Vietnam Free Expression Newsletter No. 10/2022 – Week of March 7-13

Greetings from The 88 ProjectWe bring you news, analysis, and actions regarding human rights and civil society in Vietnam during the week of March 6-13. A trial has been postponed. Police responded with excessive force to another land rights dispute. Read an interview with an exiled singer-songwriter.  The invasion of Ukraine reveals a split within Vietnamese society as the government tries to take a neutral stance, and foreign ambassadors to Vietnam urge Hanoi to take a stance. Meanwhile, China quietly flexes its muscles by holding exercises in the East (South China) Sea.

HUMAN RIGHTS & CIVIL SOCIETY

Political Prisoners

Tran Thanh Phuong, a member of the Hien Phap (Constitution) group arrested in 2018 and sentenced to three and a half years in 2020 for “disturbing the peace,” has been released after completing his sentence. He has returned to his home in Hue and still has to serve two more years of probation.


Trinh Ba Tu (left) and Trinh Ba Phuong holding signs in support of their mother and fellow activist, Can Thi Theu

Thu Do, the wife of land rights activist Trinh Ba Phuong, said that his attorney visited Phuong on March 8. He reported that Phuong got his vaccination and that his health is fine. Several of his cellmates had to be quarantined because of COVID-19, but Phuong has not shown any symptoms.


Can Thi Theu, who has been imprisoned multiple times for her land rights activism

More worryingly, on February 22 Can Thi Theu, Phuong’s mother, was moved to a different prison — Camp 5 in Thanh Hoa Province, and his brother, Trinh Ba Tu, was moved to Camp 6 in Nghe An Province. hundreds of kilometers away. This will make it even harder for the family to visit all three of them. It’s not clear why they were transferred.


Do Nam Trung

Do Nam Trung met with his lawyers, Luan Le and Pham Le Quyen, on March 9. Truong is in good health and has been vaccinated. He is waiting for his appeal but doesn’t know yet when it will be. Anh Tuyet, his wife, and their daughter were allowed to visit him at the Bat Di Prison in Nam Dinh Province on February 3 and delivered outside food for the first time in seven months. On March 1, however, Trung’s mother was turned away and was told that only “cooked food” was allowed.


Bui Van Thuan

Bui Van Thuan’s wife received a letter from him for the first time since he was arrested on August 30 last year. Thuan said he’d had two shots of the Pfizer vaccine and was in generally good health due to regular exercise. But since last October he’s been having joint pains that doctors have looked at but couldn’t do anything about. Thus every 10 days or so he needs to take antibiotics and pain medication.

Activist Le Van Dung’s trial has been postponed until March 23, 2022. It was originally scheduled for March 11. Nguyen Van Son, a relative, will also be tried alongside him for “harboring a fugitive.”

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

 
Kunh, Lup, and Jur

  • Journalist Le Trong Hung, birthday March 18, sentenced to five years in prison for conducting “anti-state propaganda”
  • Journalist Le Huu Minh Tuan,  birthday March 20, serving 11 years in prison for conducting “anti-state propaganda”
  • Christian Hmong activists Sung A Sinh and Lau A Lenh, tried on March 18, 2020, and sentenced to life in prison on charges of subversion
  • Ha Mon Montagnard farmers KunhLup and Jur, arrested March 19, 2020, and still awaiting trial on unknown charges
Activists at Risk

Mai Khoi, personal photo via The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Read an interview with exiled award-winning activist and singer-songwriter Mai Khoi on International Women’s Day.

More than 100 villagers in Quang Nam Province demanding title to their land were beaten on Saturday by assailants wearing civilian clothes while police looked on.

International Advocacy

Pham Doan Trang will be highlighted as one of the 2022 International Women of Courage Awardees by the US State Department. The award ceremony will take place virtually on March 14 with remarks by First Lady Jill Biden. The ceremony will be hosted by Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Read this statement by Michelle Bachelet, from the Annual Report and Oral Update by the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the activities of her Office and recent human rights developments.

Rita French, the UK’s Global Ambassador for Human Rights, delivered the UK statement on human rights concerns in Russia, Cameroon, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Nicaragua, Vietnam and Ethiopia.

Nearly two dozen ambassadors from Europe and the US in Vietnam have written an open letter calling on Vietnam to support Ukraine in the war instead of trying to play it both ways.

NEWS & ANALYSIS

Vietnam’s crackdown target: citizens who can inspire others, Zachary Abuza, RFA, March 7, 2022: “But the government will also target individuals before they have the chance to gain a bigger following. In 2021, Vietnam arrested nearly 40 bloggers and persons who disseminated “anti-state” material online. Most of them were little-known but all were activists on hot-button issues, such as China, the government’s mishandling of the pandemic, land disputes, and corruption. Clearly, some initiative is taken by local-level security forces and prosecutors in pursuing these cases. Vietnam has also started to use tax evasion charges against dissidents. It remains to be seen if it will take a leaf out of China’s playbook and start targeting other social influencers, including movie stars and musicians, who use their platforms to address pressing social issues.”

Vietnam Says China’s Sea Drills Violate Its Economic Zone, Mai Ngoc Chau and Philip Glamann, Bloomberg, March 7, 2022: “China should not take actions that complicate the South China Sea situation but rather help maintain regional peace, security and stability, Hang said in a statement on the ministry’s website. The exercises are taking place between the Hainan province and Vietnam from March 4 to March 15, Tuoi Tre newspaper reported on Monday, citing an earlier announcement of China Maritime Administration. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said Tuesday at a regular press briefing in Beijing that the drill is lawful. ‘China’s military exercise on its own doorstep is reasonable and lawful. It is beyond reproach.’”

All eyes on Ukraine, China flexes in South China Sea, Javad Heydarian, Asia Times, March 9, 2022: “Amid Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine, China has begun flexing its muscles in a clear show of force to regional rivals. Over the weekend, Beijing announced that it will increase its defense spending by 7.1% to US$229 billion, up from 6.8% last year. This brings official Chinese defense spending to $229 billion, a whopping figure dwarfing all other regional rivals’ defense budgets combined and second only to the United States globally. China’s actual defense spending is likely significantly higher, with some measurements putting it as high as $600 billion in recent years.”

Many Vietnamese Civil Society Groups Support Ukraine, An Hai, VOA, March 9, 2022: “Independent civil society organizations in Vietnam are condemning Russian President Vladimir Putin for invading Ukraine, a stance at odds with Hanoi’s abstention vote at the United Nations. Cultural researcher Nguyen Khac Mai and Professor Nguyen Dinh Cong, representing six independent civil society organizations in Vietnam and more than 150 individuals, presented a letter expressing their ‘support for the Ukrainian people’ to Ukrainian Charge d’Affaires Nataliya Zhynkina at the Ukrainian Embassy in Hanoi on March 3. ‘We have great sympathy and compassion for the people of Ukraine who were invaded by Russia,’ said Nguyen Cong, 86, who taught at the National University of Civil Engineering in Hanoi. He gave up his Vietnam Communist Party membership in 2016 and now is a dissident and political observer.”

The Two Halves Of Vietnam’s Vote, Trinh Huu Long, The Vietnamese, March 8, 2022: “The words in the resolution are completely consistent with the spirit of Ambassador Giang’s speech; the only difference is that the resolution mentions Russia by name and directly calls the country’s actions ‘aggression.’ So, instead of talking the talk and walking the walk, the Vietnamese government voted to abstain, which is essentially no vote at all. To simplify Vietnam’s response, we can ‘translate’ it as follows: We, Vietnamese, generally condemn and oppose acts of aggression, but if someone behaves aggressively, we have no opinion. In other words, Vietnam did not abstain; it actually cast two halves of a vote: half-‘for’ and half-‘against’.

Recommended reading:

Reading Southeast Asia on Ukraine.

China Has Forced Vietnam Into America’s Arms.

Australia Defense to grow to largest size since Vietnam War

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT


Founder of the 50k Fund, Nguyen Thuy Hanh, was arrested on April 7, 2021

The recent spate of arrests of female activists, most of whom are well known and successful women in their fields, points to a disturbing yet deliberate trend in Vietnam. Read our latest report on the situation here.

TAKE ACTION


Cao Vinh Thinh

Take action during this Women’s History Month by watching and sharing one of our interviews with women activists. Our interview collection covers a wide range of women from different backgrounds and areas of activism, including discussing land rights and family ties with Can Thi Theu, book editing with writer Nguyen Thi Khiem Nhu, and the challenges of running an environmentally-friendly business with Cao Vinh Thinh. See all of the videos, here.

