Nguyen Bac Truyen
Current Status: Released - exiled
Other Names: Nguyễn Bắc Truyển
Date of Birth: August 12, 1968
Religion: Buddhist (Hòa Hảo)
Occupation: Business professional
Last Known Prison: An Diem prison, Dai Loc district, Quang Nam province
Areas of Activism:
- Land rights
- Religious freedom
Highlighted Human Rights Concerns:
- Former Political Prisoner
- Denial of Adequate Medical Treatment or Supplies
- Prolonged Incommunicado Detention
- Harsh Physical and Administrative Conditions
- Denial of Family Visit/Punitive Prison Transfer
- Infliction of Physical and Psychological Pain
Nguyen Bac Truyen has been freed early from his 11-year prison sentence and has gone into exile with his wife to Germany. On her Facebook page, Bui Kim Phuong announced that she and her husband arrived in Berlin on Sept. 8. She thanked the German government and its representatives at the embassy in Hanoi for their assistance and advocacy. Phuong also asked for some private time to recuperate and resettle.
Bui Thi Kim Phuong, wife of political prisoner Nguyen Bac Truyen, was banned from leaving the country to attend the International Religious Freedom Summit from 2019 to 2022, having received an invitation each year.
The UN released its annual report on reprisals for cooperating with the UN on human rights abuses. The section on Vietnam highlighted many familiar organizations and individuals such as VOICE, IJAVN, Nguyen Tuong Thuy, Nguyen Bac Truyen, as well as their spouses and family members who were harassed by police for talking to UN representatives.
Details - History of Activism.
Nguyen Bac Truyen ran the Vietnamese Political & Religious Prisoners Friendship Association; he also provided free legal advice to those affected by land grabs and has been an adovcate for human rights and for the release of all political prisoners in Vietnam.
In 2011, he won Human Rights Watch's Hellman/Hammett Award for his work.
Defend the Defenders's archives
Amnesty International Urgent Action, Vietnam: Missing Human Rights Defender At Risk of Torture: Nguyen Bac Truyen, August 22, 2017 (PDF)
Six Vietnamese Activists Sentenced for 'Subversion' in Hanoi Trial, Radio Free Asia, April 5, 2018
Prisoners of Conscience in Viet Nam, Amnesty International, April 4, 2018
Annual reports on reprisal for cooperation with UN (2021 report)
Arrested November 17, 2006. Sentenced to 3 years 6 months in prison under Art. 88 (1999 Code). Released May, 2010.
- Art. 88 (1999 Code)
- freedom from arbitrary arrest or detention
- liberty and security of the person
- fair trial
Arrested July 30, 2017. Sentenced to 11 years in prison under Art. 79 (1999 Code). Released September 8, 2023.
- Art. 79 (1999 Code)
- freedom from arbitrary arrest or detention
- liberty and security of the person
- freedom of expression
- fair trial
- International professionals
- Human Rights Watch
- US government
- Amnesty International
- International government officials
- Boat People SOS
Nguyen Bac Truyen was kidnapped and arrested on July 30, 2017. He was held in an unknown location for three weeks after his arrest. Truyen was arrested along with three other pro-democracy activists associated with the Brotherhood of Democracy and prisoner of conscience Nguyen Van Dai. They were arrested under Article 79 for activities deemed to be subversive.
On April 5, in a one-day trial, six activists, whose backgrounds range from defending religious freedom, to environmental rights, to multi-party democracy, were sentenced to a combined 66 years in prison and 17 years of house arrest under Article 79 of the 1999 Criminal Code. All have been known to support political prisoners and their families and advocate for human rights. Nguyen Bac Truyen was sentenced to 11 years in prison and three years of house arrest.
In late April 2018, Nguyen Trung Ton, Pham Van Troi, Truong Minh Duc, and Nguyen Bac Truyen appealed their sentences.
Three Brotherhood for Democracy members – Nguyen Trung Ton, Truong Minh Duc, and Pham Van Troi– as well as religious freedom activist Nguyen Bac Truyen, had their appeals denied on June 4.
Authorities transferred Nguyen Bac Truyen. Truyen was moved from the B14 detention center in Hanoi to An Diem prison camp in Quang Nam province, over 800 km from his family.
The latest report on Truyen was about his cards for the occasion of Lunar New Year. He sent hand-written cards to his family and his friends, wishing them all the best in the new year and giving thanks for their support.
