Vietnam Free Expression Newsletter No. 7/2020 – Week of February 10-16

Featured Image: Journalist Le Anh Hung

Greetings from The 88 Project! We are bringing you news, analysis, and actions regarding human rights and civil society in Vietnam during the week of February 10-16. This week, we remember the birthdays and arrest anniversaries of several political prisoners. We also commemorate the one-month anniversary of the attack on Dong Tam commune by sharing the Dong Tam Task Force’s updated report on the January 9 incident. This week, the European Parliament approved two trade agreements with Vietnam, despite months of protests from civil society organizations demanding improved metrics for human rights monitoring. In the news, read about a new report on LGBT youth rights in Vietnam and Russian-Vietnamese security ties. In case you missed it, watch our video interview with imprisoned journalist Le Anh Hung’s mother. And please take action in support of an independent investigation into the Dong Tam commune raid.


Prisoners of Conscience
This week, we remember the birthdays and arrest anniversaries of the following political prisoners:
  • Anti-corruption activist Nguyen Van Truong, arrested February 9, 2018, still awaiting trial in pre-trial detention

  • Activist Vo Thuong Trung, birthday February 10, serving three years in prison for “disrupting security”

  • Environmental and labor rights activist Hoang Duc Binh, birthday February 10, serving a 14-year prison sentence

Community at Risk

Le Dinh Kinh, who was killed in the raid. Source: BBC News Vietnamese
It’s been one month since the raid on Dong Tam commune. The Dong Tam Task Force, a group comprised of local activists, has released the second, updated version of its report on the events of that day. The report includes background on the conflict, a timeline of events, analysis, recommendations, and photos. Read the report, here. In case you missed it, on January 9, 2020, security officers entered the area of Dong Tam commune while its residents were still asleep and began a widespread and violent attack against the community. The raid resulted in injury, death, and the detention of over 20 people. Local leader Le Dinh Kinh was killed in the raid. The Dong Tam commune area is the site of a long-running land conflict, as farmers there claim that the government is seizing the traditional agricultural land for the development of a military airport without providing proper compensation.
Mass Surveillance
More than 1,000 smart security cameras have been installed for a one-year pilot period at “critical locations” in District 1 of Ho Chi Minh city, which includes the city’s People’s Committee headquarters, the American Consulate, and the Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica of Saigon, in order to “ensure security and order” and “prevent gatherings that disturb public order.” On February 15, 2020, state-owned media reported that during the pilot period, the smart security camera system has been “very effective in preventing riots, illegal gatherings, and promptly halting extremist acts and disturbances of public order.” It is reported that after the pilot period, more security cameras are being considered for installation at “critical locations” for security and order in District 1. According to, as of December 2019, Vietnam was among the top ten most-surveilled countries in the world, with more than 2.6 million security cameras installed in the country.
International Relations
The European Parliament voted this week to approve two pending trade deals with Vietnam, despite calls for stronger human rights protections in the agreements. The free trade agreement was approved by 401 votes to 192, and the investment protection agreement was also approved. MEP Geert Bourgeois says that the Parliament remains worried about Vietnamese political prisoners but stated that “Vietnam is responding in a positive manner and from this month a European Parliament delegation will monitor the situation.” Two political prisoners have been in solitary confinement in recent weeks, and authorities have already arrested two people in 2020 and charged them with “conducting propaganda against the state” and “abusing democratic freedoms.”


EU puts riches over rights in Vietnam trade deal, David Hutt, Asia Times, February 13, 2020: “Ironically, the EU also announced on February 12 that it will partially remove its preferential trade privileges for Cambodia, Vietnam’s neighbor, in punitive response to that country’s democratic backsliding. Yet, however much Cambodia’s politics has deteriorated in recent years, it is still far more progressive than Vietnam, one of the worst rights abusers in Asia and an intractable one-party state.”

Vietnam: LGBT Youth Unprotected, Human Rights Watch, February 12, 2020: “The 65-page report, ‘My Teacher Said I Had a Disease’: Barriers to the Right to Education for LGBT Youth in Vietnam,” documents how LGBT youth in Vietnam face stigma and discrimination at home and at school over myths such as the false belief that same-sex attraction is a diagnosable, treatable, and curable mental health condition. Many experience verbal harassment and bullying, which in some cases leads to physical violence. Teachers are often untrained and ill-equipped to handle cases of anti-LGBT discrimination, and their lessons frequently uphold the widespread myth in Vietnam that same-sex attraction is a disease, Human Rights Watch found.”

Defense Minister Trip Puts Russia-Vietnam Security Ties into Focus, Prashanth Parameswaran, February 12, 2020: “Per a statement issued by Vietnam’s defense ministry, the meeting between Lich and Shoigu saw both sides take stock of recent developments in relations as well as chart out potential areas of collaboration. In terms of avenues for collaboration, they discussed not only areas of bilateral ties such as exchanges, dialogues, and training, but also wider cooperation including collaboration in multilateral fora – with Vietnam holding both a non-permanent seat at the UN Security Council and the ASEAN chair in 2020 – as well as specific areas such as terrorism (with both sides co-chairing the ADMM-Plus Expert Group on Counterterrorism from 2020 to 2023).”


Blogger and reporter Le Anh Hung is being subjected to psychological abuse in prison. We recently interviewed Ms. Tran Thi Niem, Hung’s mother, about his current condition. Watch the full interview here. Hung has been forced to receive mental health treatment against his will, despite having no history of mental health issues. Due to this and other mistreatment, Hung’s physical health has severely deteriorated. His mother petitioned the government in 2019 to release Hung so that he can receive treatment at home, but Hung remains in prison awaiting trial.


Du Thi Thanh and Le Dinh Kinh, Source: BBC Vietnamese
It has been one month since Vietnamese security forces raided Dong Tam commune, killing local land rights activist Le Dinh Kinh, arresting community members, and attacking many homes. Many questions still surround the events of January 9, and family members of those affected and local activists are calling for an independent investigation into the events of that day. Call for an independent investigation into the events at Dong Tam commune. Share your support on social media. You can link to one of the translated testimonies from Le Dinh Kinh’s wife, Du Thi Thanh, (video script testimony and letter testimony) or to the updated report from the Dong Tam Task Force.
© 2020 The 88 Project