© 2022 The 88 Project

International Women’s Day Update: High Profile Activists and Online Commentators Alike Targeted by the Authorities Over the Past Year

Environmental activist Nguy Thi Khanh was arrested in early 2022, Source: Lillian Suwanrumpha/AFP/Getty via The Guardian

Women have played an important role in the struggle for freedom of expression in Vietnam. Although they represent a minority of overall arrests, women have often been important actors in Vietnamese civil society. The draconian prison sentences handed to many women suggest that the Vietnamese government also recognize their influence. In anticipation of International Women’s day on March 8, this article explores the contributions women have made to the struggle for freedom of expression in the last 12 months, and the price they have paid for doing so.

Since International Women’s Day in 2021, three women have been arrested for issues related to freedom of expression in Vietnam. A fourth woman, Nguyen Thi Thuy, may have been arrested in 2021 but there is no confirmed date of her arrest and little is known about her case. During the same time period, however, eight women arrested in 2020 faced trial and were handed prison sentences. The majority of these women, with two notable exceptions, were arrested or sentenced under Articles 331 or 117 of the 2015 Criminal Code. Article 331 prohibits “abusing democratic freedoms,” while Article 117 prevents the dissemination of material which “opposes” the government. Both articles have been roundly criticized by human rights groups and international institutions like the UN.

Founder of the 50k Fund, Nguyen Thuy Hanh, was arrested on April 7, 2021

Although in the last year there have been far fewer women arrested or sentenced than men, those who have faced persecution have often been important figures in Vietnamese civil society. These include the journalist and human rights activist Pham Doan Trang, Nguyen Thuy Hanh, and the environmental CSO leader Nguy Thi Khanh

The first confirmed woman to be arrested since March 8 last year was Nguyen Thuy Hanh, who was arrested on April 7, 2021 after being charged under Article 117. Hanh is the founder of the 50k Fund, which supports political prisoners and their families through charitable donations. It is still unclear exactly why Hanh was arrested, but it is likely in connection with her involvement with the fund. 

In January 2020, Hanh was questioned by police after her bank account was frozen for allegedly violating the law against financing terrorism. At the time, Hanh was involved in collecting money for the family of Le Dinh Kinh, a villager who was killed by police during a raid on the village of Dong Tam. The villagers were in the midst of a land dispute with the authorities which resulted in a violent confrontation between villagers and the police. Three policemen were also killed, which likely explains the authority’s antagonism towards her. Hanh has yet to have her day in court and is still awaiting trial.

Journalist Pham Doan Trang was sentenced to nine years in prison in December 2021

In December 2021, Pham Doan Trang was found guilty of “conducting propaganda” against the state under Article 88 of the 1999 Criminal Code and sentenced to nine years in prison. The law is almost identical to Article 117 of the 2015 Code and has been similarly criticized by the international community. Trang’s activism has been well documented, and she is perhaps the most internationally-esteemed Vietnamese activist. Since the news of her conviction, yet more accolades have continued to be bestowed upon Trang. On February 10, she was named as the recipient of the Canada-UK Media Freedom Award for her contribution to human rights. Melanie Joly, Minister of Foreign Affairs for Canada, praised Trang’s “courage and determination to hold power to account.” 

The recent arrest of the award-winning environmental activist Nguy Thi Khanh is of particular concern to human rights groups. Khanh was arrested in January, but it was not announced publicly until February 9, when state media reported Khanh had been detained for tax evasion under Article 200 of the 2015 Criminal Code. 

Khanh is just the latest environmental CSO leader to be targeted for tax evasion, after Dang Dinh Bach and Mai Phan Loi were both jailed for the same offense in January. There is little information surrounding Khanh’s arrest, but it could well be linked to the government’s draft plans to double coal-powered electricity generation by 2030. In 2013, Khanh launched a public campaign to oppose coal power, collaborating with energy experts, local communities and the media to push back against the government’s proposed plans to increase production.

Former state journalist Tran Thi Tuyet Dieu was tried on April 23, 2021, Source: congluan.vn via Radio Free Asia

The majority of women jailed for expressing their political opinions, however, are not high profile activists but ordinary citizens who are targeted for their criticism of the government on social media. Those sentenced in the last twelve months include Le Thi Binh, who was jailed for two years for posting criticism of the government on Facebook, and Tran Thi Tuyet Dieu, a former state journalist who was jailed for eight years for sharing “anti-state” articles and videos on the same platform.

While arrests of women have declined in the last year, arrests of men rose during the same period, suggesting that the decline cannot be attributed to a relaxation of censorship. There is therefore little reason to expect an improvement in the overall situation for freedom of expression over the next 12 months. Worryingly, eight people were arrested under Article 331 and Article 117 in the first two weeks of January alone, suggesting the situation may even be deteriorating. We at The 88 Project hope there will be better news to report by this time next year, but sadly, current trends make it difficult to remain optimistic. 

© 2022 The 88 Project

Vietnam Free Expression Newsletter No. 9/2022 – Week of February 28-March 6

Greetings from The 88 ProjectWe bring you news, analysis, and actions regarding human rights and civil society in Vietnam during the week of February 28-March 6. An independent journalist failed to appeal his 11-year prison sentence. A 61-year-old Facebooker was arrested for his posts. The mother of a toddler, who by law should not be serving her prison sentence yet, is in jail. A poet was assaulted in the middle of the street in front of the police on his way to receive an award. The Russian invasion of Ukraine presents a host of diplomatic problems for the historically pro-Russia Communist Vietnamese government and reveals a split in support for Ukraine amongst the populace. Hanoi tries to walk a tightrope between Russia and the West while keeping a close eye on how China behaves. An independent group of intellectuals shows the Ukraine ambassador their support.

HUMAN RIGHTS & CIVIL SOCIETY

Political Prisoners


Le Huu Minh Tuan
On February 28 an appeals court in Ho Chi Minh City upheld the 11-year sentence for Le Huu Minh Tuan, a member of the Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam (IJAVN), on charges of “anti-state propaganda.” The open trial lasted only half a day and Tuan’s family was not allowed inside the courtroom. Tuan’s sister, Le Thi Hoai Tam, told VOA that Tuan was not allowed to see his lawyer, Dang Dinh Manh, before the trial due to “pandemic reasons.” According to his lawyer, Tuan stated in court that he only exercised his basic freedoms of expression and of the press according to Article 25 of the Constitution. Two other members of the IJAVN, Pham Chi Dung and Nguyen Tuong Thuy, are also serving time totaling 26 years on similar charges.

Tran Van Bang, Source: Thanh Nien

On March 1, police in Ho Chi Minh City arrested Tran Van Bang, a 61-year-old engineer, and charged him with “storing and disseminating material that opposes the government” based on Article 117 of the Criminal Code. Police reported that they had begun their investigation on Bang in November of last year. On February 23, they searched Bang’s residence and took away materials that allegedly were “anti-state propaganda.” Bang used to be an active participant in protests against China and was once photographed bloodied by security police. In an unusually positive development, attorney Dang Dinh Manh said the authorities approved his application to represent Bang within a day, an unprecedented turnaround time.


Huynh Thuc Vy

Huynh Thuc Vy’s letter dated 21/2 was just received by her family. In it she says she’s in good health and spirits, and has been treated well. Her only complaint is that prison officials keep her letters too long before sending them to her family. She also mentioned being able to call home a few times. Vy was sentenced in November 2018 to two years and nine months for “offending the national flag” under Article 276 of the 1999 Penal Code, but had not started serving her sentence yet because her second child had not reached age three. In November 2021, however, her suspension was suddenly revoked and she was taken into custody to start serving her sentence.

