Vietnam Free Expression Newsletter No. 26/2018 – Week of June 25-July 1

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 June 25-July 1. June 29 marked one year since blogger Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh (Mother Mushroom) was sentenced to ten years in prison; read about her current condition and reflections on the past year. Human Rights Foundation has submitted an individual complaint to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention regarding political prisoner Tran Thi Xuan. June 27 was handyman Luu Van Vinh’s second birthday in prison, as he awaits trial under Article 79 of the 1999 Criminal Code. We also remember young activist Tran Hoang Phuc this week, who was arrested on June 29, 2017, and is now serving a six-year sentence; he is in poor health in prison and faces his appeal trial on July 10, along with two co-defendants. In recent days, several activists and former political prisoners have been attacked and harassed, some in connection with recent nationwide protests over laws on cyber security and special economic zones. In response to the passage of the cyber security legislation on June 12, some Facebook users are switching to a new social media platform. Concerned community members and stakeholders have also compiled and sent out copies of a new report detailing police brutality during the overwhelmingly peaceful June demonstrations. In the news, read about the economic implications of the the cyber security law, as well as the final stages of the Vietnam-EU trade agreement, and check out analysis on property rights and mass protests in Vietnam. Please take action for Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, whose physical and mental health are at risk.

We are also pleased to announce that The 88 Project is hiring a Vietnam Human Rights Research Officer. This is an Asia-based/remote position. Read more, here, or in the Take Action section below.

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Prisoners of Conscience
Me Nam and children January 2016
Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh and her children, January 2016. Source: Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh Facebook
June 29 marked one year since blogger Nguyen Ngọc Nhu Quynh, aka Me Nam (Mother Mushroom), was sentenced to ten years in prison at a closed-off, one-day trial. She was sentenced under Article 88 (“propaganda against the state”) for her online postings and interviews and is well known for her human rights and environmental activism. Quynh’s first year in prison was marked by health problems and limited communications with family and her lawyer, yet she continues to inspire those fighting for democracy and human rights in Vietnam.
Civil Rights Defenders has again called for Quynh’s immediate release from prison. She is currently enduring extremely difficult conditions in prison, described as “mental torture.” She fears for her life. Quynh has been awarded the International Press Freedom Award by the Committee to Protect Journalists. A professor in Canada also recently nominated her for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Tran Thi Xuan
Human Rights Foundation has submitted an individual complaint to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention regarding the case of Vietnamese pro-democracy and social activist Tran Thi Xuan. Authorities arrested her in October 2017 under Article 79 of the 1999 Criminal Code. They tried her in April, without a lawyer and in an unannounced trial, and sentenced her to nine years in prison for her peaceful activism. Read the full complaint, here.
Tran Huynh Duy Thuc

In a phone call to his family on June 30, Tran Huynh Duy Thuc told his wife that on June 25, a delegation of the European Union and German Embassy in Vietnam had visited him for an hour in Prison No. 6, Nghe An province. The delegation asked about Thuc’s wishes, and he reiterated that he would not want to live abroad, and that he wanted to stay in Vietnam to serve his country. Thus, Thuc again ruled out the possibility of him accepting to be exiled in exchange for an early release. Thuc also said he wanted his case to be resolved according to the law and has continued to press for an appeal of his conviction. His health has been more stable recently. Thuc has been serving a 16-year sentence since 2009. Read our report on the ninth anniversary of his arrest, here.

Prisoner collage 3

June 29 marked one year since Tran Hoang Phuc was arrested. Police kidnapped the student activist at his Hanoi apartment and later charged him under Article 88 of the 1999 Criminal Code. He was tried alongside Nguyen Van Dien and Vu Quang Thuan in January 2018; Phuc was sentenced to six years, Dien to six and a half, and Thuan to eight. According to the indictment, Thuan and Dien were accused of posting 17 video clips on the Internet and possessing materials with anti-socialist state content; Phuc was accused of helping them in storing the materials and posting 3 of the 17 clips. Phuc is suffering from hepatitis C in prison. The three co-defendants will face their appeal trial on July 10.

Luu Van Vinh cropped

June 27 was political prisoner Luu Van Vinh‘s birthday, his second in jail. He was arrested in November 2016 under Article 79 of the 1999 Criminal Code for protesting against China and the toxic Formosa spill. Police came into his home, beat him, and took him away without presenting official documents. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has deemed his detention arbitrary. Twenty months after his arrest, Vinh is still awaiting trial.

