Profile

Nguyen Tien Trung

Current Status: At risk

Photo of Nguyen Tien Trung

Other Names: Nguyễn Tiến Trung

Date of Birth: September 16, 1983

Gender: M

Ethnicity: Kinh

Occupation: Engineer

Areas of Activism:

  • Democracy
  • Human rights
  • Sovereignty

Known Affiliations:

Highlighted Human Rights Concerns:

  • Former Political Prisoner

December 2023:

Human rights activist and former political prisoner Nguyen Tien Trung successfully escaped to Thailand in August this year to avoid being arrested by Vietnamese police after getting nearly kidnapped by them in July. In Bangkok, Trung applied for political asylum with UNHCR but continued to be followed by Vietnamese security agents there. After Trung reunited with his wife, the couple was allowed to resettle in Germany, the first country that offered them asylum. In an interview with VOA after their arrival in Frankfurt in mid December, Trung said it took him two attempts just to get to Cambodia while trying to evade security agents in southern Vietnam. Founder of Viet Youth For Democracy in 2006, Trung was sentenced to seven years in prison in 2010 along with several other democracy activists, such as Tran Huynh Duy Thuc and Le Cong Dinh. He was released early in April 2014. 

Details

Immediate Concerns

December 2023:

Human rights activist and former political prisoner Nguyen Tien Trung successfully escaped to Thailand in August this year to avoid being arrested by Vietnamese police after getting nearly kidnapped by them in July. In Bangkok, Trung applied for political asylum with UNHCR but continued to be followed by Vietnamese security agents there. After Trung reunited with his wife, the couple was allowed to resettle in Germany, the first country that offered them asylum. In an interview with VOA after their arrival in Frankfurt in mid December, Trung said it took him two attempts just to get to Cambodia while trying to evade security agents in southern Vietnam. Founder of Viet Youth For Democracy in 2006, Trung was sentenced to seven years in prison in 2010 along with several other democracy activists, such as Tran Huynh Duy Thuc and Le Cong Dinh. He was released early in April 2014. 

Background

Trung attended the Ho Chi Minh City University of Technology in 2001-2002. He went abroad to study at the Institut National des Sciences Appliquées (INSA) in France in 2002 and earned a Master's degree in Information Technology in 2007. During this period, Trung took an interest in political activism and pushed for greater democracy in Vietnam.

In 2004, he received the prestigious Eiffel scholarship from the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

 

Profile photo source

History of Activism

In February 2006, Trung petitioned the Communist Party of Vietnam’s Tenth Congress, and then sent a letter, titled “Suggestions from an ordinary student in an abnormal country,” to the Minister of Education, Nguyen Minh Hien. He wanted to address some problems of politics in Vietnam's education system. There was no official response.

On May 8, 2006, Nguyễn Tiến Trung founded the Assembly of Vietnamese Youth for Democracy (Tập hợp Thanh niên Dân chủ, THTNDC in Vietnamese, or “Viet Youth for Democracy”), calling for students to take part in pushing for political reforms in Vietnam. The goals included 1) disseminating democratic principles, 2) creating a forum for the exchange of political ideas, and organizing for political activism, and 3) preparing the youth to take part in democratic and legitimate parties in the future.

In 2006, Trung traveled to the U.S., Canada, and Belgium to meet then-U.S. President George W. Bush (on August 11th), then-President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe René Van der Linden (on September 25th), and then-Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper (on November 6th), among others, advocating for human rights in Vietnam.

In mid-2006, the APEC summit was hosted in Hanoi. THTNDC collected signatures to petition the APEC leaders directly. Trung went overseas to seek support from Canadian and American politicians. Furthermore, Trung met the members of the European Commission to ask for their support.

On December 25, 2006, Nguyen Tien Trung formally submitted his application to the Vietnam Democratic Party (Đảng Dân chủ thế kỷ 21), headed by Professor Hoang Minh Chinh, former President of the Institute of Marxist-Leninist Philosophy of Vietnam. Trung was appointed deputy secretary for the party, heading up Youth Affairs.

