Vietnam Free Expression Newsletter No. 7/2022 – Week of February 14-20

Greetings from The 88 ProjectWe bring you news, analysis, and actions regarding human rights and civil society in Vietnam during the week of February 14-20. Another reporter was arrested and charged under Article 331. Families of some political prisoners still are not allowed to see them; one political prisoner has been infected with Covid. Human Rights Watch published a comprehensive report on Vietnam’s systematic restrictions on freedom of movement that is truly a must read. The EU reaffirms its commitment to make Vietnam honor its EVFTA obligations in human rights. In an unusually positive development, thousands of workers at two plants went on strike and forced owners to concede to their demands. The killing of a priest in the highlands continues to attract attention and demand answers. An investigative report on the horrific trafficking of Vietnamese children must be seen to be believed.


Political Prisoners

On February 5, Bac Giang provincial police arrested former reporter Doan Tu Tan (Đoàn Từ Tấn) and charged him with “abuse of democratic freedoms” according to Article 331. The police alleged that Tan made anonymous accusations of corruption against the leadership of the police in Luc Ngan County. The police report did not give any further details. Curiously, Tan was waiting to begin serving a three-year prison sentence after he was convicted by a Luc Ngan court in November 2021 of “taking bribes.” It is not known if his latest arrest had anything to do with that case.

Nguyen Thai Hung, the popular YouTuber, who was detained by men posing as electricians while he was live-streaming on January 10, has been infected with Covid-19, his family reported, though they don’t know where he’s being held.

Theu and Tu at their first instance trial in May 2021, Source: State Media via RFA

The family of mother and son Can Thi Theu and Trinh Ba Tu still have not been allowed to see or call them, even after their trials in May when they were convicted and sentenced to eight years in prison each for conducting “anti-State propaganda.” It is alleged that the reason is because of their refusal to take “re-education” courses.

According to female political prisoner Huynh Thuc Vy’s family, she has been transferred to Gia Trung detention center, 200km away from her home. Her father said this has made it difficult for family visits, even though she is allowed to have visitors. It is not known why she was moved.

This week, we think of Huynh Dac Tuy on the anniversary of his arrest. An online commentator and director of a construction company, Tuy was arrested on February 24, 2019, and sentenced to six years in prison for spreading “anti-State propaganda.”

International Advocacy

Human Rights Watch has just released a comprehensive 65-page report on Vietnam’s suppression of freedom of movement since 2004. The report documents more than 170 cases of activists and/or their family members being blocked from travel using a multitude of tactics. Download this indispensable report here.

The EU Domestic Advisory Group, set up as part of the Europe-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement, met with the International Federation for Human Rights to reaffirm the commitment to support civil society in Vietnam, particularly human rights and environmental rights defenders, as part of the EVFTA mandate.


Vietnamese activists routinely placed under house arrest, report finds, Rebecca Ratcliff, The Guardian, February 17, 2022: “It is so common for activists to be subjected to arbitrary house arrest that bloggers have developed a code name for the practice, the report said, calling it banh canh, after a southern dish – banh is a Vietnamese word used for cake or noodles, while canh means either soup or to guard. Activists post on Facebook that they are eating banh canh to signal that they are under house arrest. Some try to bypass restrictions by leaving their homes in advance of dates that might prompt a clampdown, or by taking alternative transport to attend events. Often, they are intercepted. In one prominent case, when then-US president Barack Obama visited Hanoi in 2016, more than half of the civil society representatives he invited to the US embassy were unable to attend. One of the invitees, Nguyen Quang A, an economist and activist, was forced into a car and driven around for hours. Others were blocked from attending or detained en route.”

Vietnamese workers at electronics plant strike for higher pay, more benefits, RFA, February 15, 2022: “Cresyn Hanoi immediately addressed some issues as it reviews costlier wage increases. The company agreed to test workers weekly for the COVID-19 virus, increase employees’ meal allowances, replace worker uniforms each year, and expand the parking area. Cresyn Hanoi said it would respond to worker demands for higher base pay, allowances, and bonuses by Feb. 25. The strike comes on the heels of a successful strike by workers at Viet Glory Co., Ltd., a Taiwanese-owned footwear manufacturer in central Vietnam’s Nghe An province. The company ceded to demands by its 5,000-strong workforce to increase salaries and provide extra pay for long-term workers, along with other benefits, according to state media.”

Vietnamese Catholics want justice for martyred Fr Thanh (and forgiveness), Peter Tran, PIME Asia News, February 12, 2022: “Speaking to AsiaNews, Fr Toma Aquino stresses that the order wants the investigation into the priest’s murder to be completely transparent, hoping that ‘an open trial will soon get underway.’ At the same time, he wants justice and Vietnam’s law to be enforced in a ‘Catholic spirit’ because ‘we do not want revenge’ or ‘another person’s blood’ nor material compensation. ‘We just want to know the reasons that led the killer to take a knife; the goal is to prevent further violence. We shall all forgive him.’ … People of other or no faith have also come to pray and lay flowers. One bunch carried a note that said: ‘God is love. I am an atheist, but I’m here to pay homage to Fr Joseph.’ Abroad, hundreds of Buddhist monks also prayed for his soul, in accordance with Buddhist practice, in front of the altar. A picture of the prayer posted online went immediately viral, touching many Christians and non-Christians.”

February 17, 1979: The Start of the Sino-Vietnamese Border War, Jason Nguyen, The Vietnamese, February 17, 2022: “The 1979 Sino-Vietnamese border war has long been considered a taboo topic in Vietnam since the two sides normalized their diplomatic ties following the Chengdu Summit in 1990. For almost two decades, Vietnam did not teach about the border war in its educational system and the soldiers who have died fighting with the Chinese did not get honored for sacrificing their lives for the country’s independence and sovereignty. In 2011 and the following years, Vietnamese citizens who protested against China’s aggression in the South China Sea were suppressed by their own government, Vietnam.”

US unveils new Indo-Pacific strategy, but can it deliver?, RFA, February 14, 2022: “The new strategy prioritizes Washington’s long-standing treaty alliances with Australia, Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, and Thailand. It also calls for stronger relationships with India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mongolia, New Zealand, Singapore, Taiwan, Vietnam, and the Pacific Islands. The U.S. will pursue an Indo-Pacific that is ‘free and open,’ and will build support for ‘rules-based approaches to the maritime domain, including in the South China Sea and the East China Sea.’ It also plans to expand the U.S. Coast Guard presence and cooperation in Southeast and South Asia and the Pacific Islands, and provide maritime security assistance. Another focus is Taiwan.”


An investigative report on the trafficking of Vietnamese children by 101 East reveals a harrowing picture: “Living in constant fear of the traffickers, children are forced to work off their debts which can be as high as tens of thousands of dollars. The trade has been going on for years and authorities are being criticised for not living up to their commitments to stop it.” Watch the report here.


Share this video interview with Can Thi Theu to raise awareness of her case. She and her two sons are currently imprisoned for their land rights activism. Theu and son Trinh Ba Tu are still being denied contact with their family, even after their trial in May 2021.

© 2022 The 88 Project

Correction: In last week’s newsletter, posted 2/14/22, we incorrectly stated that the USCRIF report on Vietnam was part of its annual report; the report is actually a separate country update.