Vietnam Free Expression Newsletter No. 8/2022 – Week of February 21-27

Greetings from The 88 ProjectWe bring you news, analysis, and actions regarding human rights and civil society in Vietnam during the week of February 21-27. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has posed some difficult questions for Vietnam — a long time Russian ally since the Soviet days. It also has serious implications for China in its relations with Vietnam, Southeast Asia, and Taiwan. Meanwhile, as new US strategies in Southeast Asia slowly take shape, it’s likely that the Ukraine war will further complicate matters. Some details have emerged from the labor strikes in Vietnam. A Catholic mass was disrupted by mysterious men in disguise. On the human rights front, a political prisoner was released a few months early, a well known activist will be put on trial along with his “accomplice,” and several appeal trials have been scheduled whose results will most likely be more of the same — no change in sentencing.


Political Prisoners

Le Van Dung and Dang Dinh Bach

Le Van Dung, aka Le Dung Vova, will be put on trial on March 11, 2022. Dung is charged with “propaganda against the government” according to the Article 88 of the 1999 Criminal Code. Dung was on the run for a few months before he was arrested at the house of a relative in June 2021. Arrested along with him at the time were two other people, but were not able to identify them. We now know that one person will be tried along with Dung at this trial. His name is Nguyen Van Son, 66, who is under house arrest. Son is charged with “harboring fugitives” according to Article 389 of the 1999 Criminal Code.

Tran Quoc Khanh had his appeal trial on February 17. Just like most of the appeal trials, there was no change to Khanh’s 6.5 year sentence. Khanh, 62, ran as an independent for a seat in the National Assembly. He was convicted in October 2021 of “anti-State propaganda” according to Article 117. According to his brother Tran Quoc An, Khanh’s lawyer and his family were not allowed inside the courtroom, yet “there were strangers in the room.” Recently, Khanh was allowed to see his wife and talk on the phone. Khanh has recently been experiencing high blood pressure, stomach aches, severe gout, and mental stress.

Dang Dinh Bach’s lawyers and his family have not been allowed to see him since his trial in January. They also don’t know whether or not he’s been moved to a different detention center nor what his health status is. His request for an appeal was approved on February 14, but his lawyers didn’t get a notice until a week later on February 21.

Pham Doan Trang and Le Huu Minh Tuan

Dang Dinh Manh, attorney for Pham Doan Trang, said the Court accepted her motion for an appeal on January 27; the appeal trial for her nine-year sentence legally must happen within 90 days of then. Trang has been denied family and lawyer visits since her trial in December.

According to attorney Dang Dinh Manh, journalist Le Huu Minh Tuan’s appeal will be held on February 28. He was sentenced to 11 years in prison in January 2021.

Vo Thuong Trung, who was sentenced to three years in prison in November 2019 for “disrupting security,” was released on February 22. Trung and five others were arrested as they were planning to protest against the Cyber Security bill and the Special Economic Zone bill.

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

Nguyen Van Cong Em and Nguyen Hoai Nam

  • Online commentator Nguyen Van Cong Em, arrested on February 28, 2019, and sentenced to five years in prison for conducting “anti-state propaganda”
  • Protester Dang Ngoc Tan, birthday February 28, serving 24 years in prison after three separate trials on charges of “deliberate destruction of public property” and “causing public disorder”
  • Video bloggers Nguyen Van Dien and Vu Quang Thuan, arrested on March 2, 2017, and sentenced to six and a half and eight years in prison for conducting “anti-state propaganda”
  • Journalist Nguyen Hoai Nam, arrested March 2, 2021, and held in pre-trial detention on charges of “abusing democratic freedoms”
Community at Risk

Plainclothes police officers disrupted a mass at a church in Vu Ban parish in Hoa Binh province on February 20 as Archbishop Vu Can Thien was conducting a mass.


