Vietnam Arrested 32 Political Prisoners in 2023

Project88 recorded 32 new arrests of political prisoners by Vietnamese authorities in 2023. For the full list of arrests, click here. This is up from 28 arrests in 2022. Among those arrested in 2023 were at least eight ethnic minority activists and nine women. Vietnam arrested a wide range of people in 2023 – Facebook users, policy experts, and human rights defenders – showing that the country’s crackdown on dissent continues unabated in all areas. 

Detained think tank leader Ngo Thi To Nhien

Included in the arrests were climate leaders Hoang Thi Minh Hong and Ngo Thi To Nhien, Ede community leader and founder of Montagnards Stand for Justice, Y Quynh Bdap, former journalist Phan Van Bach, and well-known bloggers Duong Van Thai and Duong Tuan Ngoc

Incidents of transnational repression in Thailand were particularly concerning in 2023. Duong Van Thai was believed to be abducted from Thailand in April 2023– where he had lived since 2019– by Vietnamese police. Vietnamese state media, however, reported that Thai was arrested after attempting to enter the country. He has been charged under Article 117 (“anti-state propaganda”) but has yet to be tried. Lu A Da was arrested on an immigration charge in Bangkok in late 2023. He alleges he was threatened by a Vietnamese official while in detention. He was released on bail after several weeks in detention, but his future remains uncertain.


Eighteen of the 32 arrests in 2023 were on charges of Article 331 for “abusing democratic freedoms,” making it the most common charge for the third year in a row. Only six arrests were under Article 117 (“making, storing, distributing or disseminating information, documents and items against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam”). Prior to 2021, Article 117 had been the most common charge. A conviction under Article 331 carries a shorter maximum prison time but is widely seen by observers as the catch-all that is used to convict dissidents that cannot persuasively be tried using national security provisions, provisions that tend to be reserved for anti-state activists.

Y Quynh Bdap, founder of Montagnards Stand for Justice

Many of those arrested in 2023 were held incommunicado prior to trial, and several people arrested in the year have yet to be tried. Two ethnic minority activists, Y Quynh Bdap and Y Krech Bya, received the longest sentences of those arrested in 2023– ten and 13 years, respectively. Y Quynh Bdap, charged with terrorism allegedly in connection with the June 11, 2023 attack on government buildings in Dak Lak Province, was tried in absentia. Y Quynh was in Thailand at the time of the attack and claimed that he was not involved in any way. Despite charging him with terrorism, Vietnam has not made public any evidence against him to substantiate their claim. 

Arrests are a last resort for the Vietnamese government in stamping out dissent, and many more activists have been fined, forced into exile, or otherwise harassed in self-censorship. Yet arrests continue to be the most punitive punishment in the government’s arsenal and remain an important indicator of the overall state of human rights in the country. Vietnam currently holds at least 200 political prisoners. The arrests and harassment of human rights defenders, combined with Vietnam’s criminalization of policy activism and the dismantling of independent press there (Vietnam is the 5th worst global jailer of journalists) show that the human rights situation in the country remains bleak. 

Download the list of 2023 arrests, here.


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