Vietnam Free Expression Newsletter No. 6/2021 – Week of February 8-14

Greetings from The 88 Project! Chúc mừng Năm mới! Happy Lunar New Year to all our followers! We bring you news, analysis, and actions regarding human rights and civil society in Vietnam during the week of February 8-14. Phan Kim Khanh and Hoang Duc Binh are both in poor health in prison. Two newspaper employees were arrested on charges of “abusing democratic freedoms” for online posts “defaming” government officials. Read an update on Pastor A Dao, five months after he was released from prison, and check out new reports from the UN on forced disappearances and Human Rights Watch on censorship during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the news and analysis section, read about future implications from Vietnam’s National Party Congress and international relations. Take action by donating to a fund to support the families of political prisoners.


Political Prisoners

Former university student and now political prisoner Phan Kim Khanh is reported to be in bad health due to being held in isolation. Khanh was arrested in March 2017 and is serving a 6-year sentence for “anti-state propaganda.” At the time of his arrest, Khanh was the president of Student Government at Thai Nguyen University’s College of Foreign Studies. Last December, he was given the Le Dinh Luong award for his activism. He’s being held in Ha Nam Province.

After many months not being allowed to visit him, Hoang Duc Binh’s family finally received a letter from him saying that he’s been suffering from sinusitis and was not allowed to receive traditional medication that the family sent. His health is deteriorating; he’s asked to be taken to the hospital, offering to pay for the costs himself, but the request has been repeatedly denied. Binh has been writing home regularly, but for some unknown reason, his letters never reached his family. Binh was arrested in March 2017 and later sentenced to 14 years in prison for his activism; his birthday was February 10.

Phan Bui Bao Thu, office chief at state-run paper Giao Duc va Thoi Dai (Education and Times) was arrested and charged with “abusing democratic freedoms,” under Article 331 of the 2015 Criminal Code. Also arrested, and similarly charged, was his business partner Le Anh Dung. The two men are being investigated for online activities that allegedly “defame” the vice minister of the Ministry of Culture and Sports, Nguyen Van Hung, and Quang Tri provincial chairman, Vo Van Hung, by posting stories of corruption. After arresting the men on February 5, police also searched their homes and confiscated “large amounts of data.”

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

  • Activist Vo Thuong Trung, birthday February 10, serving three years in prison on charges of “disrupting security”
  • Facebooker Phan Van Binh, arrested February 8, 2018, and sentenced to 14 years in prison on charges of subversion
  • Facebooker Nguyen Van Truong, arrested February 9, 2018, and awaiting trial on charges of “abusing democratic freedoms”
  • Six Hoa Hao Buddhists tried February 9, 2018, and sentenced to up to six years in prison each
Activists at Risk
Pastor A Dao, who was released from prison in September after a campaign of intervention by the US Committee on International Religious Freedom, has received assistance from International Christian Concern (ICC) to set up a small convenience store so he can make a living. Pastor A Dao had been in prison for four years in Kontum Province, where his Baptist church was a target of harassment by the authorities. Since his release, Pastor A Dao has been struggling to survive. He said the ICC only provided him a portion of what he needed; the rest he had to borrow from others.
International Advocacy

A group of UN Working Groups on forced disappearances have written a letter to the government of Vietnam to request information about and intervention in the case of Thai national Siam Theerawut, believed to have been arrested by Vietnamese authorities in 2019, and of blogger Truong Duy Nhat (pictured above), who was apprehended by Thai authorities and sent back to Vietnam in 2019, where he was later sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Human Rights Watch has issued an alarming report on how at least 83 governments have used the Covid-19 pandemic as an excuse to restrict and violate the fundamental human rights of their citizens. Broadly speaking, authorities “have attacked, detained, prosecuted, and in some cases killed critics, broken up peaceful protests, closed media outlets, and enacted vague laws criminalizing speech that they claim threatens public health. The victims include journalists, activists, healthcare workers, political opposition groups, and others who have criticized government responses to the coronavirus.”


Vietnam’s gray old men are losing touch with the new generation, Nguyen Phuong Linh, Nikkei Asia, February 19, 2021. “‘The Internationale’, communism’s anthem to revolution and the class struggle, opens with the words: ‘Arise, slaves in the world. Arise, those who are miserable and poor.’ Sung by nearly 1,600 Vietnamese Communist Party leaders during the opening ceremony of the once-every-five-years party congress that concluded on Feb. 1, none of them looked especially enthusiastic as they continued with the words ‘my heart is filled with boiling blood and enthusiasm’.”

Vietnam After the 13th Party Congress: New Urgency, Carlyle A. Thayer, February 2, 2021. “Vietnam also must move ahead on multiple fronts to address possible impediments to continued economic growth. High priority must be given to establishing working relations with the Biden Administration to address bilateral economic and commercial issues. Immediate attention must be given to fully implementing Vietnam’s responsibilities to its free trade agreements, especially the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership and Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership. In short, Vietnam cannot conduct ‘business as usual’ but must work hard with a sense of urgency to pick up momentum for domestic recovery with the assistance and support of the international community.”

Vietnam Picks Control Over Reform at 13th National Party Congress, Huong Le Thu, Foreign Policy, February 10, 2021: “In Vietnam, the perception of lagging behind other Asian economies has been among the country’s top insecurities and, in fact, has driven its development policies. This has come from decades of wars that deprived the country from development and exhausted it economically. The post-Doi Moi era was about catching up to some level of parity with its Southeast Asian neighbors. The pandemic has given Vietnam a chance to lead in economic recovery, but that requires a leadership that can harness the potential of a young and innovative population.”

USCIRF Welcomes Announcement that Refugee Ceiling will Increase Next Fiscal Year. USCIRF, February 5, 2021: “Unprecedented numbers of individuals worldwide are forcibly displaced by conflict or persecution, including based on their religion or belief. USCIRF is encouraged that the Biden Administration is taking steps to ensure that the United States can be a safe haven to those targeted for their faith by restoring a robust resettlement program,” said USCIRF Chair Gayle Manchin.

Vietnamese Police Say Prisoner Died After a Fall, Revising Earlier Suicide Claim, Radio Free Asia, February 11, 2021. “State-run VNExpress reported Thursday that on Jan. 6, 23-year-old Duong Quoc Minh, detained since Nov. 6 on charges of disrupting public order, fell and hit his head while resisting prison escorts at the Chi Hoa detention camp in Ho Chi Minh City, according to a representative of the camp. However, in a Jan. 16 report published by local outlet Tuoi Tre, Duong’s mother Trieu Ngoc Binh said she received notice from the police on Jan. 6 that said her son had taken his own life and requested that she come to receive his body.”


From left to right: Journalists Nguyen Tuong Thuy, Le Huu Minh Tuan, and Pham Chi Dung at trial on January 5, 2021, Source: Vietnam News Agency via Reuters/NY Times

During this Tet holiday consider donating to a fund to support families of political prisoners. We can show our support for political prisoners by helping their families and dependents during what is often a very desperate time while they are imprisoned.

© 2021 The 88 Project