Vietnam Free Expression Newsletter No. 6/2024 – Week of Feb. 2-8

Greetings from Project88. We bring you news, analysis, and actions regarding human rights and civil society in Vietnam during the week of Feb. 2-8. Our thoughts are with political prisoners and their families as we celebrate Tet.

Two prisoners are currently on hunger strikes. One Facebook user was arrested this week, another was sentenced to three and a half years in prison. We have updates this week from political prisoners’ families who were able to see their loved ones ahead of the holiday. One family traveled 14 hours round-trip only to be permitted to see their loved one for a mere 24 minutes.

Chúc mừng năm mới, and thank you for your support for Project88 and Vietnamese activists and human rights defenders.


Political Prisoners 

Dang Dinh Bach (top) and Tran Huynh Duy Thuc are both reported to be on hunger strikes at Prison No. 6, Nghe An province

Dang Dinh Bach’s wife, Tran Phuong Thao, visited him on Feb. 1 and told Project88 that Bach would start a hunger strike the next day to protest inhumane treatment. Bach said he was not allowed to call home in January because the “intended content of the call,” which he had to submit to prison officials for review beforehand, was not approved. He said they were simply topics that were not prohibited by law. His two letters home also were allegedly not allowed to be sent. The complaints that he sent to the Procuracy months ago still have not been responded to, and even though the Procuracy’s representatives did visit the prison, he was not allowed to meet with them.

Bach confirmed that since September of last year, the four inmates in his A group have not received their food rations, and that he himself could not buy food from the canteen, especially fruits and vegetables. He also has not been able to buy hot water to cook noodles. Bach said he was determined to remain on a hunger strike until conditions improved at the prison. According to Bach, Tran Huynh Duy Thuc has been on a hunger strike since Jan. 27 and his health was deteriorating to the point he sometimes has a hard time breathing. Bach said he would try to persuade Thuc to stop. Every time Bach mentioned Thuc’s name, however, the guard monitoring Thao’s visit would cut him off and give him stern warnings.

Nguyen Thuy Hanh in her first public photo since her 2021 arrest

Nguyen Thuy Hanh’s husband, Huynh Ngoc Chenh, told Project88 that as of Feb. 4 Hanh has had five sessions of radiotherapy and one session of chemotherapy at Tan Trieu’s K Hospital to treat her cervical cancer. She will now go back to the Central Psychiatry Hospital in Hanoi and be kept there until after Tet. Starting on the 10th day of the Lunar New Year, she will undergo 20 more radiotherapy and four more chemotherapy sessions over three months. Above is the first public photo of Hanh since her arrest in 2021. Hanh has been held in pre-trial detention since that time, despite not having been convicted of any crime.

Police in An Giang Province arrested 62-year-old Facebooker Tran Van Khanh and charged him with “anti-state propaganda.” Khanh is accused of “having Facebook friends inside and outside Vietnam with whom he corresponded and shared information that defamed the government and the Party.”

On Feb, 7, The People’s Court of Soc Trang Province sentenced Danh Minh Quang, a Khmer Krom activist, to three and a half years in prison for “abusing democratic freedoms,” under Article 331 of the Criminal Code. He was charged for the contents of 51 Facebook comments, photos, and videos posted from 2021 to 2023.

The wife of noodle seller Bui Tuan Lam is allegedly being targeted and economically harassed by police. Le Thanh Lam told Project88 that they came to her house where she was selling homemade snacks and confiscated her dried jackfruit and seaweed products. Ever since her husband was arrested, Thanh Lam has had to resort to making and selling knick-knacks to support herself and their three daughters. She said she only discovered afterwards that the woman who ordered her goods “was planted” by the police.

Nguyen Tuong Thuy

Nguyen Tuong Thuy’s wife visited her husband recently and told Project88 that although he looked healthier on the outside, Thuy was having severe pain in his left wrist. Lan said her husband was also having severe scabies due to the unhygienic conditions. On a relatively bright note, problems with his large intestine seemed to have stabilized since August of last year.

Duong Van Thai

An extremely rare occurrence took place when detainee Duong Van Thai was allowed to meet with his mother for the first time after nine months, before the investigation was complete. Thai was in Bangkok waiting to emigrate to a third country when he suddenly disappeared last April, in what many believe was an illegal abduction. Weeks later, Vietnamese state media announced that Thai had been captured while “trying to cross the border into the country,” without explaining why someone who had escaped Vietnam and been granted political asylum would do that. According to RFA, it is possible that Thai might be released soon.