In July 2007, Trung graduated with a master's degree in computer science from Insa de Rennes University in France and returned to Vietnam. He continued to develop the Democratic Party and Viet Youth for Democracy inside Vietnam and wrote many articles on BBC News Vietnamese and VOA News Vietnamese. 

Also, Trung actively participated in the activities of the Free Journalists Club in Ho Chi Minh City. This civil society organization promotes freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of association. Later, all three leaders of the Club were arrested. They were well-known political prisoners Vietnam, Nguyen Van Hai, Ta Phong Tan, and Phan Thanh Hai. Hai and Tan currently live in the U.S. and have political asylum status.

In February 2008, during the funeral ceremony of the late General Secretary of the Democratic Party, Professor Hoang Minh Chinh, Trung held up a banner with the words “Democratic Party of Vietnam,” publicizing the existence of a non-communist political party right in Vietnam.

One month later, he was called to present for military service in March 2008. During the service, he declined to take the Army's honor oath, as it would require him to pledge allegiance to the Communist Party of Vietnam.  Trung was dismissed from the military on July 6, 2009 but then arrested the very next day.

On January 20, 2010, Trung was put on trial alongside democracy activists Tran Huynh Duy Thuc, Le Cong Dinh, and Le Thang Long. He was sentenced to seven years in prison and three years of probation under Article 79 of the 1999 Criminal Code, for subversion. 

Many international organizations and thousands of individuals asked for Trung’s release from prison from the very first day of his sentence until he was released earlier than expected, on April 12, 2014.

Among them, for example, former U.S. Congressman Alan Lowenthal in 2011 adopted Trung’s case and advocated for Trung’s release in the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission. In 2013, EU Ambassador Franz Jessen visited Trung in prison. On December 12, 2013, Amnesty International France projected Trung’s portrait onto the Vietnamese Embassy building in Paris to raise public awareness and urge the Communist Party of Vietnam to release him. 

After Trung’s release, U.S. Congressman Alan Lowenthal traveled to Vietnam and met Trung, celebrating the success of his effort to get Trung out of prison sooner than expected.

After being released in 2014 and still under probation, Trung and his colleagues continued to work tirelessly to spread democratic ideals and knowledge to Vietnamese people, emphasizing constitutionalism. They sought to push for free, fair, periodic, and multi-party elections in Vietnam. Trung wrote many articles on BBC News Vietnamese and VOA News Vietnamese to promote these goals.

Besides political activities, Trung played a crucial role in four civil society organizations, active in student leadership, workers' unions, and charities. As a well-known and well-respected democracy activist, he could connect activists and organizations inside and outside the country and help them work together towards a common goal.

In addition to the activities mentioned above, Trung has served as a source of information about human rights abuses in Vietnam for many Western embassies, such as the U.S., Germany, the UK, France, Netherlands, Canada, and Australia. He has actively advocated for the release of many other jailed democracy and human rights activists.

After his probation term ended on April 12, 2017, the Vietnamese authorities refused to grant Trung a passport. However, thanks to the German Embassy's advocacy, he received his passport and traveled abroad.

In June 2019, Trung co-organized a film screening at the UK Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City to advocate for releasing political prisoner and Trung's close friend Hoang Duc Binh.

Thanks to his tireless effort to promote democracy and human rights in Vietnam, the U.S. Embassy in Vietnam nominated Trung twice to participate in the prestigious International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) of the U.S. State Department in 2021 and 2022. The Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law (CDDRL) at Stanford University also granted him the Draper Hills Summer Fellows (DHSF) fellowship to study democracy at Stanford with world-class experts on democracy like Francis Fukuyama, Larry Diamond, etc.  

On December 13, 2022, Trung had the honor of giving a speech on Human Rights Day at the residence of the US Consul General in Ho Chi Minh City, Ms. Susan Burns.

In 2023, Trung continued to support and lead civil society organizations. He reported on human rights violations by the Communist Party. On April 4, Trung was supposed to have a meeting with German Ambassador Dr. Guido Hildner to discuss the human rights and civil society situation in Vietnam, but security agents in plain clothes prevented Trung from leaving his house. The meeting was canceled. 

