Vietnam Free Expression Newsletter No. 11/2020 – Week of March 9-15

Featured Image: Truong Duy Nhat at trial on March 9, 2020, Source: Tuoi Tre

Greetings from The 88 Project! We are bringing you news, analysis, and actions regarding human rights and civil society in Vietnam during the week of March 9-15. Truong Duy Nhat was tried on March 9 and sentenced to 10 years in prison for an alleged fraudulent land purchase in what many believe is a politically-motivated case. The trial of eight activists, including some members of the Hien Phap civil society group, has again been postponed, as has the appeal trial of music teacher Nguyen Nang Tinh. Journalist Le Anh Hung continues to be in a precarious situation in prison, where he is still forcibly medicated despite having no history of mental health issues. This week, read Safeguard Defender’s report “Coerced on Camera: Televised Confessions in Vietnam” and news on US-Vietnam relations, as well as stories of women making changes in the country, like environmental activist Cao Vinh Thinh. And please take action for Le Anh Hung by sharing news about his case and our recent interview with his mother, as well as calling for his immediate release.


Prisoners of Conscience
Truong Duy Nhat at trial on March 9, 2020, Source: Tuoi Tre
On March 9, 2020, the People’s Court of Ha Noi tried Truong Duy Nhat, a prominent dissident journalist, for the crime of “abusing his position and authority” in a land purchase case that had taken place a decade agoAt trial, Nhat said that the purchase of house at No. 82 Tran Quoc Toan Street, was in accordance with local regulations and was also reported to the leadership of Dai Doan Ket Newspaper. Since the newspaper could not afford to buy the entire house back in 1996, Nhat, with the authorization of the Editor-in-Chief, contacted Phan Van Anh Vu (“Vu Nhom”) and signed a Memorandum of Understanding with him in which Vu submitted the money required on behalf of Dai Doan Ket Newspaper. In return, Vu could own the house, but he had to let the newspaper use the second floor as its representative office. Nhat also insisted that he did not receive any incentive for the transaction. However, despite this and Nhat’s international support, the People’s Court of Ha Noi still sentenced him 10 years in prison.

His lawyer, Dang Dinh Manh, said that, “It seems that the court had already planned its verdict, as the trial took place very quickly, and ended with a heavy punishment being imposed.” At the end of the trial, Nhat offered thanks to his supporters. Radio Free Asia reported that he quoted poetry from dissenter Phan Chu Trinh, saying, “In a temporary setback, those who mend the sky do not let minor things get them down.” Truong Duy Nhat, who was previously imprisoned for his activism, was trying to apply for asylum in Thailand before he was abducted by Vietnamese public security forces in January 2019. The circumstances around his kidnapping, arrest, and charges in a ten-year old transaction, as well as his history of reporting on political and social issues, lead many to believe that the case against him is politically-motivated.

According to Ngo Ngoc Trai, Doan Thi Hong’s (pictured above) attorney, her trial was to be held on March 10, 2020 before the People’s Court of Ho Chi Minh City, but then postponed without any prior notice. No specific reason for the postponement was given, and the trial has already been re-scheduled multiple times. Hong was upset about the delayed trial, since she had complained to attorney Trai about the temporary detention conditions, where the authorities keep two people in a six square-meters room with no electricity and fans when the weather is getting warmer. Hong was accused of “disrupting security” under Article 118 of the 2015 Criminal Code, for calling for public protest, facing potentially two to seven years of imprisonment. The public security has detained Hong for almost one and a half years under those accusations, despite the fact that she is caring for her child who is under 36 months old. Hong is part of a group of eight defendants, which includes Nguyen Thi Ngoc HanhHoang Thi Thu VangDo The HoaHo Dinh CuongTran Thanh PhuongNgo Van Dung, and Le Quy Loc. Some are members of the Hien Phap group, established on June 16, 2017, with the aim to promote peoples’ understanding of their human rights under the 2013 Constitution.

Nguyen Nang Tinh at trial on November 15, 2019, Source: State media via Radio Free Asia
Music teacher Nguyen Nang Tinh was set to appeal his 11-year prison sentence on March 18, 2020 in the People’s Court of Nghe An, but the Court has also postponed that trial. No official reason was given. Tinh was arrested in May 2019, targeted for his Facebook posts with alleged “anti-state” content and teaching students songs with “reactionary” lyrics. At his original trial in November, Trinh Vinh Phuc, Tinh’s defense lawyer, reported that Tinh was very calm and determined, stating: “10 years, 20 years… No matter how harsh the sentence will be, I will never change my opinions.”

