told Project88 that in November, officials at a detention center in Long Dien County, Ba Ria–Vung Tau Province, did indeed physically assault her son causing him to cough up blood, as we first reported last week. The incident allegedly occurred after the family went to the center to give Phuong some items, including two shirts, which the guards did not let him have. A verbal argument ensued during which time Phuong was hit in the head with a bottle by the warden, and after which he was beaten by three guards. That afternoon, Phuong was beaten again after he refused to sign a report stating that the family never sent him any shirts. He also was not allowed any family visits during the month of December as punishment. It wasn’t until Phuong was transferred to Xuyen Moc Prison that he was able to tell his mother the story. When Thu Ha confronted the head of the detention center, named Nhật, he allegedly admitted to the beatings but asked her to “not make a big deal out of it,” she said.

Nay Y Blang, an ethnic Ede Christian, was sentenced to four years in prison for “abusing democratic freedoms” by a court in Phu Yen Province on Jan 26. Blang’s family said no lawyer was present at the trial even though they had retained attorney Ha Huy Son to defend him. Prosecutors claimed that Blang used his home for prayer sessions for members of the Central Highlands Evangelical Church of Christ, an unapproved religious group considered “reactionary” by the state. In 2005, Blang was imprisoned for five years and six months for “undermining the unity policy.” In August 2022, Blang was harassed after he met an American diplomat at the U.S. Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC). He was later invited to meet a religious delegation from the United State, but was detained by police at the bus station.

Facebooker Pham Van Cho was arrested by Hung Yen Provincial Police on Jan. 30 and charged with spreading “anti-state propaganda.” State media states that between 2020 and 2023, Cho had been posting videos and articles that “defame the state and offend political leaders.” No examples were given.

Tran Huynh Duy Thuc

Tran Huynh Duy Thuc has begun another hunger strike, this time to protest what he claims are the increasingly inhumane prison conditions at Prison No. 6, Nghe An province. Thuc’s family told Project88 that he had been complaining of being shivering cold but they don’t know why. For the past six months, Thuc has been living in an often dark environment due to frequent power outages, as well as scorching heat during the summer season. He’s been having to eat instant noodles cold because he cannot get hot water.

Brothers Trinh Ba Tu (left) and Trinh Ba Phuong

A most welcomed piece of good news before the Lunar New Year: Trinh Thi Thao, a family member of human rights defenders Trinh Ba Phuong, Trinh Ba Tu, and their mother Can Thi Theu, announced that Tu’s grapefruit grove had a blockbuster harvest this year and that they would sell off all the fruits. Thao said that her family would like to thank everyone who has supported them economically during this difficult time. The three human rights defenders are serving multi-year sentences for helping land grab victims after the bloody Dong Tam incident in 2019.
Activists at Risk

Le Van Hoa, an attorney who defended many human rights victims in the past, has officially quit the profession. Hoa has publicly stated that he no longer has any faith in the judicial system in Vietnam. In May, 2021, Hoa announced on Facebook that he would suspend his participation in several high profile cases, including one involving the father of death row inmate Nguyen Van Chuong, after his warnings about wrongful conduct by prosecutors and the court were ignored. Hoa turned in his practicing license to the Hanoi Lawyers Association with a scathing letter on Dec. 12, 2023.

Huynh Ngoc Truong, a religious and land rights activist from Con Dau Parish in Central Vietnam, was allowed to emigrate to the United States with his family. In 2010, Truong was involved in land dispute protests in Danang which resulted in over 100 parishioners being injured, 62 arrested, six imprisoned, and more than 150 people fleeing to Thailand to evade persecution. Truong himself was barred from leaving the country in 2019. It wasn’t until after the visit by U.S. President Joe Biden that his passport was given back to him. According to VOA, Truong is believed to be the last of four activists released and/or allowed to emigrate as part of the US-Vietnam diplomatic upgrade pact last September, although neither Washington nor Hanoi will confirm that such an exchange agreement exists.



HCM City leader welcomes US congressional delegation; Vietnam+; 2024-01-26. Vice Chairman of the Ho Chi Minh City People’s Committee Vo Van Hoan on January 26 hosted a reception for Chairwoman of the House of Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Indo-Pacific Kim Young, who is leading a US congressional delegation to pay a working visit to the city. Highlighting the Vietnamese Party and State’s stance on the issues of the US guests’ interest, Hoan affirmed that Vietnam always cares for, protects and promotes human rights, and puts the people in the center of its policies.

United States, Danang City Sign MOU to Enhance Development Cooperation. USAID; 2024-01-26. The United States Mission to Vietnam announced the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Danang city and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to enhance development cooperation. The United States Mission to Vietnam and Danang partner on a number of shared development priorities, including clean energy, pollution reduction, higher education, and assisting people with disabilities. Under the MOU, USAID/Vietnam and Danang city intend to expand their development cooperation to promote innovative solutions in economic growth; clean energy and energy efficiency, environmental protection and climate change response; health; and human resource development.

