Vietnam Free Expression Newsletter No. 12/2020 – Week of March 16-22
Featured Image: Local residents in Quang Ngai province (In Community at Risk). Source: RFA
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 16-22. Imprisoned An Dan Dai Dao Buddhist Phan Van Thu is still being denied adequate healthcare in prison and is suffering from even more prison restrictions due to the current coronavirus situation. On March 18, the People’s Court of Dien Bien sentenced two Hmong ethnic minority activists to life in prison and other twelve others to between two and 20 years. Police in Ha Noi summoned activist Nguyen Tuong Thuy for questioning, and police in Quang Ngai violently assaulted protesters gathered at a waste processing site. In the news, read about US criticism of Truong Duy Nhat’s trial and the ways that the Vietnamese government is handling COVID-19. In case you missed it, you can read the U.S. State Department’s most recent country report on Vietnam. And please consider taking action this week to donate to families of political prisoners.
HUMAN RIGHTS & CIVIL SOCIETY
On March 18, the People’s Court of Dien Bien announced that Hmong ethnic minority activists Sung A Sinh (Sùng A Sính) and Lau A Denh (Lầu A Dềnh) will have to serve life in prison for “carrying out activities in order to overthrow the people’s regime” and “propagandizing against the socialist state.” According to the official statement, Sinh and Denh were accused of trying to establish a “Hmong kingdom” in the northwest highlands of Vietnam. In 2010, the authorities discovered that Lenh was trying to set up an independent Hmong state within Vietnam and that he had been convicted before. From 2018 onward, Lenh again discussed the idea with Sinh and many other members of his tribe. Twelve others were considered accomplices and sentenced to between two and 20 years in prison for the same alleged crimes. The Vietnamese government has long targeted members of religious and ethnic minority groups whose viewpoints differ from those of the ruling regime.
This week, we remember the arrest and trial anniversaries, as well as the birthdays, of the following political prisoners:
- Blogger Bui Hieu Vo, arrested March 17, 2017, and sentenced to 4 1/2 years in prison
- Facebooker and driver Le Minh The, tried March 20, 2019, and sentenced to two years in prison
- Blogger Phan Kim Khanh, arrested March 21, 2017, and sentenced to six years in prison
- June 2018 protester Pham Van Man, birthday March 22, serving three years in prison
Nguyen Tuong Thuy was summoned by the security investigating agency of Ha Noi’s public security force on March 13, 2020. The reason, as written in the document, is related to the high-profile case of Pham Chi Dung, a prominent dissident journalist and writer who was arrested on November 21, 2019, by the public security forces of Ho Chi Minh City and charged under Article 117 of Vietnam 2015 Criminal Code for “producing, storing, and disseminating” documents opposing the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. Thuy is another high-profile activist with a long history of activism. He has been harassed and targeted for his activism on multiple occasions over many years, from his 2013 arrest to his 2018 assault. He declined to meet with the agency, citing the current virus outbreak and his health condition.
NEWS & ANALYSIS
US demands Vietnam free blogger handed 10-year term, AFP, Yahoo News, March 16, 2020: “The State Department said it was ‘troubled’ by the circumstances around [Truong Duy] Nhat’s ‘sudden disappearance’ from Bangkok. The statement marks unusually forthright criticism of Vietnam by the United States, which despite wartime memories has aligned itself closely with the Southeast Asian nation in recent years in the face of a rising China.”
Vietnam spins virus crisis to win hearts and minds, David Hutt, Asia Times, March 19, 2020: “Keen to avoid a repeat of the Formosa crisis, Prime Minister Phuc ‘has been proactive in taking action,’ said Carl Thayer, a Vietnam expert and emeritus professor at the University of New South Wales in Australia. ‘He has established a task force to oversee national, provincial and local levels. The government has gone into overdrive with an information campaign to advise citizens what actions they should take to retard the spread of the virus.'”
China Remains Unfazed by Warming US-Vietnam Security Ties, Derek Grossman, The Diplomat, March 19, 2020: “China is well aware of U.S.-Vietnam moves, and yet its public reaction to the USS Theodore Roosevelt—as was the case during the visit of the USS Carl Vinson in 2018—can be summed up in one word: unfazed. Chinese commentaries since the visit have projected supreme confidence that U.S.-Vietnam security ties, no matter how close they get, will never rival the China-Vietnam partnership.”