Vietnam Free Expression Newsletter No. 24/2021 – Week of June 14-20
Greetings from The 88 Project! We bring you news, analysis, and actions regarding human rights and civil society in Vietnam during the week of June 14-20. No sooner had a prisoner been released from prison that she promised to take up the fight for justice again. Several prisoners at An Diem prison have staged a weeks-long semi-hunger strike. A jailed septuagenarian blogger is suffering health problems due to unsanitary conditions. The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found Le Huu Minh Tuan’s detention to be arbitrary and called for his immediate release. USCIRF recommended that Vietnam be designated as a Country of Particular Concern due to its abysmal record regarding religious freedom. Chinese in Cambodia have been smuggling Vietnamese into the country to work in casinos. COVID-19 is spreading faster than the state’s ability to cope. Meanwhile, the government introduces a new “code of conduct” for social media users. Please take action for Can Thi Theu, Trinh Ba Phuong, and Trinh Ba Tu, as the coming June 24 marks one year since their arrests.
HUMAN RIGHTS & CIVIL SOCIETY
Land grab victim Nguyen Thi Hue has completed her two-and-a-half year sentence and has been released from prison. According to a friend who spoke with her over the phone, Hue said she planned to immediately resume her Facebook accounts and to tell stories about her time behind bars. In prison she was known as a strong-willed and fearless woman who would not hesitate to scold prison guards and defend her rights as a citizen.
Hoang Duc Binh and several other political prisoners have staged a semi-hunger strike at An Diem prison for various reasons, according to his younger brother Hoang Nguyen, who spoke with Binh over the phone. The men have been refusing all food from the prison for the past 50 days. The situation is especially precarious since An Diem Prison only allows prisoners to receive a maximum 7Kg of food from their families each month. Binh said he was protesting against his unjust conviction as well as not being allowed to lodge his complaints against abuse by prison officials, which he is guaranteed by the law.
Blogger Nguyen Tuong Thuy, who is serving an 11-year sentence at An Diem Prison, has called his wife and reported that he’s having scabies as a result of poor hygiene when he was held at the Bo La Detention Center. He and many others who were there contracted the skin infestation due to burrowing mites. Thuy, 71, is said to be in declining health.
The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) issued an opinion on Le Huu Minh Tuan, in which they found Le Huu Minh Tuan’s detention to be arbitrary and called for his immediate release.
This week we remember the following political prisoners on their birthday, arrest and trial anniversaries:
- Religious leader Phan Van Thu, birthday June 25, sentenced to life in prison for alleged subversion
- Land rights activists Can Thi Theu and Trinh Ba Tu, arrested June 24, 2020, sentenced to eight years in prison, each for “propaganda against the state”
- Land rights activists Trinh Ba Phuong and Nguyen Thi Tam, arrested June 24, 2020, currently in pre-trial detention for “propaganda against the state”
- Political activist Vu Tien Chi, arrested June 24, 2020, sentenced to 10 years in prison for “propaganda against the state”
- Political activists Nguyen Thi Cam Thuy, Ngo Thi Ha Phuong, and Le Viet Hoa, arrested June 24, 2020, sentenced to 10, seven, and five years in prison, respectively, for “propaganda against the state”
- Hoa Hao Buddhists Bui Van Trung and Bui Van Tham, arrested June 26, 2017, sentenced to six years in prison each for “causing public disorder”
- Political activist Huynh Duc Thanh Binh and Tran Long Phi, tried June 24, 2019, sentenced to 10 and eight years in prison, respectively, for “subversion”
NEWS & ANALYSIS
United States Commission on International Religious Freedom: Proposal to put Vietnam on the list of countries of particular concern, The Vietnamese, June 16, 2021: “In its latest report on religious freedom, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) proposed reinstating Vietnam onto the list of countries of particular concern (CPC). Governments that engage in or tolerate severe violations of religious freedom are placed on the list of CPC. For countries on this list, the U.S. Congress will introduce non-economic policies before taking economic measures to stop violations. USCIRF assessed that Vietnam’s religious freedom conditions in 2020 were as bleak as those in 2019. This is because the Vietnamese government enforces its Law on Faith and Religion, which contravenes international human rights standards and systematically violates religious freedom.”