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


Truong Duy Nhat and Ksor Ruk

  • Blogger Tran Quoc Khanh, arrested March 10, 2021, and sentenced to six and a half years in prison for conducting “propaganda against the state”
  • Journalist Truong Duy Nhat, tried on March 9, 2020 and sentenced to 10 years in prison for “abusing authority, position while in office” in what many believe is a politically-motivated case
  • Montagnard Christian pastor Ksor Ruk, tried on March 15, 2019, and sentenced to 10 years in prison for “undermining the unity policy”
Activists at Risk

On March 2, Thai Hao, a poet from Hanoi, was assaulted by two men right in front of police. Hao was on his way to the airport to board a flight to Saigon where he was to be given a literary award by the Van Viet (Viet Literature) organization. In the days leading up to his departure, secret police were already posted outside his residence; one of them even warned him that he shouldn’t go. On the day of his departure, he was stopped on the road by the traffic police and two plainclothes men started punching him in the head. They only stopped when he yelled to the police officers standing by to ask the men to stop. He was then taken to the police station for interrogation. By the time Hao was released — suffering bruises, he had already missed his flight. It is not clear why Hao was targeted, but some people suspect it might be because of his recent poems denouncing the Ukraine invasion. A representative for Van Viet said the organization has filed a petition.

International Advocacy

Frontline Defenders has issued its 2021 report on the situation of HRDs around the world. “The report details the variety of risks, threats and attacks faced by HRDs around the world, and examples of HRDs continuing to defend and advance the rights of their communities and societies despite threats to their lives.” You can download the Global Analysis 2021 here.

In light of the recent verbal online attacks against the Ukrainian ambassador by pro-Putin Vietnamese extremists, a group of Vietnamese scholars wrote a letter to Ambassador Nataliya Zhynkina to express solidarity with the people of Ukraine. They then followed that up with a monetary gift collected from supporters which was handed to the ambassador in person. Meanwhile, a group of Vietnamese lawyers penned an open letter to Russian president Vladimir Putin to ask him to stop the aggression.

On March 3, the 20th edition of the International Film and Human Rights Festival (FIFDH) screened two films dedicated to two women activists: Pham Doan Trang, 2022 Martin Ennals Laureate; and Ida Leblanc, winner of the Martine Anstett 2022 Prize.

NEWS & ANALYSIS

Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine: The Diplomatic Dilemma Facing Vietnam. Hai Hong Nguyen, The Diplomat, March 4, 2022: “Last December, Vietnam and Russia issued a joint statement outlining plans to further deepen their comprehensive strategic partnership in scope between now and 2030, emphasizing the special strategic relationship established in the Soviet era. But with Ukraine, Vietnam also bears a debt of gratitude for the former’s assistance during its wars against the French and Americans and currently has a comprehensive partnership. Vietnamese ‘bamboo diplomacy’ indeed faces a difficult dilemma, needing to avoid taking a side but nonetheless needing to signal its opposition to Russia’s aggressive actions. Perhaps nothing better reflected this dilemma than the gap between the carefully nuanced critical speech given by the Vietnamese representative at the recent emergency session of the U.N. General Assembly and Vietnam’s abstention on the March 2 resolution deploring Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.”

Vietnam calls for dialogue, protection of civilians in Ukraine, Viet Anh, VN Express, March 2, 2022: “Giang also requested relevant parties to ensure the security and safety of expatriate communities living in Ukraine, including the Vietnamese, and enable the evacuation of Vietnamese nationals to safety. He underlined Vietnam’s consistent stance on settling international disputes by peaceful means on the basis of respect for international law, the U.N. Charter, especially the principle of respect for independence, the sovereignty and territorial integrity of nations, non-interference in internal affairs, and non-use of force in international relations. With its own history of long and painful wars, he said, Vietnam found that wars and conflicts usually stem from outdated doctrines of great power politics, the ambition to dominate and use force to resolve international disputes.”

Hanoi shy to leave Moscow for the West over Ukraine, Nile Bowie and David Hutt, Asia Times, March 1, 2022: “In 2019, Vietnam-Ukraine trade was worth only US$536 million, according to Vietnamese government data. By comparison, its trade with Russia, a historic partner of Vietnam, was worth about $4.4 billion that year. However, the Vietnamese people retain some close ties to Ukraine from its time as part of the communist Soviet Union. One of Vietnam’s most important business people, Pham Nhat Vuong, the founder and chairman of the sprawling conglomerate Vingroup, started out in business in Ukraine, where he created a successful instant noodle company in the 1990s. Only last month, a ceremony took place in Hanoi to mark the 30th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Vietnam and Ukraine, which gained its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. According to media reports, there are more than 1,400 Vietnamese students and some 10,000 Vietnamese nationals living in Ukraine.”

Russia recommends Vietnam as a safe destination amid conflict with Ukraine, Asia News Network, March 4, 2022: “Việt Nam is a safe tourist destination without any restrictions for Russian visitors, according to recommendations by the Federal Agency for Tourism of Russia. … Việt Nam plans to fully reopen international tourism activities from March 15 after over two years of disruptions due to COVID-19. Pre-pandemic, Russia contributed a significant part to the tourism market in Việt Nam, and they were also among the first to be welcomed back to Việt Nam under the pilot COVID-19 vaccine passport programme. The Ukraine situation has rattled many tourism and hospitality businesses who are expecting a robust revival, especially in the south-central coastal localities like Nha Trang (Khánh Hoà) or Bà Rịa-Vũng Tàu, which are popular destinations among Russian tourists.”

The Deja Vu of Rising Autocracy, Son Nguyen, The Vietnamese, March 1, 2022: “With the Russian invasion, and with China’s rise in the Asia-Pacific region, the Vietnamese government is hearing signals that it does not have to put up any facades that it cares about democracy anymore. After all, authoritarians are striking back, liberal democracy is becoming more and more of the minority rather than the norm, and authoritarians seem to do fine even after countless condemnations. Why should Vietnam endorse a system that is so out-of-trend in its region?

… But the rise of autocracy and authoritarianism does not mean that there is no hope for Vietnam. In its report, Freedom House put forward various recommendations for democracies and the private sector. Among the most relevant to Vietnam are the recommendations that democratic states should work together to ‘scrutinize the export of technologies and other products that could be used to violate human rights,’ and should ‘reject internet shutdowns and refrain from banning social media and messaging platforms, particularly during elections, protests, and periods of unrest.’”

COMING UP

Activist and freelance journalist 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 Article 88 of the 1999 Criminal Code. Nguyen Van Son, 66, a relative, will be tried alongside him. Son is charged with “harboring fugitives” according to Article 389 of the 1999 Criminal Code.

TAKE ACTION

Share the Committee to Protect Journalists’s call for the release of Le Van Dung, issued shortly after his arrest, ahead of his trial this week. CPJ also provides more background on Dung’s journalistic work.

© 2022 The 88 Project

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.

HUMAN RIGHTS & CIVIL SOCIETY

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.

NEWS & ANALYSIS

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.”

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

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

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

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.

HUMAN RIGHTS & CIVIL SOCIETY

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.

NEWS & ANALYSIS

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.”

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

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.

TAKE ACTION

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.

Vietnam Free Expression Newsletter No. 6/2022 – Week of February 7-13

Greetings from The 88 ProjectWe bring you news, analysis, and actions regarding human rights and civil society in Vietnam during the week of February 7-13. The Lunar New Year kicked off with a huge bang in the form of an award-winning environmentalist arrested for “tax evasion.” The new US ambassador to Vietnam received a letter from home reminding him to pay particular attention to human rights abuses. A singer-songwriter received a freedom of speech award, while Pham Doan Trang was given yet another award, this one from Canada and the UK. A disturbing report on crackdown against so-called “false religions” and using Covid-19 as a cover is truly worth a read. The USCIRF has also issued a report on religious freedom in Vietnam in 2021. Meanwhile, the pandemic appears to be on the upswing, causing strains on local hospitals just as the government gets ready to re-open the country to tourism. A man burned himself to death in Cho Lon to protest an eviction order. Don’t miss our Vietnam legal update and our article covering our most-read human rights stories of 2021. 

HUMAN RIGHTS & CIVIL SOCIETY

Political Prisoners


Nguy Thi Khanh, Source: Lillian Suwanrumpha/AFP/Getty via The Guardian

Vietnam’s first ever winner of the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize has been arrested and charged with “tax evasion.” Nguy Thi Khanh, 46, founder of The Green Innovation and Development Centre, was arrested last month after her home in Hanoi was searched, but the state-run media did not acknowledge it until now. Unlike many others, Khanh has been allowed to talk to a lawyer. She’s the third person in charge of an NGO who has been charged with “tax evasion” recently, leading to many questions about Hanoi’s motives for cracking down on civil society in general and environmentalists in particular. Last month Dang Dinh Bach and Mai Phan Loi were sentenced to five years and four years, respectively, for tax evasion. Khanh’s case is being closely monitored worldwide.