On March 7, Kim Phuong, wife of Nguyen Bac Truyen, was barred from leaving Vietnam to travel to Germany, where she planned to conducted advocacy efforts for her husband.
On May 23, Hoang Duc Binh’s family went to visit him at An Diem Detention Center, Quang Nam province. Binh was in very poor health due to being on hunger strike. Binh, Nguyen Bac Truyen, and other prisoners started a hunger strike on May 12 to protest against the detention center torturing fellow political prisoner Nguyen Van Hoa. On May 12, 2019, a detention center officer at An Diem forced Hoa to sign a report with many blank spaces. Hoa revealed to other prisoners that he refused to sign because the authorities could later fill those blank spaces with false content to punish him. After that, public security forces and detention officers beat him harshly, causing bruises, and took him away without an official punishment decision.
According to an update from Hoa's sister, who went to visit him at An Diem Detention Center on May 28, 2019, Hoa’s health was fine now in spite of being beaten and held in solitary confinement for ten days. He was released but still had to be isolated in one room at camp K1 for the next six months. As of May 27, there was one prisoner who stopped his hunger strike, while political prisoners Hoang Duc Binh and Nguyen Bac Truyen, as well as one other, kept striking in solidarity with Hoa, Hoa said. Those striking were said to be unaware of Hoa's condition.
Update: Nguyen Van Hoa ended his hunger strike after eight days. Truyen and Diep also ended their hunger strike. The three reportedly resumed eating after their demands were approved by the prison administration, though it is unclear exactly what those demands were.
Three political prisoners had been on a hunger strike at An Diem Prison since at least November 20. They are Nguyen Bac Truyen, Pham Van Diep, and Nguyen Van Hoa. On November 26, Hoa’s sister visited him and reported that her brother looked pale and weak and had been on a hunger strike for seven days. They were protesting violations of their human rights, such as not being allowed to send or receive letters, not being given adequate healthcare, and being transferred to prisons far from their hometowns, causing hardship for their families. All their requests had been ignored by the authorities, even Truyen’s 2019 petition for a medical examination.
Nguyen Bac Truyen’s wife, Bui Kim Phuong, was able to visit Truyen and sent an update to The 88 Project on his condition. She said he had not been feeling well but was physically stable. However, he was under a lot of psychological stress caused by prison guards. He told her they had been using other prisoners to harass and provoke him so that they could “isolate and demean him.” In the morning, whenever he tried to study English, they deliberately would make a lot of loud noises so that he couldn't concentrate. She said he seemed to be very stressed.
Bui Kim Phuong also told The 88 Project that her husband has been mistreated in prison. Several letters that she sent to him were not delivered. An Diem Prison has ignored his requests and has not forwarded his petitions to the proper court authorities. He has not been medically treated for his gout condition. Several letters that he tried to send home asking for supplies were never delivered. The authorities have denied his request to be transferred closer to home.
Several UN Special Rapporteurs released a letter documenting harassment and intimidation against Nguyen Bac Truyen and his wife, Bui Thi Kim Phuong, as well as several colleagues. They asked for further information on and resolution of the matter, as well as a guarantee of freedom of expression and religion for them.
UN Special Rapporteurs sent another letter regarding Nguyen Bac Truyen to Vietnamese authorities, this time raising concerns about the treatment of religious minorities in Vietnam. Nguyen Bac Truyen and his wife had their movement restricted by authorities after meeting with the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief in July 2014. In addition, when Truyen was hit and badly injured by a motorbike in August 2017, the perpetrator was believed to be part of the group of agents watching Truyen and his wife. At several other instances, Truyen and his family were restricted to their home and also surveilled by police.
The UN Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief sent yet another letter to the Vietnamese authorities asking for more information regarding alleged attacks on religious groups and individuals in the country, including Nguyen Bac Truyen and his wife, and why these persons' peaceful, religious expressions were not being protected under international standards. He wrote:
"I am respectfully appealing to your Excellency’s Government to clarify these
allegations, especially of those incidents that appear to illustrate a pattern of reprisals
against persons who sought to meet and cooperate with foreign diplomatic
representatives. As the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam acceded to the International
Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) on 24 September 1982, your
Excellency’s Government has the obligation to protect the right to freedom of religion or
belief of all persons in the country, including those who belong to religious minorities or
unrecognized communities as enshrined, inter alia, in Articles 18, 19, 20, 26 and 27 of
Front Line Defender’s released an action for Nguyen Trung Ton, Pham Van Troi, Nguyen Bac Truyen, and Truong Minh Duc, who were all arrested in late July 2017, calling for their immediate release from prison.
