Vietnam Free Expression Newsletter No. 17/2018 – Week of April 22-29

Above: Hoang Duc Binh (R) and Nguyen Nam Phong (L) at their February 2018 trial, Source: AFP

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 April 23-29. Environmental activist Hoang Duc Binh’s harsh 14-year sentence was upheld on appeal, and authorities have charged activist Do Cong Duong with “abusing democratic freedoms.” Authorities have also been accused of torturing detained retired teacher and activist Dao Quang Thuc. A female activist was barred from attending a funeral in Nghe An province. Read the second part of our article series with blogger Dieu Cay, ten years after his initial arrest after founding the Freelance Journalist Club and organizing anti-China protests. Read our Editor’s interview with DiaCRITICS about the history and mission of The 88 Project and our thoughts on current human rights issues in Vietnam. Vietnam was recently ranked 175/180 in Reporters Without Border’s 2018 World Press Freedom Index. In the news, read about pleas for ASEAN to address human rights and citizen science at work in Vietnam, as well as takes on Vietnam’s obligations under the Free Trade Agreement with the EU and the continued crackdown on dissent by Vietnamese authorities. Please take action for Hoang Duc Binh and consider volunteering with us!

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Prisoners of Conscience

Hoang Duc Binh (R) and Nguyen Nam Phong (L) at their February 2018 trial, Source: AFP

Environmental activist Hoang Duc Binh appealed his 14-year sentence on April 24, but the appeal was denied, and his sentence was upheld by a court in Nghe An province. The appeal trial has been criticized for its brevity and the lack of evidence against Binh. Binh is the vice president of the independent Viet Labour Movement and a member of “No-U Saigon,” a soccer group that protests China’s sweeping claims on the South China Sea. He is also a well-known blogger who covered news on the environmental disaster caused by Formosa. According to The Vietnamese, “One of the activities Bình participated in, was to travel with fishermen from Quỳnh Lưu District, Nghệ An Province to the local courts in Hà Tĩnh Province – where Formosa is located – to file their civil suits against the company in February 2017, and the authorities of Nghệ An Province arrested him after that.” Binh has maintained his innocence throughout his detention.

Do Cong Duong

Land rights and anti-corruption activist Do Cong Duong has been charged with “abusing democratic freedoms.” Previously, he was charged with “disturbing public order.” Dong was detained in January 2018 after filming a forced eviction. Under the new charge, he faces up to seven years in prison.


Authorities have mistreated retired teacher and activist Dao Quang Thuc while in pre-trial detention, his family alleges. This includes denying him proper amounts of food at the beginning of his detention and subjecting him to harsh interrogations. He was recently hospitalized with several health issues. Thuc was arrested in October 2017 on charges of subversion. He was arrested for online postings and peaceful participation in protests over the environment and territorial disputes with China.

Nguyen Van Hai

Dieu Cay-Nguyen Van Hai today (Source: AP)

April 19 marked ten years since former political prisoner & blogger Nguyen Van Hai (Dieu Cay) was arrested. Hai founded the Freelance Journalist Club in 2007, one of the first independent press organizations within the communist regime of Vietnam, to report on controversial social and political issues that state-owned newspapers failed to publish. In a new series of articles for The 88 Project, Hai discusses the past ten years, “the longest trip away from home” in his life, from his arrest in Da Lat city to his current activities in the United States where he’s living in exile, and offers his opinion on the state of the Vietnamese democracy movement today compared to where it was ten years ago.

Read the first installment of the series here, and the second and final article, here: “The past two years, many brothers and sisters have been arrested, brutally beaten, and sentenced to heavy prison sentences, which has made the human rights situation in Vietnam worse. The pro-Chinese communist leadership is sabotaging the country, quelling the democratic movement with fierce repression. The pressure of the international community and of the United States seems not to be enough to deter the Hanoi government.”

Activists at Risk

Saigon-based female activist Tran Thu Nguyet was prohibited from attending the funeral of a well-known Catholic priest’s mother in Nghe An. The priest has been involved in seeking compensation for the community after the Formosa environmental disaster. Nguyet was detained and sent back home after landing in Nghe An. Authorities also confiscated and destroyed her cell phone.