This week, we think of online commentator Le Van Sinh, arrested February 15, 2019, and sentenced to five years in prison for “abusing democratic freedoms.”

Community at Risk

A new report by “The Vietnamese” shows an alarming increase in the government crackdown against various independent religious groups and practices; some are deemed “false religions” whose definition is not particularly well defined by the authorities. Covid-19 has also been used as a reason to suppress certain religious activities accused of “spreading disease” according to Article 240 of the 2015 Penal Code. No one has been arrested so far; however, one woman was fined 12.5M VND (about US$4,500) for proselytizing about the Falun Gong.

International Advocacy


Pham Doan Trang

Congresswomen Zoe Lofgren and Anna Eshoo, along with five of their colleagues, sent a letter to ambassador to Vietnam Marc Knapper to congratulate him on his new post and to raise awareness of the ongoing human rights abuses there. They also gave him a list of nearly two dozen political prisoners who need special attention.

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom has issued a country update report on Vietnam. In it, USCIRF recommended that Vietnam be put on the list of CPC — Countries of Particular Concern.

Journalist/author Pham Doan Trang, who last December was sentenced to nine years in prison for “anti-State propaganda,” has been given the Canada-UK 2022 Media Freedom Award.


Mai Khoi

Dissident singer-songwriter Do Nguyen Mai Khoi was named Laureate for Freedom of Speech Award 2022 by the Roosevelt Four Freedoms Award.

NEWS & ANALYSIS

Vietnam: Administrative Sanctions in the fields of Information Technology & e-Transactions, Baker McKenzie Viewpoint, February 11, 2022: “Vietnam has just promulgated new Decree No. 14/2022/ND-CP (“Decree 14”) providing for administrative sanctions in the fields of, among others, information technology and electronic transactions. … Among other amendments, here is the epitome of some notable provisions that may be of business’s concern:

Temporary seizure of domain names: Under Decree 14, Vietnam competent authorities may temporarily seize the national domain name of Vietnam (“.vn”) and/or the international domain name allocated to organizations and individuals in Vietnam as an administrative penalty for different violating acts including, among others, the provision or sharing of links to online information with law-infringing content, as well as the advertisement, propaganda, or transaction of prohibited goods and services.”

Vietnam a ‘country of particular concern,’ US religious freedom agency says, RFA, February 9, 2022: “Vietnam has been targeting Protestants in its Central Highlands area, imprisoning many for following an unrecognized religion. ‘Over 500 Central Highlanders have been imprisoned since 2000. Most of these are church leaders, their assistants, or followers who were very active in church activities,’ H Biap Krong, an expert on the religious freedom situation in the region, told RFA. She said the government tags Central Highland Protestants with vague charges of undermining national unity and planning to overthrow the government. Recently, the People’s Public Security Newspaper, the mouthpiece of the Ministry of Public Security, published articles targeting the Evangelical Church of Christ in the Central Highlands.”

Why Won’t Vietnam Teach the History of the Sino-Vietnamese War?, Travis Vincent, The Diplomat, February 9, 2022: “In response to Vietnam’s occupation of Cambodia and its conclusion of the Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation with the Soviet Union in 1978, China launched an incursion into Vietnam in February 1979 and captured several border cities. The diplomatic relations between two Communist erstwhile allies hit a nadir. Between February 17 and March 16, the war claimed the lives of tens of thousands of Chinese and Vietnamese soldiers, though the precise number of casualties remains debatable. The Chinese army withdrew after three weeks, announcing that its punitive mission had been fulfilled. But over four decades since the war ended, Vietnam’s schools are strangely hesitant to teach about the conflict. Hang, who asked to use a pseudonym, has been unable to incorporate the event either into an exam for her students or even into her own syllabus.”

Vietnamese man dies after setting himself on fire over order to move, RFA, February 9, 2022: “A November 2021 article in Zing, an online newspaper, said that about 160 out of 474 households in the area marked for the canal project had refused to accept the compensation offered. Many of the occupants depend on the nearby Binh Tay Market to do business and they feared they would lose their livelihoods in addition to their homes in a relocation, the article said. Many residents have instead chosen to live in semi-demolished houses on smelly plots of land near the existing canal full of waste. After Quang’s death, a second video surfaced online showing his body being placed in a coffin as police and officials in medical protection suits put up a barrier to block the alley where he once lived.”

Vietnam could finally let tourists back in from the end of March, Matt Blake, TPG, February 8, 2022: “Adventure-thirsty travelers have received another boost after Vietnam announced plans to fully reopen its borders to foreign visitors ‘ideally at the end of March and no later than the end of April.’ Those were the words of Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh who has begun easing his country out of one of the strictest zero-tolerance COVID-19 policies in Southeast Asia. ‘We may be facing a further rise of omicron and possibly other new variants,’ he said at the end of January. ‘However, with higher rates of vaccination along with other measures, we will be able to reopen the country safely, for the sake of economic recovery and development.’”

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

The 88 Project’s latest Vietnam Legal Update gives an in-depth look at several government decrees and directives that use Covid-19 as a pretext to further tighten freedom of speech and consolidate censorship. “Bringing them to light and under the scrutiny of human rights observers will help hold the Vietnamese government accountable in the implementation of the human rights commitment that the authorities have made to their own citizens and to the international community.”

What were the most read human rights stories by The 88 Project in 2021? Read our recap here.

TAKE ACTION

Take action this week by sharing the One Free Press Coalition’s list of “10 Most Urgent” cases of injustice against journalists. The list includes one Vietnamese journalist, Nguyen Van Hoa, a regular contributor to RFA, who is serving a seven-year prison sentence for conducting “anti-State propaganda.”

© 2022 The 88 Project

Correction: We incorrectly stated that the USCRIF report on Vietnam was part of its annual report; the report is actually a separate country update.

Top 5 Human Rights Stories of 2021

From a human rights point of view, the Year of the Buffalo was indeed an eventful one in Vietnam, with many arrests and trials happening throughout the year, all the way up to the very last day of 2021. To give you a sense of what received the most attention from our readers, here are five stories published by The 88 Project that garnered the most views—in chronological order.

Le Huu Minh Tuan

We kicked off January with a story about Le Huu Minh Tuan — a young professional who was a member of the Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam (IJAVN) – accompanied by a video of him giving a speech (with English subtitles provided by our team). Arrested in June, 2020, Tuan was convicted in January for allegedly publishing articles that “distort the truth, incite individuals to rise up and overthrow the people’s government, or even incite hatred and extremism.” Here are some excerpts taken from that video:

“First of all, I’d like to state unequivocally that the organization I’ve joined is purely a civil and professional entity. It simply exercises the rights enshrined in the Constitution of Vietnam, specifically Article 25, which allows freedom of association, freedom of the press and freedom of speech. It also encourages freedom of expression… etc.

Its mission and goal, that which attracted me and led me to become a member, is to provide the most truthful and unbiased news, something we don’t often see from the huge state-run media and propaganda machine.

Secondly, it does not oppose the regime. That is, it does not have grand political ambitions, nor does it seek to topple the government. No, that is not what AIJV is about at all.

Thirdly, it protects the right to speak, to critique, to criticize the government just as Mr Nguyễn Ái Quốc [Ho Chi Minh] once spoke about, gave guidance on, pointed out and demanded from the French in his An-Nam Manifesto.

.… In case the IJAV is disrupted, disbanded or stopped due to circumstances beyond our control or due to pressure from the government, I hope it will have served as the starting point for other civil organizations working for freedom of speech. That is to say, I hope it’s a catalyst for similar organizations to appear.”

 

The People’s Court did not seem to agree. Le Huu Minh Tuan was given a stiff 11-year prison sentence. 

Dinh Thi Thu Thuy

In March, our story about the role of women activists and how they’re targeted by the regime seems to have struck a nerve. And rightly so, since women not only represent a disproportionately large segment of political prisoners but many also have to bear a heavy economic and psychological toll when their spouses become prisoners of the state:

“Exploring The 88 Project’s database, nine out of 26 activists arrested in 2020 were female. That is a surprising 1:2.8 ratio against the male counterpart. Even in 2018, the most serious year of state persecution against human rights defenders in recent years, women activists still accounted for 20 percent of all the arrests.

