Vietnam Free Expression Newsletter No. 7/2024 – Week of Feb. 9-15

Greetings from Project88. We bring you news, analysis, and actions regarding human rights and civil society in Vietnam during the week of Feb. 9-15. UN experts voice support for Dang Dinh Bach as he endures his third hunger strike and call for Vietnam to “stop targeting, convicting, and mistreating human rights defenders.” A family receives a rare, surprise phone call after persistent efforts from prisoners to demand to be able to call home for Tet. Vietnam’s President has commuted 23 death sentences in recent months – but many question the motives behind doing so.


Political Prisoners 

Le Trong Hung

Le Trong Hung’s family visited him in Nghe An Province on Feb. 7, three days before the Lunar New Year (Tet in Vietnamese). Do Le Na and their two young children had to depart from Hanoi at 1:30 a.m. in order to arrive at Prison No. 6 by 7:30 a.m. After waiting for an hour and a half, they were finally let in to see Hung for the first time in four months. Na said Hung appeared to be in good health even though he was still having issues with his vision and his hearing, which interfere with his reading and daily routines. Na told Project88 that for some unknown reason, five extra guards were posted during their visit.

Then on the eve of the Lunar New Year, Do Le Na received a surprise call from her husband. She told Project88 afterwards that it was the result of a persistent request by Hung and several other prisoners that they be allowed to call their family during Tet. It was the first time in over a year that Hung was able to talk to their children over the phone. Even though the call only lasted 10 minutes, Hung used the occasion to send new year wishes to his extended family, friends and supporters inside as well as outside of Vietnam.

Dang Minh Quang, a Khmer Krom activist, was sentenced by a court in Soc Trang Province to three-and-a-half years in prison for “abusing democratic freedoms.” Prosecutors said that between 2021 and 2023 Quang used his Facebook account to post 51 comments, photos ,and videos that allegedly violated Vietnamese law. He was arrested in July 2023 along with two other individuals – Thach Chuong and To Hoang Chuong. All three were charged with violating Article 331 of the Criminal Code.


The Death Penalty
State media reported that President Vo Van Thuong has commuted the death sentences for five individuals to life imprisonment as part of the annual Lunar New Year tradition. In December of last year, Thuong also did the same for 18 people. The names of the individuals have not yet been released. Some observers have doubted the sincerity of the move, which they say is done to gain political favor. Vietnam is one of the top global executors, retaining the death penalty even for drug offenses and withholding official data on execution numbers.

Vietnam kills more of its own citizens than almost any other country. Between 2013 and 2016, the most recent time period for which data is available, the government went on a killing spree, executing 429 people. This puts Vietnam behind only China and Iran in its use of the death penalty. Globally, use of the death penalty is at an all-time low. At the end of 2022, 112 countries had abolished the death penalty for all crimes. In spite of this trend, last year Vietnam handed down 102 death sentences.

International Advocacy 

Hoang Thi Minh Hong

On the occasion of the Tet Lunar New Year, the environmental advocacy group International Rivers published a YouTube video to draw attention to jailed climate defenders Hoang Thi Minh Hong and Dang Dinh Bach; the latter is also on a hunger strike. See the video here.

Dang Dinh Bach

Viet Nam: End convictions and deplorable detention conditions for human rights defenders, UN experts say. OHCHR; 2024-02-14. UN experts today urged the Government of Viet Nam to stop targeting, convicting, and mistreating human rights defenders, after environmental human rights defender Dang Dinh Bach began his third hunger strike to protest against his detention conditions.



After a Major Upgrade, the US Military Wants to Take Things Further With Vietnam. The Diplomat; 2024-02-09. U.S. military leaders are eyeing more cooperation with Vietnam in 2024, aiming to deepen a relationship that has expanded rapidly amid heightened tensions with China. But while both sides have expressed interest in strengthening ties, Hanoi’s desire to balance between its foreign partners and its wariness of its larger neighbor will likely limit how far it will take its security relationship with the U.S.

Vietnam’s Climate Solutions Are Decimating the Mekong Delta. The Diplomat. 2024-02-09. The Mekong is sinking. Climate change and environmental degradation from human development present an existential threat to the Mekong. Salt intrusion into the freshwater river, rising sea levels, land subsidence, sand mining, lower base flow, and upstream damming have all contributed to a decline in agricultural productivity in recent years. In 2020, rice farmers in the provinces most impacted by saline intrusion were expected to lose at least 30 percent of their harvest from lack of fresh water. Recently, international organizations and government programs have encouraged agricultural diversification toward greater economic and climate resilience. Unfortunately, little attention has been paid to the negative environmental impacts of this mass transition to shrimp farming, an ultimately unsustainable move.

US-based activist continues to speak up for Vietnam minority. Radio Free Asia; 2024-02-12. Vang Seo Gia arrived in the United States on Feb.1 with his wife and son after the ethnic Hmong family spent six years living in Thailand as refugees. The Hmong, many of whom are Christian, live mainly in Vietnam’s Central Highlands where they struggle to obtain ID documents and face land grabs from the local government. Gia, a founder of the Hmong Human Rights Coalition, fled Vietnam after police arrested and killed his nephew Ma Sea Sung. Gia and his family demanded an investigation into Sung’s death but decided to leave the country and seek asylum in Thailand after learning police planned to arrest Gia.

Vietnam headed to the future with a defective compass. East Asia Forum; 2024-02-12. In 2023, Vietnam adopted a strategy which maintains an outlook of peace, cooperation and development. It has formed comprehensive strategic partnerships with the United States and Japan, while also joining China’s ‘community with a shared future’, ceasing years of resistance to Chinese pressure. Despite its external diplomatic moves, Vietnam’s domestic policy has focused on preserving Communist Party rule through continued anti-corruption campaigns and repression of civil society — including arrests of activists — leading to stagnation in bureaucracy, decreased public trust and undermined mechanisms for accountability.

Getting Vietnam’s economic growth back on track. East Asia Forum; 2024-02-14. Vietnam’s post-pandemic promise fizzled in 2023, with plunging exports and a sluggish domestic sector dragging growth down to 5 per cent. Falling foreign investment, like Intel’s halted chip expansion, exposed structural weaknesses — an overreliance on foreign firms, a stunted domestic private sector and red tape slowing progress. While the government has room to stimulate the economy and its anti-corruption campaign shows promise, Vietnam needs bolder reforms — revamping state-owned enterprises and streamlining bureaucracy — to regain its pre-pandemic momentum and climb the manufacturing value chain.

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