Vietnam Free Expression Newsletter No. 20/2019 – Week of May 13-19

Featured Image: Nguyen Danh Dung, Artwork by Dinh Truong Chinh for The 88 Project

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 13-19. Disturbing details have emerged about the treatment of political prisoners Le Anh Hung and Nguyen Van Hoa by prison authorities. Anti-corruption activist Trinh Viet Bang was arrested this week after years of fighting to expose wrongdoings at Vietnam Bank for Social Policies. And this week, we remember several activists on their arrest/trial anniversaries and birthdays, including environment and labor rights activist Hoang Duc Binh, who was arrested on May 15, 2017 in a violent spectacle, and Montagnard Christian pastor Y Yich. Many activists are at risk this week, including BOT toll protesters, activists trying to attend human rights meetings with US officials, and a high school teacher. In international advocacy, read a statement from the EU Delegation to Vietnam on the recent trial of two female activists, and read the latest report on Vietnamese prisoners of conscience from Amnesty International. In the news, read about Vietnam’s reaction to the Amnesty International report. And please take action for Hoang Duc Binh, who just completed his second year in prison and has 12 years remaining.

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Prisoners of Conscience

When Le Anh Hung was on hunger strike recently, the authorities fed him via a naso-gastric tube and forced food into his mouth so violently that his nose and mouth bled. Besides intervening in his hunger strike, the authorities also forcibly injected him to “heal mental illness.” After being treated so brutally, Hung looked very thin, unhealthy, and completely exhausted. He called on people to protest for him and to request the authorities to stop his forced mental health treatment. Hung was sent to Central Mental Hospital No. 1 in Hanoi for a second time in recent weeks after first being sent there in April and then returned to his normal prison. Hung is a journalist still awaiting trial after his July 2018 arrest.

On May 13, 2019, political prisoner Hoang Duc Binh, held in An Diem Detention Center, the same place as Nguyen Van Hoa, called his family and revealed that detention officers gripped Hoa’s neck and beat him harshly. On May 14, Hoa’s family went to visit Hoa. However, the detention center simply informed them that Hoa had been punished and they were not allowed to meet with him. Hoa was reported to be in solitary confinement. Nguyen Van Hoa is a young freelance journalist who reported on the aftermath of the Formosa environmental disaster; he is serving a seven-year prison sentence.

On May 10, 2019, Tran Hoang Phuc’s mother sent an Open Letter to Senator Tim Kaine and other American senators, whose mission is to help Vietnam to clean up dioxin, calling for their attention on Phuc’s case. On her Facebook, Huynh Nghia also updated that Phuc’s lawyer is now working on the cassation review procedure and has sent a request to An Phuoc Detention Center, asking them to ensure Phuc’s safety since he has suffered from abnormal incidents there. Phuc is a pro-democracy activist, founder and President of the Vietnamese Students for Human Rights Association, and a member of the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI), a U.S. government leadership development and networking program in Southeast Asia. He was sentenced to six years in prison in 2018.

On May 9, 2019, Huynh Thuc Vy received a summons from public security and the Investigation Security Agency of Dak Lak Province. In the order, they demanded that she work with them on some issues according to an authoritization by the Investigation Security Agency – Public Security of Ben Tre Province. And on May 14, Thuc Vy received an “invitation” from the People’s Committee of Thong Nhat District, Buon Ho Town, Dak Lak Province. She was asked to work on issues related to her suspended prison sentence. Huynh Thuc Vy is a well-known blogger and women’s rights advocate sentenced to two years and nine months in prison on November 30, 2018 for “offending the national flag” for spray-painting a flag in 2017 as a sign of protest. At the time of the trial, she had a toddler and was pregnant with her second child. As such, her sentence will be put on hold until the unborn child turns three, but she will still have to serve it out in its entirety. Thuc Vy is now approaching her due date with her second child.

Source: Tran Viet Bang Facebook
On May 13, 2019, the public security of Bac Ninh province issued an arrest warrant and search order against Trinh Viet Bang, a long-time anti-corruption activist. He was most likely charged under Article 331 of the 2015 Criminal Code for “abusing democratic freedoms.” Bang, 60, is a Communist Party member and worked at Vietnam Bank for Social Policies (VBSP – a state-owned bank) prior to his arrest. Since 2006, Bang has filed many letters denouncing corruption at a branch of VBSP in Bac Ninh Province to Party and state leaders and domestic newspapers. Read more about his case, here.

Nguyen Danh Dung, Artwork by Dinh Truong Chinh for The 88 Project
Nguyen Danh Dung has been in pre-trial detention for almost 2 1/2 years now and we know little about his current condition. Dung, a blogger and engineer, was arrested in December 2016 in Thanh Hoa province for posting alleged anti-state content on Facebook and YouTube.

Hoang Duc Binh, Vuong Van Tha, and Nguyen Van Dien
This week’s political prisoner arrest and trial anniversaries and birthdays include:

  • Montagnard Christian pastor Y Yich, arrested May 13, 2013. He was later tried and sentenced to 12 years in prison and is facing serious health issues in prison.
  • Environment and labor rights activist Hoang Duc Binh, arrested May 15, 2017. He was sentenced to 14 years in prison, and he has faced difficult prison conditions and many health issues.
  • Hoa Hao Buddhists Vuong Van ThaVuong Van ThuanNguyen Nhat Truong, and Nguyen Nhat Thuong, arrested May 18, 2017. They were arrested in a violent raid on their family home, allegedly for making and flying the flag of the former Republic of Vietnam. They were later sentenced to twelve, seven, six, and six years in prison, respectively.
  • Democracy activist Nguyen Van Dien, whose birthday is May 19. This is his third birthday in prison. He was arrested in March 2017 and later sentenced to 6.5 years in prison.