The 88 Project has also documented a record number of female activists who faced administrative fines and other forms of harassment. From former political prisoners to the wives of jailed activists to ordinary citizens, many women have been subjected to mistreatment and harassment one way or another. According to our research, 22 percent of at-risk activists in Vietnam are women. 

Besides their enthusiastic participation in grassroots activism, Vietnamese women have the highest share of labor-force participation rates (i.e., the proportion of women who are in paid work or looking for it) in the world. Some 79 percent of women aged 15 to 64 are in the labor force, compared to 86 of men. That figure is higher than in all the members of the OECD except Iceland, Sweden, and Switzerland, and 10 percentage points above China, Vietnam’s northern neighbor.

These facts do not add up with the role of women in Vietnamese politics. And despite all the sugar-coating provisions in many legislations concerning women rights, the fact remains that the system is inherently misogynistic.”

 

In April, our annual report and recap on the previous year’s human rights abuses in Vietnam became the most viewed article. This reinforces our belief that the most critical and useful component of The 88 Project is our database — a flexible and searchable repository of political prisoners and activists at risk, accompanied by an abundance of related material including private interviews with family members. Our report reveals, for example:

“In 2020, Vietnam continued to repress free speech and target human rights defenders and civil society groups for their peaceful dissent. This included:

35 individuals arrested for peaceful activism; 

27 individuals tried for “national security” crimes; 

26 activists at risk who faced harassment in 59 incidents;

Numerous documented cases of physical and psychological abuse of political prisoners.

Fewer people were arrested and tried in Vietnam in 2020 than in 2019, but more women were arrested this year than last, as well as more communication professionals, such as journalists. A larger proportion of those tried under so-called “national security laws” in 2020 were sentenced to 5+ years in prison in 2020 than 2019 as well, and two people were sentenced to life in prison. 

Arrests of key civil society leaders in 2020, such as Pham Doan Trang, land rights activist Can Thi Theu of Duong Noi Commune, and Le Huu Minh Tuan and Nguyen Tuong Thuy of the Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam, showed that the government continues to try to dismantle successful civil society groups and hone in on areas of activism it finds particularly worrisome. Many activists were harassed multiple times throughout the year or harassed in the weeks leading up to their eventual arrests.”

Mai Phan Loi and Dang Dinh Bach. Source RFA

Our readers, partners and followers can be assured that reports such as this will continue to be an important part of The 88 Project, and they can look forward to even more in-depth information in the future. Our mid-year report following a spate of arrests in July was another top five article. This one was different because it had two atypical victims who were respected but low-key players in the activist community. In fact, they were not even charged with the typical “anti-State propaganda” at all:

“On July 2, the police arrested journalist Mai Phan Loi and lawyer Dang Dinh Bach and charged them with ‘tax evasion,’ a typical method of political persecution for those for whom the government does not have a strong, clear case.

Loi, 50, is the founder and director of the non-profit Center for Media in Educating Community (MEC) in Hanoi.  MEC has a communication channel called GTV which airs, among other things, several popular talk shows aimed at educating the community on various communication skills and techniques.

Loi was also editor-in-chief of Phap Luat, the most prominent state-run magazine focusing on the law. In 2016, he even got to meet former President Barack Obama in Hanoi.

… The second person arrested on the same day as Loi was Dang Dinh Bach, director of the non-profit Law & Policy of Sustainable Development. LPSD is a member of the Vietnam Environmental Network (VEN), Vietnam Sustainable Energy Alliance (VSEA), and the Vietnam Non-Communicable Diseases Prevention and Control Alliance (NCDs-VN).”

 

These two men were convicted in January of this year after a short and cursory trial. Mai Phan Loi received a 4-year prison sentence while Dang Dinh Bach got five years.

Tran Huynh Duy Thuc

Looking back, our ability to bring highly accurate and sometimes even personal details about political prisoners and activists comes from our intensive networking efforts and the trusted relationships we have been able to forge with the victims’ families. The heart-breaking story about Tran Huynh Duy Thuc, in which we got details from interviewing his daughter and from Thuc’s own letters, was the second most read story in 2021 and it perfectly illustrates this point:

“In December of 2020, Thuc launched what he called a ‘hunger strike to the death’ which lasted for 70 days, but still ended without any resolution. Barely two weeks after that, in April of this year, Thuc began another hunger strike that is still ongoing. After six weeks not hearing any news from him, on July 30 his family finally received a call from a clearly weakened Thuc, telling them that he was coming back ‘from the edge of Death.’

Speaking to his daughters, Thuc said he didn’t know how much he weighed, but he was essentially ‘all bones’ and certainly less than the 55kg he reported the last time they talked. He said he refused to let prison health workers examine him, and he measured his blood pressure himself. He did not let anyone give him any I.V., either.

On June 20, he was forced to crawl because his hips were too weak for him to walk, even with a cane. On the morning of June 24, his hips were so weak that he could not sit up. He had to turn his body face down and push up with both arms to sit up in bed. On the night of June 25, he said he saw that ‘the walls were coming down and I started to float away.’ He told his daughters that ‘I prayed that I could go in peace and then I passed out. When I came to at around 2:30am, I realized I hadn’t died yet.’

Two days later, on June 28, Thuc had a bad fall while reaching for a bag hung on the wall because his hips and back gave way again. Fortunately, he was still alert enough to not let his head hit the floor, only his arms, shoulders and back were badly bruised.

By July 2, Thuc was no longer able to walk; he had to be carried by other prisoners on their backs. That afternoon, the assistant warden Ngo Ky Tri came in to ask him to eat something because they were concerned that he might die, and they did not want to see him deteriorate any further. But Thuc remained defiant. He told his daughters:

‘I want to reiterate that I will go on this hunger strike to the death. I’m not playing games with my life. At this point I can no longer accept being so illogically imprisoned. I will be liberated — either physically or metaphysically. I am ready to die in order to open up the sources of light that will lead us to a revolution of light.’”

Based on what we’ve seen thus far, 2022 looks to be yet another eventful year. Already there have been numerous arrests and trials of prominent activists; meanwhile, Pham Doan Trang has just been given the Martin Ennals Human Rights Award and the Canada and UK 2022 Media Freedom Award. The 88 Project will continue to provide our readers with the most up to date and relevant news to keep you informed. Toward that end, we look forward to strengthening our relationship with our partners both in Vietnam and abroad in the coming years.

© 2022 The 88 Project

Vietnam Free Expression Newsletter No. 5/2022 – Week of January 31-February 6

Greetings from The 88 ProjectWe bring you news, analysis, and actions regarding human rights and civil society in Vietnam during the week of January 31-February 6. A priest was murdered in cold blood in a remote area long known for religious suppression; state-run papers are mum. The family of an Australian citizen serving time in Vietnam seeks help for his release, fearing he might die. A group of UN Special Rapporteurs published a must-read report on dozens of human rights defenders in Vietnam that describes disturbing patterns of abuse and lawlessness. A coalition of organizations is working to nominate Pham Doan Trang for the Nobel Peace Prize. Vietnamese workers in Japan face cultural and language problems, with some having been physically abused. Writer Jason Nguyen looks at the Tet celebration with a somber eye toward the future. In case you missed it, check out the first piece in our new periodic series on domestic legal developments and how they affect freedom of expression in Vietnam. 

HUMAN RIGHTS & CIVIL SOCIETY

Political Prisoners


Chau Van Kham

The family of Chau Van Kham, a Vietnamese-Australian citizen serving a 12-year sentence allegedly for “financing terrorism,” has asked the Australian government for help getting the 72-year-old released. Jailed since 2019, Kham has not been allowed to talk to his family for three years, and his wife, Truong Quynh Trang, fears that his health might be worsening and “he may die” in prison. Australian Foreign Minister Marisa Payne said she raised his case with the Vietnamese authorities during her visit last November.

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


Featured Image: Phan Van Thu (left) and his followers in the closed trial in 2013. Source.

