Tran Huynh Duy Thuc
Current Status: Sentenced to prison
Other Names: Trần Huỳnh Duy Thức, Trần Đông Chấn
Date of Birth: November 29, 1966
Occupation: Blogger, Entrepreneur
Last Known Prison: Prison No. 6, Nghe An province
Areas of Activism:
- Economic reform
Highlighted Human Rights Concerns:
- Solitary Confinement
- Prolonged Incommunicado Detention
- Harsh Physical and Administrative Conditions
- Infliction of Physical and Psychological Pain
Tran Huynh Duy Thuc was allowed to call home last week. His daughters reported that their father was very weak from a prolonged hunger strike. Thuc said he barely came back from “the edge of Death.” He reiterated that unless the Supreme Court takes up his appeal that he’d first sent in 2008, he would go into “extreme mode,” ready to sacrifice his life. He even gave the family specific instructions on what to do if he doesn’t survive. We prepared a more detailed article on Thuc’s situation which you can read and share.
In an open letter, The 88 Project and 12 international human rights organizations are calling for Vice President Kamala Harris to challenge the Vietnamese government over the treatment and continued imprisonment of persecuted democracy activist Tran Huynh Duy Thuc during her upcoming visit to Vietnam. Read the letter here.
Tran Huynh Duy Thuc is believed to be in ill health due to his prolonged hunger strike. His family is concerned that he missed their scheduled phone call last week. He began the most recent strike in March.
Democracy activist Tran Huynh Duy Thuc has begun another hunger strike, his third since October. He wants to have his 16-year sentence reduced based on the new Criminal Code. He has already served 11 years. Thuc was arrested in 2009 and convicted in 2010 on charges of plotting to overthrow the government under Article 79 of the old 1999 Criminal Code. He argues that based on revisions of this article, he should be charged only with preparing to commit a crime, which carries a much lesser sentence.
Before his strike, Thuc wrote some heartfelt letters to his family which we have translated to English, here.
Details - Background, History of Activism, Family Situation, Support the Family.
Tran Huynh Duy Thuc is an engineer and entrepreneur from Ho Chi Minh City. He founded EIS, a successful Internet phone service company in Vietnam with two branches in Singapore and the U.S. It was the first Vietnamese company to invest in high technologies abroad.
Thuc founded the Chan research group to study the economy, politics, and society of Vietnam and some other countries. He blogged about social, political, and economic issues in Vietnam under the pen name Tran Dong Chan.
Contact us if you can assist.
Defend the Defender's archives
Thuc's website, run by his family
Thuc-Followers, an online community of those who agree with and follow Thuc's vision for peaceful political change in Vietnam
Viet Nam: Open Letter on Prisoner of Conscience Tran Huynh Duy Thuc, Amnesty International, May 23, 2017 (PDF)
Ten Years Gone: A Decade of Change in Vietnam and Ten Birthdays Behind Bars for One of Its Most Famous Dissidents, The 88 Project, November 28, 2018
Tran Huynh Duy Thuc’s Letter From Prison, September 2018: “Creative Methods Are Needed to Bring Freedom to Our Society," The 88 Project, December 4, 2019
Tran Huynh Duy Thuc, from the Edge of Death, The 88 Project, August 6, 2021
Arrested May 24, 2009. Sentenced to 16 years in prison under Art. 79 (1999 Code). Expected Release is May 24, 2025.
- Art. 79 (1999 Code)
- freedom from arbitrary arrest or detention
- liberty and security of the person
- freedom of expression
- not be subjected to torture and degrading treatment
- fair trial
- The 88 Project
- UN Special Rapporteurs
- Committee to Protect Journalists
- Amnesty International
- International Federation for Human Rights
- UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention
- PEN International
- International government officials
- Frontline Defenders
- Defend the Defenders
Thuc was arrested on May 24, 2009 and held in pre-trial detention, where he was possibly tortured in attempts to solicit a coerced confession. He was initially arrested for "theft of telephone wires," but later charged under Article 79 for subversion. He was tried on January 20, 2010, with three co-defendants (Nguyen Tien Trung, Le Cong Dinh, and Le Thang Long) in Ho Chi Minh City. He was sentenced to sixteen years in prison and five years of probation.
His and his co-defendant's detentions were deemed arbitrary by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention in 2012. He was adopted by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) as part of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Comission’s Defending Freedoms Project.
Throughout his imprisonment, Thuc has endured harsh treatment. He has often been targeted for standing up for the rights of other prisoners and has had communication with family limited by the authorities. He has led hunger strikes while imprisoned, and, while he has been offered early release in exchange for leaving the country, refuses to be exiled from Vietnam.
In May of 2016, he was transferred to a prison farther away from his family. The reason for the transfer was unclear, but his distancing strategy has been used on other political prisoners, and could be related to his refusal to accept an early release in exchange for exile from Vietnam.