Dems join opposition to Vietnam trade status upgrade. Politico; 2024-01-29.Two separate groups of left-leaning House and Senate lawmakers are urging the Biden administration not to grant Vietnam market economy status amid its ongoing review, which Commerce aims to wrap up by the end of July. The senators underscored the use of child and forced labor in Vietnam, and the country’s growing trade ties with China, while arguing that granting market economy status would worsen ongoing trade distortions and threaten American workers and industries.

Vietnam, Philippines sign deals on security in disputed South China Sea. Al Jazeera; 2024-01-30. Vietnam and the Philippines have agreed to cooperate on maritime security in the South China Sea, that is claimed by Beijing almost in its entirety. The deals, signed during a state visit to Hanoi by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr on Tuesday, will see the two countries’ coastguards working together to prevent and manage incidents in the disputed waters.


Vietnam to hold arms fair in December as it seeks to diversify supplies. Reuters; 2024-01-26. Vietnam’s defense ministry said on Friday it will organize an international arms fair in December, as it seeks to diversify its arms supplies and expand cooperation in arms production and exports. The event, to be held at Gia Lam airbase in Hanoi from December 19-22, is “an opportunity for international defense cooperation and to seek partners to promote weapon production and exports”, a ministry official said at the press briefing.

Human Rights Watch dismisses Vietnam govt criticism. Radio Free Asia; 2024-01-28. Human Rights Watch has hit back at the Vietnamese government for accusing the non-governmental organization of fabricating its World Report 2024. The report, published on Jan. 11, accused Vietnam of suppressing people’s rights “to freedom of expression, association, peaceful assembly, movement, and religion,” and said the communist party “severely punishes anyone who challenges its monopoly on power.”

Vietnam Politburo Accepts Member’s Offer to Step Down Amid Probe. Bloomberg; 2024-01-31. Vietnam Communist Party’s Central Committee has accepted the resignation of Politburo member Tran Tuan Anh amid a probe into violations at the trade ministry under his watch. The decision, announced in a statement on a government website, was made after the party’s Central Inspection Commission early this month asked the Politburo to consider punishment for Anh, who served as trade minister between 2016 and 2021. The party’s Central Inspection Commission called for punishment after a probe into activities of the trade ministry under his watch showed “serious violations” in planning and regulating the solar and wind sector. His decisions potentially carried huge costs to the state, according to statements on the government website. Violations were also found in managing gasoline and oil supply as well as in the use of the nation’s petroleum price stabilization fund.

Vietnam Overtakes China as Largest Exporter of Goods Made With Uyghur Forced Labor. Voice of America; 2024-01-31. Vietnam was the top exporter to the United States of products covered by the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act in 2023, the first time a country has outranked China since the law passed in 2021, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. The act bans the import of products made with Uyghur forced labor. It is a U.S. response to human rights abuses by Beijing of Uyghur and other Muslim minority groups in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in China. Customs and Border Protection enforcement statistics released Jan. 26 show that Vietnam last year exported the greatest value of products that were denied entry to the U.S. since the law has been enforced, followed by Malaysia.

Vietnamese human rights: ‘Need to be depoliticized’. BBCNews Tieng Viet; 2024-02-01. During a late 2023 trip to Germany to learn about the lives of some Vietnamese activists after taking refuge there, BBC News Vietnamese interviewed Mr. Vu Quoc Dung, Director of the Human Defenders Network, an organization that has participated in campaigns to call for the release of a number of activists imprisoned by the Vietnamese government, including Ms. Do Thi Minh Hanh, Ms. Mai Thi Dung, Mr. Nguyen Bac Truyen and Mr. Nguyen Van Dai.


Vang Duc Son, Source: RFA

INTERVIEW: Vietnam’s oppression of the Protestant H’mong people. Radio Free Asia; 2024-01-31. Vang Duc Son suffered years of harassment in Vietnam due to his beliefs as a Protestant in Dien Bien province. He was arrested and denied identification papers by the government but continued to fight for the rights of the ethnic H’mong people. In May 2011, Son took part in a protest against government land seizures and had to flee Vietnam after being detained by the police. He went to Thailand before finally settling in the U.S. with his family and continues to speak out about persecution in Vietnam. Radio Free Asia’s Cao Nguyen caught up with him at the 2024 International Religious Freedom Summit in Washington DC.

At the end of November, 2023, activist Lee Sangsoo spoke about human rights violations committed by Samsung Electronics in Vietnam at a conference on labor, the environment, and Asian transnational corporations held in Taipei. According to Sangsoo, Samsung is responsible for environmental damages and unsafe labor conditions at its cell phone factory in Vietnam.
VIDEO: Human Rights Violations by Samsung Electronics in Vietnam. Youtube; 2023-12-21.

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