  • Twenty An Dan Dai Dao Buddhists, arrested in February 2012, and sentenced to prison on charges of “subversion,” including several double-digit sentences and life in prison for the sect’s founder
  • Activist Vo Thuong Trung, birthday February 10, serving three years in prison for “disputing security”
  • Hoang Duc Binh, activist with The Viet Labor Movement and No-U Saigon, birthday February 10, sentenced to 14 years in prison for “abusing democratic freedoms” and “resisting officials in performance of official duties”
  • Factory worker Phan Van Binh, arrested on February 8, 2018, and sentenced to 14 years in prison on charges of “subversion”
  • Online commentator Nguyen Van Truong, arrested on February 9, 2018, and still awaiting trial on charges of “abusing democratic freedoms”
  • Activist Nguyen Huy, arrested on February 10, 2021, and charged with “abusing democratic freedoms,” currently awaiting trial
  • A family of Hoa Hao Buddhists and their friends– Bui Van Trung, Bui Van Tham, Nguyen Hoang Nam, Le Thi Hoang Hanh, Bui Thi Bich Tuyen, and Le Thi Hen– tried on February 9, 2018 for “causing public disorder”
Community at Risk

Tran Ngoc Thanh, a young Dominican priest, was hacked to death while hearing confessions at a newly established diocese in the remote highlands in Kontum Province. Although this was not the first such attack against a Catholic priest in this area, it was the first one resulting in death. In the past few years, there have been citizen reports of at least four incidents of harassment and assault against other priests, none of which was investigated and with no one charged. Following the killing of Father Thanh, it took a few days before the Kontum Police acknowledged that a suspect had been apprehended by people at the church — but only after tremendous pressure was generated via social media. The People’s Police main web portal, however, still has not run this extraordinary story, leading some to wonder whether this case is in any way related to the broader state suppression of religious freedom in the community.

International Advocacy


Pham Doan Trang

The UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders has published a thorough and detailed statement on 39 cases of arbitrary detentions in Vietnam, which has been sent to the government for an official response. The report concludes with a list of serious concerns about patterns of abuse and disregard for UN conventions. The report states: “The criminalization of such activities does not only go against international human rights obligations that Viet Nam is bound to, but it ultimately undermines the UN human rights system as a whole.”

A coalition of Vietnamese diaspora organizations in Canada and the United States is spearheading an effort to nominate Pham Doan Trang for the Nobel Peace Prize. The group has been joined by dozens of other organizations all over the world.

California Congressman Alan Lowenthal wrote a letter to the new ambassador to Vietnam, Marc Knapper, asking him to raise the issue of ongoing human rights abuses with the government. The letter named nearly two dozen human right defenders wrongly persecuted who need to be released.

NEWS & ANALYSIS

Kon Tum: Vietnamese Catholics demand the truth about Fr Thanh’s murder, Asia News, February 4, 2022: “After the killing of the Dominican priest Fr Tran Ngoc Thanh, the local Vietnamese community is demanding truth about the reasons for the murder, expressing sadness at the scant media coverage given to such a serious event in Vietnam. On 31st January, the eve of the Lunar New Year, Fr Thanh was administering the sacrament of confession shortly after evening mass in Dak Mót parish, when an armed man entered and stabbed him to death with a knife. According to local police, the attacker was a mentally ill person called Kien Nguyen. More details, reported by VietCatholic News, have emerged in recent days. While the few faithful still present in the church were running away, the choir director, Dominican Brother Phan Van Giao, who was on the opposite side of the chapel, managed to stop the assailant and pin him to the ground with the help of other parishioners before he could commit a massacre.”

The Freedom to Write – Vietnamese Dissident Writers, Z.M. Quynh, Diasporic Vietnamese Artists Network, January 26, 2022: “As Vietnamese writers, someone’s always telling us not to write. If it’s not the reactionary politics of our communities, then it’s our families who censor us either out of genuine love and concern for our well-being and livelihood (or lack thereof), or out of shame, guilt, and a preference for extreme privacy. If it’s not any of the above—then we censor ourselves for fear of the above. Through these essays, I will explore Vietnamese literature through the lens of the dissident writer, individuals who disagree or have a dissenting opinion or attitude about an established religious, political, or belief system that is in power and who engage in some form of activism to express or attempt to express their thoughts. I will explore Northern and Southern writers alike. The cultural, political, and ideological world of these writers was an extremely complex knot of ideological differences.”

Vietnamese man punched, beaten, kicked and insulted as an intern in Japan, Walter Sims, Straits Times, January 29, 2022: “The torrent of physical and verbal abuse began just one month after a Vietnamese migrant worker came to Japan in October 2019. The 41-year-old construction worker, who left behind his wife and five-year-old daughter for the promise of better wages, instead found himself being treated as an outcast by colleagues at a company in Okayama in western Japan. He was not only mocked for his sub-par Japanese, but was also constantly brutalised, treated as a punching bag, beaten and kicked by his colleagues as bystanders watched on and laughed.”

Tet Offensive, Tet Amnesia, Jason Nguyen, The Vietnamese, February 1, 2022: “Frankly speaking, I foresee no significant changes in Vietnam’s political and social structures in the near future. The current government leaders only care about themselves and their monopoly of power, even at the expense of our country’s development, sovereignty, and even integrity. The reality has already proven that they will use all kinds of repressive tactics, ranging from propaganda, arbitrary arrests, or even long prison sentences, to subdue their own citizens and maintain their grip on power. At the same time, I observe the increasing differences between the youth born in a post-war Communist Vietnam, their parents, and the second generation of Vietnamese descendants who were born and educated in Western democratic countries.”

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

Catch up on recent domestic legal developments in Vietnam. Our new periodic legal update is an effort by The 88 Project to monitor and document legal developments related to freedom of expression in Vietnam. While the crackdown against freedom of expression, freedom of the press and internet freedom in Vietnam has been blatant, there are many other behind-the-scenes legal developments that have failed to attract the same attention by Vietnamese citizens, human rights organizations and the international community. However, these hidden practices play an important role in consolidating censorship and in the suppression of freedom of expression by the Vietnamese government.

TAKE ACTION

Take action this week by sharing the One Free Press Coalition’s list of “10 Most Urgent” cases of injustice against journalists. The list includes one Vietnamese journalist, Nguyen Van Hoa, a regular contributor to RFA, who is serving a seven-year prison sentence for conducting “anti-State propaganda.”

© 2022 The 88 Project

Vietnam Legal Update – February 2022

Concerning Freedom of Expression

While the crackdown against freedom of expression, freedom of the press and internet freedom in Vietnam has been blatant and there have also been explicit violations of Vietnam’s human rights commitments, there are many other behind-the-scenes legal developments that have failed to attract the same attention by Vietnamese citizens, human rights organizations and the international community. However, these hidden practices play an important role in consolidating censorship and in suppression of freedom of expression by the Vietnamese government. 

This periodic legal update is The 88 Project’s effort to monitor and document the legal developments related to freedom of expression in Vietnam. Bringing them to light and under the scrutiny of human rights observers will help hold the Vietnamese government accountable in the implementation of the human rights commitment that the authorities have made to their own citizens and to the international community. 

A Reminder of Restrictions on Freedom of Expression, the Free flow of Information and Public Discussion 

There have been debates among Vietnamese on how researchers and NGOs should allocate the responsibility for crackdowns, arrests, and harassment of citizens and activists either by local governments or the national government. 

In the midst of the COVID pandemic, Directive 12/CT-TTg, issued on May 12, 2021 concerning “enhancement of propaganda, directing the use of communication activities and press to defend the fatherland, and the handling of press and communication violations,” is a strong reminder that there is no isolated incident carried out solely at the discretion of local authorities. 

The Directive elaborates further on the requirement of “strictly handling those who spread information that is false, negatively affecting the anti-pandemic campaign” (Item 2.4) of Notice No. 172 of the Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP) Politburo on March 20, 2020. It is the first legalized effort to re-establish the government’s control over COVID information. The VCP and the central government have always ordered their subordinates to tighten media controls and crack down on freedom of expression online. The wave of arrests and harassment regarding criticisms of the government’s failure to deal with the pandemic appeared much sooner under the arbitrary auspices of the VCP. 

Firstly, Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh requested the Ministry of Information and Communications to: 

  • Work closely with the Central Propaganda Department (of the VCP) and the Journalists Association of Vietnam to prevent the appearance of “toxic” information and to be prepared for any conspiracies and sabotage plans of the “reactionary forces”; 
  • Strictly control information and activities in the news media and social media and promptly act against any related violations; 
  • Cooperate with other ministries, including the Ministry of Public Security and the Ministry of Defense; utilize technology to identify and address any toxic information or violations of the dissemination of information on the internet.

(Section 2 of Directive 12)

Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh also requested the Ministry of Public Security to: 

  • Cooperate with the Central Propaganda Department and the Ministry of Information and Communications to identify, counter, prevent, inspect and properly deal with malicious and toxic information that violate Vietnamese laws and the ideological foundation of the Communist Party; 
  • Direct other local public security departments to actively engage in disseminating positive information and combating conduct that might be harmful to the public interest and national security. 