Amnesty International released an Urgent Action for Nguyen Bac Truyen.
Several UN Rapporteurs released a letter expressing concern about the arrests and detentions of Nguyen Bac Truyen, Truong Minh Duc, Nguyen Trung Ton, Pham Van Troi, Nguyen Van Tuc, and Le Dinh Luong. They highlighted the issue that these arrests took place during a concerted crackdown on human rights activists and point out that Vietnam has international obligations to protect universal freedoms, such as the rights to freedom of expression and assembly.
Governments, advocacy groups, and individuals alike condemned the harsh sentences against Truyen and his co-defendants after their April 5, 2018 trial. “The Vietnamese government should thank them for their efforts to improve the country instead of arresting and putting them on trial," said Human Rights Watch's Asia Director, Brad Adams, in a statement ahead of the trial. The Spokesperson of the EU External Action division noted in their statement that the rights exercised by the defendants are "guaranteed by the Vietnamese Constitution, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights." The United Kingdom's Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister, Harriett Baldwin, agreed that peaceful expression of one's opinions should not be considered a crime. Heather Nauert, US State Department Spokesperson, also supported other governments and organizations in calling for the release of the prisoners and for Vietnam to uphold international obligations. "Individuals have the right to the fundamental freedoms of expression, association, and peaceful assembly, both online and offline," she said in her statement.
After Truyen's appeal trial, Amnesty International released a statement condemning the decision to uphold his and his co-defendants' sentences, saying that: "These activists have been deliberately silenced by Vietnam’s authorities for bravely speaking out in a country where freedom of expression is under attack."
Several international human rights organizations sent a letter to top EU leaders as negotiations continue on the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement, urging Vietnam to release religious and democracy activist Nguyen Bac Truyen from prison. Truyen has spent years defending the legal rights of victims of injustice and advocating for human rights; for this work, his family has been harassed and Truyen arrested and sentenced to 11 years in prison. Read the letter, here.
The US Commission on International Religious Freedom called for the release of Nguyen Bac Truyen on the second anniversary of his trial. USCIRF Commissioner Anurima Bhargava said of Truyen that: “He should be home with his family, especially now that the coronavirus pandemic has increased the public health risk to prisoners and his health problems have escalated since his imprisonment.
The Commissioner of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom and U.S. Representative Harley Rouda (D-CA) wrote an opinion calling for the release of Truyen from prison. In the opinion, they wrote about Truyen’s poor health conditions and said that, “His immediate and unconditional release is necessary to demonstrate the Vietnamese government’s stated commitment to religious freedom.” The letter writers urged U.S. officials to continue to press for the release of Vietnamese political prisoners. They also called for USAID funding in Vietnam to go towards education on the importance of religious freedom and for the US to designate Vietnam as a Country of Particular Concern if Vietnam refuses to protect religious freedom in the country.
The first day in a month-long series of webinars organized by BPSOS took place on July 31st and focused on religious freedom. The guest speaker for the morning session was Attorney Anurima Bhargava, Commissioner for the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), who traveled to Vietnam last year to survey the situation on the ground and talked about what she saw. Bhargava also spoke about Nguyen Bac Truyen, who she has sponsored through a program initiated by BPSOS.
A number of current and former ASEAN Parliamentarians released a letter calling on Vietnam to free Nguyen Bac Truyen from prison. They wrote: “We are extremely concerned that the charge against him is completely unfounded and his imprisonment is in direct breach of Viet Nam’s obligations under Article 24 of its Constitution and the various international instruments that Viet Nam has ratified, in particular, Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and Article 22 of the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration.”
The NGO Jubilee Campaign sent a formal letter to the UN Human Rights Council to call attention to the continuing arbitrary arrest and detention of activists and religious minorities in Vietnam. The group specifically raised the case of Nguyen Bac Truyen and made recommendations to both the government of Vietnam and the council on what should be done to protect and promote religious freedom in Vietnam.
The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) congratulated the government of Vietnam on its National Day and encouraged the government to take steps to improve religious freedom conditions in the country. “USCIRF welcomes Vietnam’s progress, but we remain deeply concerned about the harassment of unregistered religious groups and religious freedom advocates,” noted USCIRF Vice Chair Anurima Bhargava. “We urge the government of Vietnam to release all individuals detained because of the peaceful expression of their beliefs, including Nguyen Bac Truyen and Pastor A Dao.”