International Advocacy

In Reporters Without Borders 2018 World Press Freedom Index, Vietnam ranks 175 out of 180. They had the same ranking in 2017; however, their actual score has slightly worsened. The organization notes that, “[a]s the media all take their orders from the Communist Party, the only sources of independently-reported information are bloggers and citizen-journalists, who are being subjected to ever-harsher forms of persecution including violence by plainclothes policemen.”

Our Editor, Huong Nguyen, was recently 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. Speaking on the current reality of the situation in Vietnam for activists, she says: “As long as Vietnam is still a one-party regime, those advocating for political pluralism will still be harassed and imprisoned and systematic violations of human rights will still occur. And even when there’s political transformation, democratization is not irreversible and human rights protection should be a continuous effort.” Read the full interview here.


Lawmakers urge Asean to address human rights issues: “The letter from the Asean Parliamentarians for Human Rights, a group of lawmakers past and present, asked Asean not to overlook human rights concerns, even as it focuses on tackling regional security challenges and promoting economic integration under Singapore’s chairmanship this year. ‘We recognise the importance of both of these imperatives, but we also urge you to acknowledge that their successful implementation requires… respect for democracy, good governance, sustainable development, and human rights,’ said the letter, sent to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and forwarded to Asean’s other leaders. Last month, Asean’s leaders, who gathered in Sydney for an Asean-Australia special summit, were greeted by hundreds of activists protesting against human rights abuses in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, the Philippines and Vietnam.”

Can ‘Citizen Science’ Save Vietnam’s Environment From Unchecked Economic Growth?: “But the Formosa spill also had a silver lining. According to researchers and activists, it played a major role in galvanizing grassroots environmental activism in Vietnam, prompting ordinary citizens along the coast to use smartphones and social media to document the tragic impact of unchecked industrialization and development. Their work dovetailed with a broader phenomenon that has slowly been gathering momentum in environmentally vulnerable areas across the country. From the iridescent green rice paddies of the Mekong Delta to the banks of the Red River in Hanoi, so-called citizen scientists are embracing environmental activism that makes use of newly available technology, including free data-collection and mapping apps like iNaturalistFieldscope and Marine Debris Tracker. In addition to being useful to scientists, these platforms allow ordinary people to join community conservation efforts by uploading data and qualitative observations.”

Has Vietnam Already Violated the To-Be-Ratified Free Trade Agreement with the EU?: “The parties are hopeful that the FTA will be ratified by EU Parliament (and also by its member-states on issues involving investment) by the end of this year, or by 2019 at the latest. However, the recent affirmation of Vietnam’s court regarding Hoàng Đức Bình’s 14-year sentence for organizing and participating in protests against Taiwan’s Formosa Hà Tĩnh Steel Corporation raises questions over the good faith of Hanoi in keeping up their end of the bargain when it comes to human rights and labor rights. If Vietnamese government is sending people to prison with a very harsh sentence for exercising their freedom of association before the FTA is ratified, then what and how does EU plan to keep them in check once the dust is all settled?”

Harsh repression despite lack of opposition: “Before the revitalisation of Mr Trong’s political career, Vietnam showed signs of being constrained by international opinion, moderating its prosecution of bloggers who had seized opportunities presented by the sudden growth of social media. This week, there was barely a murmur from the outside world as Hoang Duc Binh stood in an appeals court to hear his 14-year sentence confirmed for the crime of ‘abusing democratic freedoms’ and obstructing the police by reporting their assault on a peaceful march.”


Amnesty International released an Urgent Action for Hoang Duc Binh, a labor and environmental activist who was sentenced to fourteen years in prison on February 6, 2018. His appeal of his sentence was denied on April 24. Please take the Urgent Action, calling for Binh’s release from prison and protection from mistreatment thereafter.

Are you interested in human rights in Vietnam? Are you bilingual in Vietnamese and English? Do you want to get more involved in advocacy? Consider applying to be a Volunteer Vietnamese to English Translator/Editor or a Board Member with us. We are looking for dedicated and reliable individuals to help us advance our mission of supporting free expression in Vietnam. The positions are flexible and remote work is possible. Please click on the links in this paragraph to learn more and to apply.

© 2018 The 88 Project