According to his mother, political prisoner Le Anh Hung contacted her by phone to let her know that the prison authorities again increased Hung’s anti-psychotic medication. Hung’s mother herself has been hospitalized due to high blood pressure. This is not the first time that the authorities have increased Hung’s medication against his will. As we reported, they did this back in December 2019. Hung said it made him feel very sick; however, he was forced to take it. Hung asked his mother to call on the international community to raise awareness for his case. Hung, a blogger and journalist, was arrested on July 5, 2018, in Hanoi and charged with “abusing democratic freedoms” under Article 331 of the 2015 Criminal Code for posting a letter critical of the government and its proposed Law on Special Economic Zones. He faces up to seven years in prison. Hung has written for several international media outlets, including Voice of America, and is a member of the Independent Journalists Association. Read our update on Hung and watch our interview with his mother, as re-posted by Global Voices, here.

The investigating agency has extended the pre-trial detention period of Nguyen Van Nghiem for another three months. Nghiem is known as an active Facebooker with the nickname of “Giao Su Hot Toc,” and he usually shares his views on national issues, such as corruption, environmental pollution, human rights violations, and China’s alleged illegal activities in the East Sea. He was arrested on November 5, 2019 and prosecuted for “making, storing, disseminating, or propagandizing information, materials, and products that aim to oppose the State of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam,” under Article 117 of the 2015 Criminal Code.

This week, we remember the arrest and trial anniversaries of the following political prisoners:

  • Nguyen Thi Hue, anti-corruption activist arrested March 12, 2019, and sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison
  • Ksor Ruk, Montagnard religious rights activist, tried March 15, 2019, and sentenced to 10 years in prison
International Advocacy
Safeguard Defenders released a report this week called Coerced on Camera: Televised Confessions in Vietnam, which documents cases of people forced to confess in recordings later often played for the public. The reports claims that Vietnam may be adapting some of China’s strategies and tactics in this area for its own use. It cites a recent example of several people who were detained in the raid on Dong Tam commune who were later filmed confessing to their alleged crimes. The report goes on to say that, “While none of the interviewees said they had been tortured or threatened, they said that they accepted being filmed because they were led to believe they would be treated more leniently. Secondary sources indicate that sometimes violence is used to extract filmed confessions. All subjects were filmed before they had been found guilty in a court of law. In airing detainees’ forced confessions, police and media are breaking Vietnam’s own Criminal Code. And evidence that it may be following China’s lead by using forced TV confessions as a foreign policy tool is a worrying development.”


South China Sea: US Carrier Visit to Vietnam Marks Growing Ties, The Associated Press, March 12, 2020: “The USS Theodore Roosevelt made the second-ever visit by a U.S. aircraft carrier strike group to Vietnam to mark 25 years of diplomatic relations and growing security ties between the former Cold War antagonists amid China’s aggressive moves in the South China Sea. The U.S. considers the Vietnamese to be ‘trusted partners and our friendship is grounded in mutual respect,’ U.S. Navy Admiral and Commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet John C. Aquilino told reporters Friday.”

One woman taking on Vietnam’s ‘big coal’, Jenny Vaughan, Asia Times, March 8, 2020: “But it is not without risks: Dissent is not tolerated by the Vietnamese government and many activists have wound up in jail for speaking up against authorities. ‘When we got global recognition, vested interest groups recognised who their enemy is and they are very powerful,’ she says, adding that she has learnt to safely work within the bounds of civil society laws to try and shift the government’s policies on green energy. Khanh admires Greta Thunberg, who has brought civil disobedience in the name of the environment to the world’s stage for a new generation, but concedes that particular brand of activism is not possible in Vietnam.”

Why the US-Vietnam strategic alliance in the South China Sea is unlikely to last, Mark J Valencia. South China Morning Post, March 13, 2020: “Nevertheless, Vietnam hopes that enhanced defence relations with the US will deter China from further ‘bullying‘. The US hopes that its access to Vietnam’s ports will replace its places in the Philippines, supporting its effort to militarily deter and contain China and maintain its regional hegemony. That is the essence of their ‘strategic relations’. There is no commonality of culture, ideology, political system or world view – other than the ‘China threat’ – and even that is questionable from Vietnam’s standpoint.”

5 brave Southeast Asian women making a change for a better future, Mae Yen Yap, Mashable, March 13, 2020: “As an economics reporter in Vietnam, Cao saw first-hand how major corporations were harming the natural environment. ‘I became a journalist in Vietnam because I want to tell true stories to the viewers, but the government does not allow us to report any [critical] news,’ Cao said to the Southeast Asia Globe. Since then, Cao has founded the social movement Green Trees Vietnam.”


Blogger and reporter Le Anh Hung is being subjected to psychological abuse in prison. We recently interviewed Tran Thi Niem, Hung’s mother, about his current condition. Watch the full interview here. Hung has been forced to receive mental health treatment against his will, despite having no history of mental health issues. According to his mother, Hung contacted her by phone this week to let her know that the prison authorities again increased Hung’s anti-psychotic medication. Due to this and other mistreatment, Hung’s physical health has severely deteriorated. His mother petitioned the government in 2019 to release Hung so that he can receive treatment at home, but Hung remains in prison awaiting trial. Please take action by sharing this news, and the interview with Hung’s mother, and by calling for his immediate release from prison.
© 2020 The 88 Project