 (Section 4 of Directive 12)

Regarding other ministries, such as the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism,  and the Foreign Ministry,  the prime minister ordered a complete and comprehensive implementation of the Directive to make sure that the internet environment is clean. 

While the government has assumed a zero tolerance approach against information it deems to be against its COVID-19 campaign since March last year, and has imposed legal actions to achieve its goals, the COVID-19 outbreak in 2021 likely led to the adoption of this directive, which signified another intense crackdown against any information unfavorable to the government in its COVID campaign, resulting in a surge of arrests and fines against the authors of such information. According to  our own very conservative estimate, there are already 12 individuals arrested and/or harassed for questioning or criticizing the government’s failure to contain COVID. Many Vietnamese have been fined for voicing their concerns. 

In one of the latest legal instruments drafted and passed by the Ministry of Education and Training (MET), we have another glimpse of the meticulous and overly controlled censorship system in Vietnam. 

In Circular 30/2021 concerning compilation, assessment, approval and selection of educational materials for early education institutions, the MET reasserts its prior censorship over the lowest and most unpolitical level of education by:

  1. Setting vague criteria to designate who can and who cannot participate in the compilation process (for instance, those “having good moral character”)(Article 4.1.b).
  2. Demanding that every material and document must go through a State-controlled “Assessment Committee” before publication (Article 5); 
  3. A general requirement that any material, among other requirements, must be “consistent “with the Communist Party’s guidelines and policies” and “with the country’s culture, history, ethics, fine customs and habits”  (Article 3). 

Circular is a detailed legal document in Vietnam that supposedly guides individuals and organizations in carrying out their business in accordance with the law. However, we can see that Circular 30 is short and not at all specific. 

This is a common feature of most legal documents in Vietnam, especially concerning freedom of expression, censorship, and other related issues. 

The strategy allows the competent authorities to continue to explain the law in whatever way they want. 

For instance, what constitutes “good moral character”? This criterion has been employed in countless legal documents related to criminal law, election law and administrative law. It enables the authorities to manipulate the candidate selection process, influence evaluation procedures or produce false evidence against civil rights activists during trials…. In this case, “have good moral character” serves as a safeguard clause to make sure that no unwanted individual, even with good credentials, can be a part of the process of compiling educational materials.

 

  1. Decree 86/2021/NĐ-CP (September 2021): A Reminder for Academics Abroad

Decree 86 is not an entirely novel legal instrument, as it continues the legacy of Decision 5/2013/QD-TTg. However, Decree 86 can be seen as a codification of the Vietnamese government’s attempt to consolidate its ideological control over overseas students and scholars. 

While providing some protections for students who want to study abroad in an over-saturated and under-regulated market, this document however mainly reasserts the duties of  Vietnamese academia wherever they are. 

  • According to Decree 86, overseas students are divided into two groups: overseas students depending on state funding and overseas students in general (self-funded or those receiving non-governmental scholarships). However, both groups are firmly required not to criticize the government in any shape or form, and to affect “diplomatic relations” between Vietnam and the host state (Article 6.2.k and Article 14.2.a). 

The word choices are random and vague as usual, such as how can a citizen’s conduct and speech affect the diplomatic relations between countries? 

  • Similarly, teachers and academics who are currently working for domestic educational institutions and who travel abroad to teach, for academic exchanges, and research (with or without State funding involved) must comply with some strict and vague requirements, such as “having good moral and political character certified by the direct supervising authority.” In addition, they must periodically report about their trips and also must have their trips, agendas, and research content approved prior to their departure (Article 19.2 (l) and (đ)).
  1. Decision 2576/QĐ-BVHTTDL (October 2021): “Combatting” Freedom of Religion 

Decision 2576 gives us another depiction of how the central government effectively and systematically imposes views and controls the mass media. Based on Directive 219/QĐ-TTg by which the prime minister approved the Ministry Communication and Media’s project on supporting information and propaganda on ethnicity and religion (usually for five-year period), Decision 2576 set out the narrative, specific programme and ways to air such programme to “combat” superstition and “heresies,” with the funding from state budget. 

In this instance, the Ministry of Culture, Sport and Tourism (MCST) allocates a quota to the national Vietnam News (VNews) to produce 10 television reports about religion, nationalism and combating reactionary elements. 

For instance, Report No. 5 must disseminate information to “help” the public to “identify heresies and non-sanctioned religions within ethnic-minority communities” (Section II.3). 

Report No. 7 must “alert the public about the religious conversion phenomenon,” explain the danger and point out reactionary elements that encourage religious conversion in remote areas. This report, which was carried by VNews, is one example. 

Report No. 8 must attack religious movements that are deemed covert political forces with the intention to destabilize national security. These campaigns have played an essential role in the crackdown against various independent religions such as “Ha Mon”, “Duong Van Minh,” or “Hoi thanh Duc Chua Troi.” This report carried by VNews is an example

© 2022 The 88 Project

 

Resources: 

(1) Chỉ thị 12/CT-TTg năm 2021 về tăng cường công tác tuyên truyền, định hướng hoạt động truyền thông, báo chí phục vụ nhiệm vụ bảo vệ tổ quốc; kịp thời chấn chỉnh và xử lý các vi phạm trong hoạt động báo chí, truyền thông do Thủ tướng Chính phủ ban hành, vào ngày 12/05/2021

Directive 12/CT-TTg on “enhancing propaganda, guidance for press and communication activities in order to defend the fatherland; promptly addressing violations concerning press and communication activities”, issued by the prime minister of Vietnam, on May 12 2021

(2) Thông tư 30/2021/TT-BGDĐT quy định về việc biên soạn, thẩm định, phê duyệt, và lựa chọn tài liệu để sử dụng trong các cơ sở giáo dục mầm non do Bộ trưởng Bộ Giáo dục và Đào tạo ban hành, vào ngày: 05/11/2021

Circular 30/2021/TT-BGDĐT on the compilation, evaluation, approval, and selection of materials for use in preschool educational institutions,  issued by the Minister of Education and Training on November 5, 2021.

(3) Nghị định 86/2021/NĐ-CP Quy định việc Công dân Việt Nam ra nước ngoài học tập, giảng dạy, nghiên cứu khoa học và trao đổi học thuật, do Chính phủ ban hành, vào ngày 25 tháng 9 năm 2021

Decree 86/2021/NĐ-CP on regulating the study, teaching, scientific research and academic exchanges abroad involving Vietnamese citizens, issued by the Government on September 25, 2021

(4) Quyết định 2576/QÐ-BVHTTDL năm 2021 về Kế hoạch triển khai thực hiện nhiệm vụ “Tuyên truyền về hoạt động tín ngưỡng, tôn giáo; đấu tranh với các hình thức lợi dụng tín ngưỡng, tôn giáo để hành nghề mê tín, trục lợi, gây ảnh hưởng xấu đến văn hóa dân tộc, tôn giáo, đời sống nhân dân”, ban hành bởi Bộ Văn hóa, Thể thao và Du lịch, vào ngày 26 tháng 10 năm 2021.

Decision 2576/QÐ-BVHTTDL 2021 on the Implementation of “National propaganda concerning beliefs and religious activities; the fight against the misuse of freedom of beliefs and religions to practice and profiteer from superstition, and adversely affect the national culture, religion and public life,” issued by The Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, October 26 2021.

Vietnam Free Expression Newsletter No. 4/2022 – Week of January 24-30

Greetings from The 88 ProjectWe bring you news, analysis, and actions regarding human rights and civil society in Vietnam during the week of January 24-30. Two female activists with histories of clinical depression have not been allowed to receive medications sent by their families. An arrest warrant has been issued for an activist currently in Thailand seeking asylum. Another Facebooker was sentenced to seven years in prison. Multi-year-sentences against the Clean News group were upheld on appeal. An NGO leader accused of tax evasion was sentenced to prison. A political prisoner says he was tortured and beaten in jail. Hundreds of workers have been kept isolated in a plant since June. Rapid Covid tests for international passengers arriving in Vietnam are no longer required. Taiwan’s Supreme Court is about to rule on a civil suit against Formosa that caused an environmental disaster in Vietnam. Inmates struggle to find comfort and solace as the Lunar New Year approaches. Happy Tết!