Why Southeast Asians Should Care About the Ukraine Crisis, David Hutt, The Diplomat, February 25, 2022: “The outcome in Ukraine matters greatly for national sovereignty and the international order, a clear concern of Southeast Asians, according to the 2022 State of Southeast Asia report that was published last week by Singapore’s ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute. To the question ‘Who do you have the strongest confidence in to provide leadership to maintain the rules-based order and uphold international law?’ the United States came top with 36.6 percent. Of the 58.1 percent of respondents who said they do not trust China to ‘do the right thing’ to contribute to global peace, security, prosperity, and governance, just under half said their main reason was because ‘China’s economic and military power could be used to threaten my country’s interests and sovereignty.’ Some 77.3 percent of respondents stated that ‘China should respect my country’s sovereignty and not constrain my country’s foreign policy choices.’”

On Ukraine crisis, Vietnam media stray from typical pro-Russia coverage, RFA, February 24, 2022: “Today, the picture is different. Nhan Dan daily, the mouthpiece of Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party, reported both sides’ arguments at Tuesday’s United Nations Security Council’s emergency meeting on Ukraine. It carried quotes by not only the Russian and Chinese representatives but also by the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. and a statement from the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. The official Vietnam News Agency’s online newspaper, Bao Tin Tuc, while dedicating more space as usual to the Russian accounts of the crisis, also reported on the West’s condemnation of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recognition of the two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine, as well as the European sanctions against Moscow. An opinion piece went as far as saying that Putin’s action has ‘destroyed the hope for a diplomatic solution to the conflict.’”

Behind the strikes in central Vietnam, Phan Duong – Duc Hung, VN Express, February 21, 2022: “Besides the 11 main grievances the company’s leadership has been informed about, other things that frustrate Tuoi and many of her colleagues include the requirement to be present 10 minutes before the start of the shift daily, attend meetings where they are not allowed to express their opinions and receiving a warning for a faulty fingerprint scanner. ‘They were like small flames that sparked this strike,’ the female worker said. She said the footwear company gives employees a day off every month and they must use it in the same month. She said the attitudes of the foreign managers make ‘the workers’ resentment grow bigger and bigger. They curse us. If we do something wrong, we could have a shoe thrown in the face.’”

Shifting SE Asia sentiment amid US-China rivalry, David Hutt, Asia Times, February 22, 2022: “However, when broken down by country, the findings are stark. The percentage of Burmese respondents who said ASEAN has to choose between one of the two superpowers increased from 8.3% in last year’s survey to 30.6% in the recently-released study. This may be expected due to the ongoing crisis started by last year’s military coup. But the percentage of Vietnamese respondents who agreed that ‘remaining neutral is impractical’ rose from 1.1% to 9.7%, and the percentage of Singaporeans and Indonesians increased three-fold and more than double, respectively. No Cambodian respondents agreed with this position last year, but 13.6% now say they were in favor of choosing sides.”

The Dong Tam Incident: Land Dispute Misconstrued As Terrorism, Son Nguyen, The Vietnamese, February 23, 2022: “According to anthropologist Philip Taylor, land contenders in Vietnam often do not aim to undermine the state through their protests, but rather aspire to get the government to act in their favor. Le Dinh Kinh himself, the 84-year-old elder who was brutally shot and killed in the Dong Tam conflict, was a member of the VCP for the majority of his life and still believed in the VCP until the day he died. As many land conflicts in Vietnam remain unresolved, the Vietnamese government faces a difficult paradox of trying to reconcile its commercial interests with their historical ties to farmers and peasants — the same people who enabled the VCP to obtain the great political power that it enjoys now. The fact that Vietnamese authorities poured considerable effort into portraying land contesters as terrorists shows that they are likely very aware of how hypocritical their suppression is. The question now is whether or not they will change their behavior.”


The US State Department has published an in-depth study on China’s maritime claims in the South China Sea which it says violate the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and therefore must be rejected in favor of a “rules-based international maritime order within the South China Sea and worldwide.” Vietnam is one of several countries who also have maritime claims there.


Take action for journalist Le Huu Minh Tuan, who faces his appeal trial on February 28, by sharing this video interview, in which he highlights in his own words the peaceful nature of his work and contends that he joined the Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam to pursue the rights enshrined in Vietnam’s Constitution.

© 2022 The 88 Project