Le Duc Dong

Le Duc Dong was released from An Diem Prison on Feb. 5 after serving a 12-year sentence. A member of the non-state affiliated Buddhist sect An Dan Dai Dao, Dong was convicted in 2012 for distributing “anti-state propaganda” under Article 79 of the 1999 Penal Code.

Dang Dang Phuoc

Dang Dang Phuoc’s wife visited him on Feb. 4 and reported that Phuoc “looked healthy and was moving about swiftly.” It took a 14 hour round trip for Ha to see her husband for just 24 minutes. During their brief conversation, Ha learned that the following items could not be sent from home: soap bars; cashews, almonds, peanuts, sunflower seeds, and watermelon seeds (traditional Tet snacks).
Activists at Risk
Lu A Da, an ethnic Hmong preacher and human rights activist who fled to Thailand to avoid persecution in 2020, was detained in Bangkok and visited by a Vietnamese official from the embassy who threatened to harm his relatives back home if he didn’t return voluntarily. Lu is a former missionary and preacher of the Northern Evangelical Church of Vietnam and head of the Hmong Human Rights Coalition.

Ngo Van Dung, who was released last September after serving five years in prison for “disturbing the peace,” filed a petition with the Supreme Procuracy, asking them to direct the Procuracy in Binh Duong Province to order officials at An Phuoc Prison to give him back his notebook containing 451 poems that he wrote during his time in jail. The petition was forwarded to the Binh Duong Procuracy in December of last year. Dung is still waiting for an answer.



‘Underwear Queen’ gets 1-year suspended sentence for motorcycle stunts. Radio Free Asia; 2024-02-02. A famous Vietnamese lingerie model known as the “Underwear Queen” received a one-year suspended sentence for “disrupting social order” by posting videos of herself performing risky motorcycle stunts on Facebook. According to a Hanoi lawyer, who requested anonymity for security reasons, “Her act should have not led to arrest, and the media that ran her photos should have blurred her face so as not to affect her personal image.” He said that through this case, authorities wanted to warn people who have large followings on social media. “The judges should observe the law, not follow someone else’s instructions,” he said.

Vietnam pushes US to grant it ‘market economy’ status. DW; 2024-02-05. Vietnam hopes the United States will quickly change its rules over alleged export “dumping,” bringing them closer in line with the European Union’s reformed criteria. Hanoi, said a Vietnamese government official who asked not to be named, is “very keen” for the Biden administration to change its “non-market economy” classification before the US presidential elections in November. The United States continues to classify Vietnam as a non-market economy, which is loosely defined as a country in which the state has either a monopoly or near-monopoly on trade.

One year into the Indonesia and Vietnam’s Just Energy Transition Partnerships. The Interpreter; 2024-02-04. A year after announcing Just Energy Transition Partnerships (JETPs), Indonesia and Vietnam were back at COP28 climate negotiations in Dubai, with investment plans to bring the partnerships to life. JETPs have been referred to as “gamechangers” when it comes to help industrialized economies such as Indonesia and Vietnam wean off coal in a just and equitable manner. But the investment plans for Vietnam and Indonesia share a common challenge: insufficient public finance to catalyze large-scale private investment.

Vietnamese Real Estate Tycoon Facing Trial in Embezzlement Case. VOA News; 2024-02-05. Vietnamese real estate tycoon Truong My Lan is set to go on trial next month, along with 85 alleged accomplices, on charges of embezzling about $12.5 billion from Saigon Joint Stock Commercial Bank. Lan faces a sentence of 20 years to life in prison or the death penalty if convicted. The corruption case is the largest instance of alleged financial fraud in the Southeast Asian nation’s history, and experts say it reveals weaknesses in Vietnam’s banking sector that threaten the Communist Party’s legitimacy.

Will Vietnam Turn to Russia or America for Its New Jet Fighter?. Fulcrum; 2024-02-04. The Vietnam People’s Air Force (VPAF) has a big problem: it needs to replace half of its fleet of frontline fighter jets. Finding a replacement for the Su-22 is a pressing need—China continues to flex its muscles in the South China Sea. However, Hanoi must decide whether it sticks with its traditional defense partner Russia or shifts to new ones like the U.S. It is a weighty decision, and one that will have strategic ramifications for decades to come.

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