Activists at Risk

On May 11, 2019, protesters went to Bac Thang Long – Noi Bai BOT toll station to question the toll regarding its continuation of charging toll fees despite being denounced by the public for charging tolls illegally for ten years. However, these protesters were required to buy tickets to be able to leave and meet with the enterprise’s owner for further discussion. They disagreed with having to buy a ticket, so a powerful public security force came to tow their cars and then beat and arrested many of the protesters. One of them, Hoa, was beaten until he was bleeding. Other people detained were Facebooker Lien Tran, Trung Nguyen Mode, Bui Tien, Son Bui, Thai Van Hoa, Le Viet Duc, Le Ho Trung Hieu, Pham Dung, Duc Trung Nguyen, (Le Hai Ha (Tuan Ha Dong), and Van and his wife (Thai Nguyên). After being detained at police station of Soc Son District until 12:00 pm on May 12, 2019, they all had to pay an administrative fee.

Tran Thi Ruoi, the mother of Thich Dong Long, a Buddhist monk, received an invitation from the People’s Committee of Trung Lap Ha Commune, to work on “some related issues.” The reason for this invitation was said to be because of Thich Dong Long’s religious activities. The authorities accused Thich Dong Long of “gathering the people” to celebrate Vesak (or Buddha’s Birthday), which Thich Dong Long said was not true, and that he practiced this rite alone. Thich Dong Long participated in the mass demonstration protesting against the bills on Special Economic Zones and Cybersecurity in June 2018. Since he refuses to be under the control of the authorities, Long is often harassed and surveilled by three cameras.

Authorities in Ninh Thuan province have targeted high school teacher Dang Nguyen Triet with a $320 fineon the allegation of “disseminate, store, use information on a Facebook account with the aim to tell lies, make false accusations, or hurt the credibility of the Party and the state.” The fine was imposed after Triet posted three Facebook statuses with commentary on national issues and also encouraged local students to clean up the shoreline.
International Advocacy 

A new Amnesty International report lists 128 prisoners of conscience in Vietnam, up from 97 last year. They estimate that almost ten percent of that total are people who were imprisoned because of their online commentary.


The US-Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue took place this week in Vietnam. The US spoke out against the Vietnamese government’s harassment and surveillance of activists ahead of the event, which prevented some activists from attending.

Le Cong Dinh
Lawyer Le Cong Dinh and religious leader Hua Phi were both barred from attending meetings related to the Dialogue. On May 12, 2019, Dinh was blocked in his house by a large number of security officers. They also threatened him not to leave that day nor the following day. The delegation from the US Department of State had invited him to speak at the Dialogue.

The European Union Delegation to Vietnam released a statement condemning the trial of female activists Vu Thi Dung and Nguyen Thi Ngoc Suong last week. The two were tried on May 10 without lawyers and sentenced to six and five years, respectively. “These individuals have peacefully advocated the promotion and protection of human rights as guaranteed by the Vietnamese Constitution, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,” the statement said. “Their sentences are in direct breach of these international obligations, which Vietnam has itself signed up to, and which the European Union expects full respect for.”


Vietnam Denies Having Political Prisoners, Blasts Amnesty International, Bloomberg, May 14, 2019: “Vietnam denied that it held any ‘prisoners of conscience,’ calling an Amnesty International report that said the Communist government is jailing more of its critics ‘unfounded.'”

Vietnam leader Nguyen Phu Trong reappears in state media after illness, Reuters, May 14, 2019: “During Tuesday’s meeting, he told other Vietnamese leaders, including Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, to continue with the corruption crackdown. Officially, Vietnam has no paramount ruler and is led collectively by the president, prime minister, Communist Party chief, and chair of the National Assembly. But Trong added the role of president to his existing role of Communist Party General Secretary in September last year following the death of former President Tran Dai Quang. Trong’s whereabouts and health had been subject to intense scrutiny since he fell ill in April.”

Vietnam’s Tech Futurists Lay Out Economic Alternatives, VOA, May 18, 2019: “The Southeast Asian country announced with much fanfare this month that a test of fifth generation telecommunications technology, in the form of a phone call, was successful. The call to test 5G matters, not just for the internet, but for Vietnam’s goal of building a digital economy.”

Vietnam Doesn’t Trust Huawei An Inch, Foreign Policy, May 13, 2019: “Vietnam is not, however, primarily looking for better broadband access for Vietnamese smartphone users, who may not be able to initially afford the new tech en masse. Instead, Vietnam’s push for 5G is part of its embrace of the so-called Industrial Revolution 4.0.”


Listen to our co-founder and current Research Director Kaylee Dolen’s reflections on why she defends human rights, what motivates her to do her work with The 88 Project besides a full-time job, and the challenges in working on this topic. “All it takes is the right story being heard by the right person to make a difference, the right story touching someone, making someone think about something differently.”

This recording is part of I Defend Rights, a joint initiative of and the Norwegian Human Rights Fund in collaboration with individuals and partner organisations around the world.


Take action for Hoang Duc Binh on the occasion of the second anniversary of his arrest. Share this article, featuring his latest case updates and an interview video with Binh about his inspirations for becoming an activist, to highlight his case.

© 2019 The 88 Project