Vietnamese being trafficked by Chinese nationals to work in Cambodian casinos, officials warn, Sen Nguyen, South China Morning Post, June 18, 2021: “Vietnamese citizens are being lured into migrating to Cambodia, sometimes illegally, with attractive but often fraudulent offers to work in casinos and online gaming establishments, Vietnamese officials have warned. The Vietnamese embassy in Cambodia last week highlighted the risks of trafficking, noting both the effects of the coronavirus pandemic and the difficulty of controlling the porous border between the two countries…. The Chinese embassy in Cambodia had also flagged concerns about trafficking related to online gambling, releasing a statement last September warning that Chinese citizens were being smuggled into Cambodia from Vietnam and elsewhere to work in illegal sectors.”
Vietnam introduces nationwide code of conduct for social media, Phuong Nguyen and James Pearson, Reuters, June 18, 2021: “Vietnam introduced national guidelines on social media behaviour on Friday which encourage people to post positive content about the Southeast Asian country and require state employees to report ‘conflicting information’ to their superiors. The code prohibits posts which violate the law and ‘affect the interests of the state’ and applies to state organisations, social media companies, and all their users in Vietnam. ‘Social media users are encouraged to promote the beauty of Vietnam’s scenery, people and culture, and spread good stories about good people,’ reads the code, which was contained in a decision from the information ministry and dated June 17.”
What Explains Vietnam’s Current COVID-19 Struggles?, Zachary Abuza, The Diplomat, June 15, 2021: “No doubt Vietnam has been a victim of its own success. With such low rates of infection, it simply did not pursue vaccines with any urgency. It did contract for supplies of vaccines, but did so relatively late to the game, and far back in the queue…. Part of Vietnam’s failure to ink deals was its own interest in developing indigenous vaccines. Vietnam currently has four different indigenous vaccines under development: Nanogen, Vabiotech, Polyvac, and the Institute of Vaccines and Medical Biologicals (IVAC). They are behind in phase two and three testing as there were few cases in the country with which to conduct clinical trials, and none of the firms had much experience in doing trials in other countries.”
Vietnam urges WHO to accelerate COVAX drive as COVID-19 cases hit record, Reuters Staff, June 17, 2021: “WHO should speed up vaccine delivery through the international COVAX scheme, Vu Duc Dam, head of the country’s COVID-19 task force, said during a meeting with WHO’s regional director for the Western Pacific, Takeshi Kasai. Dam also urged the WHO to accelerate the transfer of vaccine manufacturing technology so Vietnam can become one of the vaccine production hubs in the region. The WHO said last month it was reviewing a proposal by an unidentified vaccine manufacturer in Vietnam to become an mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccine technology hub in the Southeast Asian country.”
Vietnam urges countries to unite, enhance international cooperation to fight terorism, Vietnam Plus, June 17, 2021: “Ambassador Pham Hai Anh, Deputy Permanent Representative of Vietnam to the United Nations, has told a UN Security Council meeting that the most important factor in fighting terrorism today is to unite, intensify international cooperation, support countries and regions to strengthen their capacity of detecting, preventing and combating international terrorism, as well as help countries to sustainably recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, and ensure equitable access to vaccines. Addressing the virtual Arria-formula meeting on ‘the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on international efforts to prevent and counter terrorism and violent extremism’ on June 16, Anh emphasised the need to solve the root causes of terrorism through economic development, national reconciliation, and building a society that is just, tolerant and self-resistant to terrorism and extremism.”
How Vietnam lost its pandemic-beating edge, David Hutt, Asia Times, June 18, 2021: “Vietnam is now ranked as one of the worst performers in Southeast Asia for its vaccination campaign, having so far only administered 1.6 million vaccines. Laos, the region’s second poorest nation, has fully vaccinated 5.6% of its population. Cambodia, with a gross domestic product (GDP) about a 10th the size of Vietnam’s, has fully vaccinated an astonishing 15.7% of its population, the best in the region after Singapore…. According to Asia Times analysis, if Vietnam wants to fully vaccinate 50% of its population with two-dose inoculations within a six-month period, it will need to administer about 533,000 vaccines each day. That’s clearly not happening at present.”
As June 24 marks one year since the arrest of Can Thi Theu and her sons Trinh Ba Phuong and Trinh Ba Tu, please help share this video clip (with English subtitles) and urgent action from Front Line Defenders about Can Thi Theu and her heroic family, who have tried to help land grab victims seek justice for years. You can also watch and share our 2019 interview with Theu.
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