Thuc annnounced he was appealing his sentence in light of changes to Vietnam's Criminal Code. Under his current sentence, he is due for release in May of 2025. Read our reflection on his case and his contributions to Vietnamese civil society, here.
In a phone call to his family on June 30, Tran Huynh Duy Thuc told his wife that on June 25, a delegation of the European Union and German Embassy in Vietnam had visited him for an hour in Prison No. 6, Nghe An province. The delegation asked about Thuc's wishes, and he reiterated that he would not want to live abroad, and that he wanted to stay in Vietnam to serve his country. Thus, Thuc again ruled out the possibility of him accepting to be exiled in exchange for an early release. Thuc also said he wanted his case to be resolved according to the law and has continued to press for an appeal of his conviction. His health has been more stable recently.
Thuc wrote a series of letters home to his family about prison life and his thoughts on the activist movement today in Vietnam. In the first of a series of translations, this letter details his visit from foreign officials on June 25.
In the second letter, Thuc wrote about the need for open and innovative global economic systems, saying: "...in order to possess superior technologies, the nation must be a society in which ideas and activities flow freely to create a free competitive environment."
In the third and last letter, also from June 2018, Thuc wrote: "Whether as a civilian or a prisoner, I always try my best to do everything I can to help the nation fulfills its historical mission. This has been my ultimate goal for many years."
Tran Huynh Duy Thuc ended his hunger strike after 34 days. His family was allowed a brief visit with him on September 15, but was prohibited from "discussing outside news" with him. Thuc objected to this arbitrary prohibition and was taken away shortly after the visit started, and his family was also forced outside of the prison. They were allowed another brief visit with him on September 16, during which Thuc agreed with his family to end the hunger strike to maintain his health, but emphasized that he would continue to petition the authorities to respect the rule of law, not only in his own case, but also in other cases. On September 8, Thuc's family had issued this letter requesting that the prison authorities inform the family about Thuc's current condition, as well as allow Thuc to make a phone call home. He had been protesting increased restrictions in prison, as well as his opposition to authorities’ attempts to get him to accept exile in exchange for early release.
Tran Huynh Duy Thuc's family met with him on October 12. He said that he had gained weight and his health was good. This meeting was more comfortable because police did not interrupt them when they talked about outside information, especially on EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement hearing that Dr. Nguyen Quang A had just attended in Belgium. One day after this meeting, Thuc made a 5-minute phone call to his family. This was abnormal because he was normally only allowed to call during the end of the month. He still wanted Vietnam to sign the trade agreement with the EU to prove that respecting the law is Vietnam’s trademark. He gave thanks to all who were concerned about him and to all those who have supported him, as well as called on people to continue supporting him and other political prisoners in their fight for freedom.
November 29, 2018 was Tran Huynh Duy Thuc’s 10th birthday in prison. Read about his impact on the Vietnamese democratic movement, the current situation for activists, and Thuc's own fight for freedom using new provisions in the revised Criminal Code. Overall, his situation in prison had greatly worsened. At his most recent family visit, Thuc informed his family that he suffered health issues from a possible poisoning on November 20, and prison authorities were denying him water to boil noodles and the ability to receive letters; they were also considering denying him other items at the time of this writing, like a blood pressure monitor, with no legal basis. He asked the international community to intervene on his behalf.
Tran Huynh Duy Thuc’s daughter wrote an open letter to the international community in light of a possible attempted poisoning against Thuc in prison on November 20, 2018 and overall worsened prison conditions. In the letter, she wrote: "Our family is extremely worried about his health and safety since we believe these new forms of mistreatment are used to coerce my dad to admit guilty in exchange for an early parole. For the past 9 years, my dad steadfastly believes that fighting for freedom of speech is not a crime. My dad has never inflicted violence or threats against the government. He has announced for many times that he is innocent and will never admit guilty."
On December 8, Tran Huynh Duy Thuc's family went to visit him in prison. Lawyer Ngo Ngoc Trai also accompanied them to meet with Thuc and demanded that detention center officials investigate the alleged poisoning against Thuc. However, detention officials did not allow him to meet with Thuc; they themselves met with Trai separately. They informed Trai that they received his previous letter concerning the matter and passed it to superior authorities for further consultation. British Member of European Parliament Julie Ward sent a letter to Vietnam's President calling on the country to release Thuc from prison -- and without the condition of exile. Thuc was said to look healthy during the family's visit in spite of only eating instant noodles. Prison authorities had begun to provide him boiled water again, but Thuc still refused to eat food provided by the prison, arguing that there was nothing to ensure his safety. He said to his family that he might be at risk of suffering from "incidents" in prison.