Activists at Risk
Vietnamese activists have compiled a report on violent police responses to overwhelmingly peaceful protests on several days in June, called “Black Sundays.” The report details the detentions of unarmed protests and the physical assault that amounts to torture against them, and calls for accountability from the Vietnamese government in line with international human rights obligations. The report has been sent to foreign governments, the UN, and international organizations.

A female activist residing in Nha Trang was kidnapped and tortured by a group of men on June 25. Cao Hoang Tram Anh had participated in recent national protests against the new cyber security law and a draft law on special economic zones; she also has posted social commentary on Facebook. Before the kidnapping, authorities had twice come to her house, demanding she stop her online activities.

Also this week, undercover police agents attacked the residence of labor activist and former political prisoner Do Thi Minh Hanh. They threw rocks and a homemade explosive at the home. A blogger was also assaulted by thugs after visiting Hanh at the residence.

Catholic priest, Father Nguyen Duy Tan, recently protested in front of a prison north of Ho Chi Minh City, demanding the release of one of his parishioners. The prisoner, a mother of five, was detained after protesting in nationwide demonstrations against legislation in June. Authorities have also targeted Father Tan due to his activism, including last month when airport officials prohibited him from leaving Vietnam to travel to Malaysia with a group of other priests.

June 26 was the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. Two former political prisoners were blocked from meeting with activists in Ho Chi Minh City to commemorate the day. Plainclothes police outside the homes of Le Cong Dinh and Pham Ba Hai prevented them from attending an event organized by the Former Vietnamese Prisoners of Conscience.


Vietnam Forces Facebook and Google to Pick Privacy or Growth: “The law mirrors efforts globally to safeguard domestic users’ information and open up access to data that governments say they need to combat threats — what China refers to as its cyber-sovereignty. It also reflects a growing wariness about the influence of internet and social media giants that handle and parse information on and for billions around the world. ‘If they comply with this law, they violate their own terms of service to protect the privacy of their users,’ said Tim Bajarin, president of Creative Strategies Inc. ‘Officials could also censor content at will given the way the law is written.’ Vietnam’s move to assert greater control over what its people do online underscores the dilemma for tech companies that rely on countries wary of social media for growth.”

Vietnam Expects Economic Boom from EU Trade Deal: “Analysts say a Vietnamese trade ministry meeting this month with the EU’s trade commissioner indicates that a deal is nearly done. The two sides ‘reached consensus’ at that meeting on all content of an investment protection agreement, the Communist Party news website said. In a possible snag, European Parliament members had voiced concerns last year over human rights in Vietnam. Some suggested more debate in Vietnam on political rights and freedom of expression.”

Property rights could spell Vietnam Communist Party’s downfall: “Some changes have been enacted. A 2013 land law didn’t recognize private ownership but did extend the leases of many plots for another 50 years. Still, this doesn’t seem to have done any good, and many analysts think land-rights protests will continue to plague the Communist Party in the coming years. But if the party wants to prevent all of this, it will have to dismantle its own monopoly of power. First, it may have to accept that land can actually be owned by individuals without state interference. Second, to  settle disputes between land owners and developers properly, including government-backed ones, it requires an independent judiciary to decide over these cases. But that would mean the party has to loosen its dominance over the judiciary, something that would certainly curtail its ability to enforce its own laws. If this happens, why not representational democracy as well?”

Vietnam: a month of mass protests: “To make the optics even grimmer, the bill on cybersecurity was passed by a super-majority vote. With the [special economic zones] bill postponed, many Vietnamese are aggrieved that while national sovereignty has been temporarily kept intact, the cyber law will curb their freedom of speech and right to privacy. All of these concerns are not necessarily substantiated, but such negative public perceptions are warranted. The situation has all the hallmarks of a crisis of trust, given that a majority of the public believes that public sector corruption is chronically severe in Vietnam. Though the nationwide anti-graft campaign is winning popular support, the people are still pessimistic about the public sector, thus are less likely to give new policies the benefit of the doubt. No matter what, as per Professor Carl Thayer’s observation, the current situation is toxic.”


Take Amnesty International’s Urgent Action for Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh (Mother Mushroom), who is suffering from poor health in prison, including pain from curled fingers and toes. Take action for Quynh, demanding that Vietnam release her immediately and provide adequate medical care until her release.

Are you interested in human rights in Vietnam or Southeast Asia? Do you want to help encourage the right to freedom of expression? The 88 Project is hiring a Vietnam Human Rights Research Officer. This is an Asia-based/remote position. Please read the job description for more details and for information on how to apply.

© 2018 The 88 Project