Can Thi Theu

Current Status: Released - at risk

Photo of Can Thi Theu

Other Names: Cấn Thị Thêu

Date of Birth: August 14, 1962

Gender: F

Ethnicity: Kinh

Current Prison: Gia Trung prison, Gia Lai province

Areas of Activism:

  • Land rights

September 2019:

Farmer and political activist Can Thi Theu spoke to us about what it means to be an activist, and she shared with us how she prepares mentally to deal with this lifestyle. “You have to think about the greater good," she said. Watch the trailer of our interview with her, here. The full interview is coming soon!

Details - Background, History of Activism, Family Situation.

Can Thi Theu is from Duong Noi, outside of Hanoi.

Theu is a leading activist against land grabs in Duong Noi, in which fertile land is confiscated by the government, usually for industrial use and without proper compensation. This issue has been particularly problematic as Vietnam's economy continues to grow. Theu and her family have been victims on forced eviction and land confiscation themselves. Theu has also been a vocal supporter of other political prisoners, such as Nguyen Van Dai, Le Thu Ha, and Tran Huynh Duy Thuc, staging a hunger strike for the latter. She also participated in protests after the Formosa environmental disaster began in April 2016.

Can Thi Theu's husband, Trinh Ba Khiem, was arrested along with Theu in 2014 and sentenced to 18 months (reduced to 14 on appeal). Her two sons were briefly detained after their mother's arrest in June 2016. 

The 88 Project's archives

Defend the Defenders's archives

Sentencing of Land Rights Defender, Can Thi Theu, Front Line Defenders (multiple entries)

Can Thi Theu's Letter from Gia Trung Prison, 20 December 2016, The 88 Project, January 25, 2017

Free Vietnam's Political Prisoners!, Human Rights Watch, November 3, 2017

Vietnam upholds 20-month jail term for land grab protester, Reuters, November 30, 2016 

Can Thi Theu's story and the context of land confiscation in Vietnam are told in this bilingual video produced by artist Kim Chi, Hélèna Lee, and friends.


Arrested April 25, 2014. Sentenced to 1 year 3 months in prison under Art. 104 (1999 Code), Art. 257 (1999 Code). Released July 27, 2015.

April 25, 2014
  • Art. 104 (1999 Code)
  • Art. 257 (1999 Code)
August 19, 2014
1 year 3 months in prison
July 27, 2015

Arrested June 11, 2016. Sentenced to 1 year 8 months in prison under Art. 245 (1999 Code). Released February 10, 2018.

June 11, 2016
  • Art. 245 (1999 Code)
September 20, 2016
  • Ha Huy Son
  • Vo An Don
  • Nguyen Kha Thanh
  • Le Van Luan
1 year 8 months in prison
February 10, 2018

First arrest:

Can Thi Theu was arrested in 2014 under Article 257 ("activities against public officials"). She was sentenced to 15 months in prison. The arrest was allegedly for leading a protest in Duong Noi when authorities came to conficate community land.

Latest arrest:

Can Thi Theu was arrested for a second time on June 10, 2016, for leading a nonviolent demonstration of people seeking government accountability for land grabs. She was sentenced to 20 months in prison in September 2016 by the People's Court of Dong Da district. Supporters were systematically blocked from attending her trial and some were assaulted. The sentence was upheld on appeal on November 30, 2016. Shortly thereafter, Theu was transferred from Hoa Lo prison in Hanoi to Gia Trung prison in Gia Lai, 1,000 km from her home. The transfer was interpreted by some as a way to distance Theu from her network of support. She wrote a letter to the community at the time of the transfer. Theu has reported back on severe mistreatment of other prisoners while herself imprisoned. 

November 2017:

The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention released two opinions deeming the arrests and detentions of land rights activist Can Thi Theu and blogger Tran Thi Nga as arbitrary. The opinions called for swift remedies of the alleged violations of international law in their cases. The opinions condemned the lack of verifiable information about Theu’s health treatment in prison.
February 2018: 

Can Thi Theu upon release. Source: Nguyen Lan Thang
Can Thi Theu was released from prison on February 10, 2018 and returned to her home in Duong Noi, Ha Dong, Ha Noi, where she was warmly welcomed by family, friends, and fellow villagers. Her welcoming home quickly became a demonstration of the determination of the villagers to keep their land from being seized by the government, as Can Thi Theu condemned the illegal forced eviction and vowed to continue her fight, and as her supporters brought flowers and a banner saying "Duong Noi people would die to keep their land" (see picture above). 

Theu went on hunger strike for 13 days following her arrest in 2016; her health faltered as a result. She was reported to be in poor health condition while in prison.

June 2016:

Front Line Defenders released an Urgent Appeal on Theu's behalf.

September 2016:

Human Rights Watch called for Theu's release from prison ahead of her original trial.

October 2016:

Four UN Special Rapporteurs sent a letter to the Vietnamese authorities asking for clarifying information about Can Thi Theu's pre-arrest harassment, arrest, detention, and deprivation of a lawyer, and how those actions fit into established international human rights agreements. They had previously sent a similar letter in June 2016.

September 19, 2018: watched by local commune officials

September 19, 2018
Public security
Ngoc Luong Commune, Yen Thuy District, Hoa Binh Province (map)

freedom of movement

On September 19, 2018, Can Thi Theu and her family were watched by dozens of plainclothes public security officers when she and her husband were on the way to supermarket. On the same day, the first instance court of Dao Quang Thuc, a former teacher, was held in Hoa Binh Province, which could be the reason for this incident.

Police from both Hoa Binh Province and Ha Noi raided every corner of Can Thi Theu’s living place and tried to prevent their family from attending Dao Quang Thuc’s trial.

From nearly 9:00 am, she started to live-stream on Facebook several times about this incident. In one of her videos, she indicated that one of two men in that clip was Mr. Vuong, a public security officer in Ngoc Luong commune. He and a man sitting behind him were following them on a motorcycle. Being filmed, they kept silent, then quietly rode their motorcycle in the opposite direction and stopped after riding only around 20 meters. When Mrs. Theu reached their stand, they left their motorcycle, walked slowly onwards, and went into a local house to escape from the camera.  

In another video, live streamed by Trinh Ba Tu, Can Thi Theu’s son, Hanoi security forces even drove a car, licensed of 29A196.98, to block their way.

July 12, 2019: beaten by thugs when visiting prison No. 6

Physical assault in a public space
July 12, 2019
Hanh Lam ward, Thanh Chuong district, Nghe An province (map)

  • liberty and security of the person
  • freedom of peaceful assembly
  • equal protection of the law
  • freedom from discrimination

On July 12, 2019, Can Thi Theu (who is a former political prisoner) and 19 family members and supporters of political prisoners were physically attacked by thugs who they believed to be plain-clothes prison officers and public security officers. Activist Trinh Ba Phuong, son of Theu, told VOA Vietnamese that the group was on its way to Prison No. 6 with some posters solely to visit and support prisoners such as Truong Minh Duc, who were on hunger strike at the time. When the visitors group tried to approach Camp 6 by car, a truck seemed to purposely park to block the road, so they decided to walk the rest of the way. This is where the attack took place. Activists Trinh Ba Khiem, Nguyen Thuy Hanh and Huynh Ngoc Chenh were not only physically assaulted, but their belongings, including money, phones, and personal documents were taken by the attackers.

After the attack, the group was forced to go back to the main road and was escorted to Vinh city, unable to complete the visit.

Profile last updated: 2019-09-20 02:44:20

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