Since August 2023, Trung and his family faced severe harrassment from police and local authorities (documented in the incident tab of his profile). Fearing re-arrest, Trung fled Vietnam to Thailand seeking asylum.

On December 15, 2023, Trung and his family arrived in Cologne, Germany, as political refugees. Since then, he has continued to defend human rights and develop civil society in Vietnam.

Family Situation

He lived with his family in Ho Chi Minh city prior to fleeing Vietnam in late 2023. 

August 30, 2019: denied right to register tenants at his house

Harassment at private residence
August 30, 2019
Public security
Tan Binh province, Ho Chi Minh city (map)

respect of privacy, family, home, and correspondence

In January 2019, the public security went to Nguyen Tien Trung’s house at 9:30 pm and asked to enter his house to check every single room and verify the household registration paper. Trung refused to let them in and showed them the paperwork while they stayed outside the door. He asserted that the public security can only enter and search the rooms in his house when there is a warrant issued by a competent court, according to Article 22 of the 2013 Constitution (“Everyone is entitled to the inviolability of his or her domicile. No one is allowed to enter the domicile of another person without his or her consent.”)

On August 30, 2019, Trung went to the local authority to register tenants at his home. However, the authorities refused to grant his request unless he agreed to allow the police to enter his house at any time to verify their household registration paper. He refused to sign this agreement, again asserting that it’s a violation of his constitutional right to inviolability of private residence. He also claimed that tenants registration and household registration papers are two separate matters, and the authorities purposefully confused the two issues to pressure him to give them access to his house, which he refused to do. Therefore, the police didn’t allow him to complete his tenants’ registration, causing difficulty for his family in renting out rooms in their house.

August 18, 2023: surveilled and harassed by police

  • Detention
  • Harassment at private residence
  • Intimidation
  • Surveillance
August 18, 2023
Collaborators
Ho Chi Minh City (map)

  • liberty and security of the person
  • respect of privacy, family, home, and correspondence
  • International government officials
  • Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

In the early morning of August 18, 2023, when leaving his home to buy breakfast, Trung encountered five people who he believed to be plainclothes police officers who came out from a coffee shop. They stopped him and asked him to follow them to the ward police office. Trung asked whether they had written summons, who they were, and why they stopped him. They replied that they had no summons, but that Trung must accompany them. They also said that they would send the summons to his home after Trung complied with the request. However, he refused to go, saying this was a kidnapping plot. 

After arguing with Trung for a while, the plainclothes officers made eye contact with about five others sitting inside the coffee shop and asked them to come out. Trung realized that there were a total of around ten security officers watching and wanting to arrest him. Trung then ran back to his house. Fortunately, he was able to get inside and lock the gate. A security agent in plainclothes followed him in pursuit.  

After that, two policemen in uniform and an agent in plainclothes came to his house. In front of the locked gate, they gave Trung an “invitation letter” requiring him to go to the police station of Ward 4, Tan Binh District, Ho Chi Minh City, that day for interrogation.

Later that day, Dr. Josefine Wallat, the German Consul General in Ho Chi Minh City, went to Trung’s house and talked with Trung and his pregnant wife. When she left Trung’s home, a security agent filmed her brazenly. That evening, Trung left his home, fleeing Vietnam to Thailand, and sought political asylum in a third country.

On Saturday morning, August 19, 2023, a local police officer named Hoa Tien Dat went to Trung’s house and gave his mother the second “invitation letter,” asking him to go to the police station Monday morning, August 21, 2023, at 8:30 AM, to answer the police’s questions on “internet scams.”

Trung applied for political asylum at the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Bangkok. One day, when he was having breakfast at a market near his place in Bangkok, he noticed that someone was following him and using Google to search for photos. As the person was sitting with his back to Trung, Trung could see the person searching for Trung’s photos to verify it was him. Trung immediately left the eatery and moved residences.

Trung informed several embassies about the incident. The German embassy promptly accepted his asylum application and helped him leave Thailand immediately. On December 15, 2023, Trung’s family arrived in Germany as refugees and resettled in Cologne.

Profile last updated: 2024-06-13 20:34:06

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