The UN issued its 2020 report on intimidation and reprisal against individuals who report human rights abuses. The report mentioned the cases of Dr. Nguyen Tien Dung, who was not allowed to travel Geneva to attend the UPR session on Vietnam; six Cao Dai Buddhists who were prevented from traveling to Thailand to attend the SEAFORB convention on religious beliefs, as well as four Catholics who were harassed as they came back from that convention; two female activists working on human rights issues; and particularly political prisoner Nguyen Bac Truyen.
Three US representatives wrote to Mike Pompeo ahead of the US-Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue on October 6, urging him to press the government to “show a willingness to improve the conditions for personal freedoms within Vietnam.” They specifically mention Nguyen Bac Truyen as a case of particular concern and ask that he be released as a demonstration of good faith.
Boat People SOS (BPSOS) expedited a letter to be sent to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo by September 28, in time for the State Department to consider adding Truyen’s case to the agenda for its annual dialogue on human rights and religious freedom with Hanoi on October 6.
Nguyen Bac Truyen was awarded the Stefanus Prize 2020. According to the organization, “The Stefanus Prize was established by the Norwegian missions- and human rights organization Stefanus Alliance International. It is awarded to a person or persons who has made a great contribution to the human right of freedom of religion and belief.”
FrontLine Defenders released an Urgent Action for Truyen while he was on hunger strike.
At the award ceremony for the 2020 Stefanus Prize, Bui Thi Kim Phuong, the wife of recipient Nguyen Bac Truyen was only able to send a video statement since she’s not allowed to travel abroad.
Commissioner James Carr of the USCIRF (US Commission on Religious Freedom) told Voice of America that the Commission is very concerned about the wave of arrests of religious activists in 2020 and that it will continue to press for the release of Nguyen Bac Truyen, whom the Commission sponsored in November 2019, and many others who are imprisoned simply for exercising their faith. Carr noted some positive signs with the early release of Pastor A Dao but said more pressure needs to be applied and maintained.
On January 27, 2021, a group of German lawmakers led by Rene Kunast wrote a letter to the government of Vietnam to express their extreme concerns about the health of political prisoners Nguyen Bac Truyen and Tran Huynh Duy Thuc; the latter was at the time on a two-month hunger strike. The lawmakers requested that the two men be given immediate medical attention and be released.
On February 25, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom had a hearing to introduce two programs designed to shine some light on human rights abuses for religious reasons. The hearing began with the case of Nguyen Bac Truyen, who is on a list of more than 1,000 cases. Of these, Vietnam has about 35 cases.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) wrote an open letter to Vice-President Kamala Harris asking her to intervene on behalf of Truyen. In the letter, HRW also mentions several other cases of persecution based on religious beliefs.
Forty-three organizations and individuals joined forces to send an open letter to Vice President Harris, urging her to press Hanoi for the release of Nguyen Bac Truyen.
Vietnam Caucus Co-Chair Lofgren Welcomes Release of Vietnamese Religious Prisoner of Conscience Nguyen Bac Truyen.
Joint NGO Letter Calls for Release of Nguyen Bac Truyen, Human Rights Watch, April 15, 2019
The rising cost of religious freedom in Vietnam, The Hill, April 24, 2020
Open Letter – Vietnam: Immediately and unconditionally release Mr. Nguyễn Bắc Truyển, APHR, August 13, 2020
Nguyen Bac Truyen, US Comission on International Religious Freedom
Imprisoned Vietnamese lawyer awarded the Stefanus Prize 2020, Stefanus Institute, October 20, 2020
Vietnamese prisoners of conscience on hunger strike, CSW, November 27, 2020
TRẦN HUỲNH DUY THỨC’S HEALTH DETERIORATES AS HUNGER STRIKE CONTINUES, Frontline Defenders, December 3, 2020
Vietnamese Former RFA Videographer Ends Hunger Strike in Prison, Radio Free Asia, December 7, 2020
Religious freedom and human rights advocates call for the immediate and unconditional release of Mr. Nguyễn Bắc Truyển, Human Rights Watch, August 12, 2021
Human Rights Watch letter, to US VP Harris, August 2021
Profile last updated: 2023-09-20 19:21:12