May 24, 2019 marked ten years since Tran Huynh Duy Thuc was arrested. Read our analysis about his attempts to appeal his sentence under new law, and his refusal to accept forced exile in exchange for early release from prison, here.
Tran Huynh Duy Thuc was released from solitary confinement at Prison No. 6 in Nghe An province. He protested the isolation, which was causing him to experience extreme physical heat in his cell, by staging a three-day hunger strike earlier in the month. Though he may not be continuously confined, Thuc was still only allowed out of his cell for 14 hours per week, seven hours on both Saturday and Sunday. He had also been unable to get letters from his family since the beginning of the year.
On November 29, 2019, Tran Huynh Duy Thuc spent his 11th birthday in prison – and he still will have to serve five more behind bars until he can celebrate out in the world with his family. We interviewed his daughter to get an update on his current situation. And we would like to share more of Thuc’s writing to continue to remind the world of his commitment to Vietnamese democracy and economic and social improvement. In one of the many letters he sent home, Thuc wrote: “The Path to Justice will not only lead me home, it will also bring a brighter future for everyone. Otherwise, why would I even choose imprisonment? Why would we, out of personal concerns, choose to spend a few years less in jail at the expense of justice? Realizing that point is the key to understanding the importance of creativity. Our greatest strength is our ability to think creatively. If we just blindly and diligently follow the same old paths, we won’t be able to avoid a bleak future. Not even for another thousand years.” Read the full translation of his letter, here.
On October 8, Tran Huynh Duy Thuc told his family that he had begun a hunger strike for the last three days to demand that the High Court review his request to have his sentence reduced based on changes in the Penal Code of 2015. His brother, Tran Huynh Duy Tam, says the issue is that Thuc was charged with “preparing to commit a crime,” which in the new Penal Code only carries a maximum sentence of five years. Instead, his brother was sentenced to 16 years. The family is working to have this sentence repealed so that Thuc can be freed according to the law.
Tran Huynh Duy Thuc started a hunger strike since November 23. His family was able to visit him on November 30 and reported that he was extremely weak. He asked his family to make public this message: “I’m sorry that I could not reach the end successfully with you all, but please keep moving forward on the path of enlightening our compatriots and the world, keep up the battles for Human Rights. Make the most use of my departure by pushing this struggle to its end by this year or the next.” He underwent a strike for the same reasons in October.
On January 11, Tran Huynh Duy Thuc’s family sent a request to Prison Camp No. 6 asking for information about his health condition while continuing his hunger strike. On January 19, the prison responded, saying that Thuc has never been hospitalized and is still healthy enough to serve his sentence. The family received news from another source that Thuc was put on an IV for a few days. On January 21, Thuc called his family. He reported he was still on his hunger strike. He only drinks milk and has lost a lot of weight, now weighing only 56 kg. He said he was never in the hospital. He will continue his hunger strike. The family is still extremely concerned about his health, as it has now been over two months since he started the strike. He started his hunger strike on November 23 to appeal his sentence based on the new penal code, which he argues should reduce his prison term to time already served.
Read our analysis of his hunger strike, and the case for why international organizations should support him, here.
Tran Huynh Duy Thuc has ended his hunger strike after 72 days. In a call to his family on February 3, he said, “The goal to start a revolution of light has been accomplished, therefore I will end my hunger strike. I want to thank all who have supported me through this battle. And please keep up the fight, for only light can drive out darkness, which can befall us anytime like it just did in Myanmar. I hope to see you soon.” His family reported that Thuc is no longer losing weight and that his voice sounded positive.
Prior to arrest: healthy
After the arrest:
Thuc's family attempted to visit him but had to meet with him across from a glass divider with a phone. Supplies sent to him by the family, including copies of legal documents, tai chi exercises, and leisure reading, were denied to him by prison authorities. He has staged several hunger strikes while in prison.
Thuc's immediate situation in prison had somewhat improved, but he continued to suffer from poor eye health, and potentially glaucoma, as his cell's electricity was cut off previously. However, recently, the prison allowed him to receive flashlights from his family, which they previously denied him. The authorities had also recently started sending Thuc's poetry and musical compositions created in prison to his family.
After a recent family visit, Thuc's brother reported that Thuc was confident and had a positive attitude; in addition, his treatment in prison had slightly improved, and Thuc was even permitted to hug his family after their most recent visit. He also planned to continue pressing for an appeal of his conviction.
In a letter home, Thuc reported that his eye sight was still not doing well, but it had improved over recent months.
See the above section in "Details of Imprisonment" for information about the potential poisoning against Thuc in late 2018.
In late February 2021, Thuc started yet another hunger strike, his third since October 2020. Read more about this in the "Details of Imprisonment" section above. According to Radio Free Asia's report from the family,
"Tran had gained 12 kilograms (26 pounds) during the 16-day interval between his two hunger strikes but had lost 10 kilograms again during the first 43 days of his current strike."