HUMAN RIGHTS & CIVIL SOCIETY

Political Prisoners


Nguyen Thuy Hanh and Huynh Thuc Vy

Huynh Ngoc Chenh, husband of Nguyen Thuy Hanh, posted that he finally heard some news about her after nine months. Hanh was taken from her prison cell to a hospital to be examined and monitored for depression, a condition for which she had been taking medication before she was jailed. Chenh’s previous attempts to bring Hanh her medication were always rejected by prison officials. Several patients at the hospital recognized Hanh and were able to talk to her and relayed her messages to Chenh. Hanh is said to have lost some weight but otherwise looks healthy and in good spirits. She has been taken back to the detention center.

Huynh Thuc Vy’s brother said the family still has not been able to give Vy her depression medication because prison officials did not allow it. Vy also wrote to let them know she would be transferred to another location soon, but she said she didn’t know exactly when or where.

Le Quy Loc was beaten by prison guards at the An Phuoc Detention Center last May for asking to be allowed to play sports, as guaranteed by law. Loc was said to have gone on an eight-day hunger strike to protest the beating that left his face badly bruised. The news of his torture has only just been revealed.


Nguyen Van Trang and Dang Dinh Bach

Nguyen Van Trang, a dissident currently seeking political asylum in Thailand, says local police in his hometown in Thanh Hoa Province have issued a warrant for his arrest even though they know he’s been living in Thailand for the past three years. The police have also urged his fellow villagers to publicly denounce Trang so he can’t return. Trang is part of the disbanded group Brotherhood for Democracy, many of whose members have been arrested and sentenced to between 5 and 15 years in prison.

On January 24, 2022, a court in Hanoi sentenced Dang Dinh Bach to five years in prison for “tax evasion.” Bach is the director of the non-profit Law & Policy of Sustainable Development (LPSD), which could play an essential role in monitoring Vietnam’s obligations under the EVFTA. His charge of “tax evasion” was the same as fellow civil society leader Mai Phan Loi, who was sentenced to four years in prison earlier this month.

Nguyen Tri Gioan, who was sentenced in November 2021 to seven years in prison for engaging in “anti-State propaganda,” has begun to serve his prison sentence—but in a location at least 300km from his hometown near Cam Ranh.

An appellate court in Can Tho Province upheld the sentences against members of the Bao Sach (Clean News) group for violating Article 331—”abusing democratic freedoms.” Truong Chau Huu Danh received four years and six months in jail; Doan Kien Giang and Le The Thang each received three years in prison, and Nguyen Phuoc Trung Bao and Nguyen Thanh Nha each received two years of imprisonment.

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


Hoang Duc Binh and Phan Bui Bao Thy

  • Journalist Truong Duy Nhat, birthday January 31, sentenced to ten years in prison over a decades-old land purchase, a case which many observers believe is politically-motivated
  • Student leader Tran Hoang Phuc and video bloggers Nguyen Van Dien and Vu Quang Thuan, tried on January 31, 2018 and sentenced to six, six and a half, and eight years in prison, respectively, for conducting “propaganda against the State.”
  • Land and labor rights activist Hoang Duc Binh, tried on February 6, 2018, and sentenced to 14 years in prison on charges of “abusing democratic freedoms” and “resisting officers”
  • Former state journalist Phan Bui Bao Thy, arrested on February 5, 2021, and still in pre-trial detention on charges of “abusing democratic freedoms”
  • Online commentator Le Anh Dung, arrested on February 6, 2021, and still in pre-trial detention on charges of “abusing democratic freedoms”
International Advocacy


Pham Doan Trang

The Martin Ennals Award has announced that Pham Doan Trang, an independent Vietnamese journalist and author, is one of the Laureates of the 2022 Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders. The award ceremony has been delayed until June so that it can take place in Geneva instead of online. Let’s hope that Trang will be able to attend in person.

The Taiwan Supreme Court should consider the repression of human rights in Vietnam in ruling over an environmental disaster: The International Federation For Human Rights calls on the Taiwan Supreme Court to take into account the human rights situation and Vietnam’s pandemic restrictions when making its decision in the civil lawsuit filed against the Formosa Plastics Group on behalf of Vietnamese victims of the disaster in 2016.

Vietnam’s civic space remains listed as ‘closed’ in ratings published by the CIVICUS Monitor in December 2021. The report gives a detailed summary of the most important human rights abuses in Vietnam last year and is well worth a read.

NEWS & ANALYSIS

Vietnam scraps rapid Covid test requirements for int’l passengers, Viet Tuan, VNExpress, January 28, 2022: “Passengers on international flights only need to present their Covid-19 PCR test results, according to document regarding international flights to Vietnam issued by the Government Office on Friday. Fully vaccinated people will be isolated at their residence or hotels for three days, and others for seven days. Deputy Prime Minister Pham Binh Minh also agreed to increase the commercial flight frequency to Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, as well as Europe and Australia in the trial program for flight resumption. The decision seeks to facilitate overseas Vietnamese returning home for Tet, the document added.”

Thousands in Vietnam mourn Thich Nhat Hanh, Zen Buddhist monk who brought mindfulness to West, Agence France-Presse, January 23, 2022: “Thich Nhat Hanh spent 39 years in France and advocated for religious freedom around the world. Vietnamese authorities permitted him to return to the country in 2018 but plainclothes police kept a vigil outside the pagoda compound closely monitoring his activities. His messages have not always been welcomed as authorities in one-party Vietnam are wary of organised religion: in 2009 his followers were driven from their temple in southern Lam Dong province by hired mobs. But Cong An Nhan Dan newspaper – considered the official mouthpiece of the public security ministry – published on Sunday a glowing tribute to the writer, poet, scholar, historian and peace activist.”

Vietnam’s path forward on COVID-19 and corruption, David Brown, East Asia Forum, January 25, 2022: “In December, after exposes that made headlines abroad, Facebook vowed to cease enabling regime efforts to suppress online criticism by Vietnamese bloggers. Hanoi has in the past brought foreign social media to heel simply by squeezing their local advertising revenues. Now that the leaders of the once robust ‘democracy movement’ are in jail or exile, it’s hard to see why the regime doesn’t ease up. Prime Minister Chinh in particular seems to have been stung by criticism of the regime’s record on political liberties. He told reporters several times that human rights in Vietnam are not as imagined in the West.”

300 Vietnamese workers held in isolation in China-backed power plant, RFA, January 26, 2022: “Around 300 Vietnamese workers have been held in isolation for the last eight months at a China-backed power plant amid COVID-19 concerns and have been refused permission to return home for the Lunar New Year, sources in the country say. The workers have been held at the Vinh Tan 1 Thermal Power Plant in the Tuy Phong district of Vietnam’s southeastern Binh Thuan province, with anyone caught leaving the plant immediately fired, one worker told RFA this week. ‘We have been isolated in this plant since June 1. We all work, eat and sleep here and have no contact with the outside world,’ the worker said, speaking on condition of anonymity for security reasons.”

As Vietnam celebrates ‘Tet,’ inmates struggle with little contact from home, RFA, January 28, 2022: “Prisoners live in squalid or crowded cells, may suffer from severe health problems, and can be subjected to torture and solitary confinement at any time of the year. But during the Lunar New Year many say a pervasive loneliness can often overcome them. That’s been made worse by a pandemic that has further restricted access to their loved ones behind bars. Sometimes families are only allowed to speak with prisoners for 10 minutes each month, Truong Thuc Doan, the daughter of imprisoned RFA blogger, Truong Duy Nhat, told RFA.”

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT


Le Manh Ha, land rights activist arrested on January 12, 2022, Source: Citizen journalist via RFA

Following a flurry of high-profile trials in the final weeks of 2021, the People’s Court in Vietnam kept on rolling as the new year began. The first two weeks of the new year saw an incredible eight arrests under Articles 117 and 331, with a few multi-year sentences added on as well.

TAKE ACTION


Brothers Trinh Ba Tu (left) and Trinh Ba Phuong, prior to their imprisonments, holding signs saying: “Freedom for my Mother” at a praying mass for victims of injustice. Source: Facebook Trinh Ba Phuong

Take action in support of political prisoners and their families this Tet. Share one of our recent video interviews and raise awareness for the cases of imprisoned activists and their loved ones. Select a video from our full archive, here.

© 2022 The 88 Project