Vietnam Free Expression Newsletter No. 19/2018 – Week of May 7-13

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 May 7-13. Blogger Bui Hieu Vo was sentenced to four and a half years in prison on May 5 under Article 88. On the same day, former university employee Nguyen Duy Son was arrested on charges of “abusing democratic freedoms.” The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has opined that the detention of pro-democracy activist Luu Van Vinh is arbitrary. Coming up, May 16 marks five years since Dinh Nguyen Kha was tried and sentenced to six years in prison; he has been denied medical treatment while imprisoned. Family members of recently-tried Brotherhood for Democracy members were prohibited from meeting with foreign diplomats this week, and local communities have responded to attacks on Catholic nuns and parishioners in two separate incidents. In the news, read about environmental activism in Vietnam and female activists. Please take action for Ho Duy Hai, who is facing the death penalty despite judicial questions surrounding the validity of his case.

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Prisoners of Conscience
Bui Hieu Vo
On May 9, blogger Bui Hieu Vo was sentenced to four and a half years in prison under Article 88 (“propaganda against the state”) for Facebook posts deemed to have “distorted the political situation” and “incited public disorder.” In addition, the authorities accused Vo of connecting with the “terrorist organization” Việt Tân in Australia to discuss and co-administer the Facebook account “Hieu Bui.” Vo was arrested on March 17, 2017.
Nguyen Duy Son
Nguyen Duy Son, Source: Defend the Defenders
Also on May 9, Nguyen Duy Son was arrested in Thanh Hoa province on charges of “abusing democratic freedoms” (Article 331 of the 2015 Criminal Code) for his online postings, which authorities claim “distort, defame, and discredit leaders of the Party, State, and leaders of Thanh Hoa province.” Son was previously employed at Sam Son University.
Luu Van Vinh cropped
UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) has opined that the detention of pro-democracy activist Luu Van Vinh by authorities of Ho Chi Minh City is arbitrary and is demanding his release. Vinh was arrested on November 6, 2016, after the police came into his home, beat him, and took him away without presenting any arrest warrant. He is charged under Article 79 of the 1999 Criminal Code and is currently in pre-trial detention.
Dinh Nguyen Kha
This week, we remember political prisoner Dinh Nguyen Kha. May 16 will mark five years since his trial. He was arrested in October 2012 and later sentenced to six years in prison under Article 88 of the 1999 Criminal Code; he is due to be released this coming October. Kha is a computer engineer and has participated in activism regarding Vietnamese territorial maritime disputes with China. While imprisoned, Kha has participated in hunger strikes and he has been denied medical treatment after undergoing an operation to remove a stomach tumor.
Community at Risk
Several relatives of jailed members of the Brotherhood for Democracy were prohibited this week from meeting with foreign diplomats. Nguyen Van Dai and Pham Van Troi’s wives were effectively placed under house arrest ahead of the meeting, and several other relatives of political prisoners were blocked from attending the meeting while in transit. A few relatives were able to meet with the diplomats and updated them on the prisoners. The meeting comes just days before the bilateral US-Vietnam human rights dialogue, slated to start on May 15.A group of Catholics in Nghe An province has submitted a petition to the government to take action against local officials who allegedly allowed pro-government thugs to beat them during a land dispute in December 2017 and then tried to cover up the event. The locals were beaten after attempting to dig a ditch on land claimed both by their church and the local government. They claim that police did not intervene upon witnessing the assault. The petitioners believe that the local government is now trying to hide what happened by blaming the parishioners themselves for the incident; four parishioners were summoned for questioning last week in what they say is an attempt to get them to drop their petition and also relinquish the contested land.

In another case of disputed land, nuns in Hanoi were attacked by assailants after protesting the construction of a house on contested grounds next to their convent. The nuns were physically assaulted; police present did not intervene to stop the attack. One nun was beaten to the point of losing consciousness.



Environmentalism and authoritarian politics in Vietnam: “Hence, for the majority of young Vietnamese, the Formosa crisis was much more than an environmental movement. While advocating for the environment, they became overtly critical of the everyday administrative, legal and political structures they are embedded in. In the words of a 27-year-old activist: ‘After I got involved in environmental activism, I came to the realisation that it’s not just about some thermal power plant we try to stop. How can we stop the sixty something coal-fired thermal power plants that will be built by 2030? This is an issue with the government. We need to fix the government instead of fighting from one thermal power plant to another.’ Ordinary people who did not belong to any formalised civil society organisation and initially did not want to get involved into politics suddenly realised that if they care about the environment, they also have to care about political change and transformation. Slowly, this political awareness is being embraced by a few NGOs – despite the tight grip of the government. Vietnamese civil society, whether informal or formal, started to realise that their work, and environmental work in particular, could not be detached from human rights, fair and open elections, peaceful assembly, access to information as well as freedom of association and speech.”The women who risk their lives for others’ rights: “Despite the unrelenting scrutiny of the authorities, Huynh Thuc Vy refuses to stay silent. ‘Even though the imprisonment of my father and the repeated harassment towards our whole family has made us so tired, we have the chance to have meaningful and altruistic lives, by taking risks, acting on behalf of vulnerable people and facing the authorities,’ she told the BBC recently. ‘If we do not play a role in activism now, we will never be able to demand gender equality later.'”

To Tell or Not To Tell Them About My Personal Assets: A General Secretary’s Dilemma: “In a surprising move right before the 7th Party Central Committee plenary meeting, a group of Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP) members and citizens have publicly demanded – in a letter – that the General Secretary, Nguyễn Phú Trọng, discloses his personal assets in according with the VCP’s own rules. […] Transparency International ranked Vietnam as the second most corrupted country in Asia after India in March 2017. The VCP’s chief has initiated an ambitious campaign against corruption in the past two years, a Vietnamese version of Xi Jinping’s ‘killing tigers, swatting flies.’ Earlier this year, he reaffirmed such commitment to weed out corruption at all levels by famously declared there would be ‘no off-limit zones‘ for the campaign.”


Take action with Amnesty International for Ho Duy Hai. Hai faces the death penalty for a 2008 charge, but the Committee on Judicial Affairs of the National Assembly urged a review of his case in 2015 due to violations of international legal standards. Despite this, a government official publicly called for Hai’s execution in late 2017. Read more on his case in this article by The Vietnamese.

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