Throughout his imprisonment, Thuc has endured harsh treatment. He has often been targeted for standing up for the rights of other prisoners and has had communication with family limited by the authorities. In May of 2016, he was transferred to a prison farther away from his family. The reason for the transfer was unclear, but his distancing strategy has been used on other prisoners of conscience and could be related to his refusal to accept an early release in exchange for exile from Vietnam. As of 2020, Thuc continues to maintain his innocence and refuses to be exiled.
Three UN Special Rapporteurs and the Vice Chair of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention sent a letter to the Vietnamese authorities asking them to explain complaints against prison authorities that Tran Huynh Duy Thuc was being denied letters and visits from family, as well as being generally mistreated. They reminded the government of its legal obligations to uphold human rights and provide basic assurances to its prisoners. The letter came after authorities transferred Thuc to a prison farther away from his family, and after her underwent a hunger strike in protest of prison conditions.
Amnesty International released an Urgent Action regarding his prison treatment.
On the anniversary of his arrest, Amensty International released an open letter calling for Thuc's release.
Thuc was one of the focus cases of the VOICE 2017 UPR campaign to hold Vietnam accountable to its human rights obligations.
The 88 Project's Editor, Huong Nguyen, was interviewed by DiaCRITICS about The 88 Project and its history, as well as the state of human rights in Vietnam today and the case of political prisoner Tran Huynh Duy Thuc.
British Member of European Parliament Julie Ward sent a letter to Vietnam's President calling on the country to release Thuc from prison -- and without the condition of exile.
A group of Vietnamese in Tokyo protested in front of the residence of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga ahead of his visit to Vietnam on October 18-20. They carried pictures of political prisoners such as Trinh Ba Phuong, Tran Huynh Duy Thuc, Pham Doan Trang, Le Dinh Luong, and Nguyen Nang Tinh. The group also went on a 24-hour hunger strike to call attention to the government’s continued crackdown on peaceful dissent and violations of freedom of speech.
The 88 Project featured on its website actions users can take in support of Thuc during his strike.
There were also action in support of Thuc from Frontline Defenders.
Vietnam Human Rights Network and Defend the Defenders released a statement in support of Thuc while he was on hunger strike. They stated: “Mr. Tran Huynh Duy Thuc is completely innocent; his activities were solely aimed at exercising his basic rights guaranteed by the international human rights conventions that the Vietnamese communist government has signed and ratified.”
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.
The UN “Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders” by Mary Lawlor, sub-titled “States in denial: the long-term detention of human rights defenders,” thoroughly explains and exposes the many methods that member states use to skirt human rights conventions which they purport to uphold. According to the report, Vietnam has the highest number of jailed human rights defenders (38), more than twice that of China (17). Imprisoned blogger and entrepreneur Tran Huynh Duy Thuc was mentioned as a special case (p.20)
In an open letter, The 88 Project and 12 international human rights organizations called for Vice President Kamala Harris to challenge the Vietnamese government over the treatment and continued imprisonment of persecuted democracy activist Tran Huynh Duy Thuc during her upcoming visit to Vietnam. Read the letter here.
Update on Tran Huynh Duy Thuc, November 25, 2018: Poisoning and Mental Torture in Prison, The 88 Project, November 24, 2018
Letter from MEP Julie Ward to Vietnamese President Concerning the Case of Tran Huynh Duy Thuc, The 88 Project, December 13, 2018
Forced Exile and Its Implications for Activist Movements: The Case of Tran Huynh Duy Thuc 10 Years After His Arrest, The 88 Project, May 23, 2019
Jailed Vietnamese Activist Wins Short Stays Outside His Cell Following Hunger Strike, Radio Free Asia, July 8, 2019
11 Birthdays in Prison: Interview with Tran Huynh Duy Thuc’s Daughter, The 88 Project, November 30, 2019
Imprisoned blogger Tran Huynh Duy Thuc in critical condition, The 88 Project, December 5, 2020
Share message for imprisoned blogger Tran Huynh Duy Thuc, The 88 Project, December 6, 2020
TRẦN HUỲNH DUY THỨC’S HEALTH DETERIORATES AS HUNGER STRIKE CONTINUES, Frontline Defenders, December 3, 2020
Rights groups snub Vietnam prisoner over hunger strike, Asia Times, January 17, 2021
Jailed Vietnamese Democracy Advocate Launches New Hunger Strike, Radio Free Asia, April 4, 2021
Three Letters from Tran Huynh Duy Thuc, The 88 Project, April 8, 2021
Prisoners in Vietnam Believed to be Ill After Lengthy Hunger Strikes, Radio Free Asia, July 22, 2021
Profile last updated: 2021-10-11 19:15:46