Vietnam Free Expression Newsletter No. 29/2019 – Week of July 15-21

Featured Image: Nguyen Trung Ton.  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 July 15-21. Three June 2018 protesters’ appeals of their sentences were denied this week. And next week, seven toll station protesters — including Ha Van Nam — will face trial for “disturbing public order.” Families of five activists who are in pre-trial detention have sent a letter to authorities condemning the activists’ arrests and detentions. And activist Huynh Thi To Nga, who was kidnapped from her workplace in January, has been located in prison in Dong Nai province. More than 50 lawyers have signed a petition calling for an investigation into the charges against lawyer Tran Vu Hai, who is also imprisoned blogger Truong Duy Nhat’s lawyer. And Vietnam has announced plans for its own social media network. In the news, read a recent study on global religious restrictions, which found Vietnam to be on the list of the top ten countries with the most government harassment of religious groups; also read an analysis on the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement. Check out the preview of our interview with political activist and translator Nguyen Nguyen Binh. Finally, please take action for jailed blogger Truong Duy Nhat, calling on Thai authorities to investigate his kidnapping.

We are also proud to announce that our improved Timeline of Freedom of Expression in Vietnam is now live! Read about its creation and how to use it, here.


Prisoners of Conscience
Three protesters at their appeal trial on July 17, 2019. Source: RFA Vietnamese/
On July 17, 2019, The People’s Court of Binh Thuan Province denied the appeals of prison sentencesfrom the first instance trial of three activists. These three activists protested in Hoa Minh commune and Song Luy bridge on June 10, 2018 as part of national demonstrations over two draft laws on Cybersecurity and Special Economic Zones. Nguyen Thi LienTran Ho, and Pham Thi Minh Thu were convicted of  “disturbing public order” under Article 318 of the 2015 Criminal Code. Lien and Ho were sentenced to three years in prison, and Thu to two years, all of which were upheld on appeal. At least 123 people have been jailed in connection with the June 2018 protests.
Ha Van Nam
Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) protester Ha Van Nam and six other protesters will be tried on July 30 in Bac Ninh province on charges of “disturbing public order” under Article 318 of the 2015 Criminal Code. They face between two and seven years in prison if convicted. Since 2018, Ha Van Nam, with his friends in the Facebook group “Friends on the Long Road,” has protested against the toll stations, which are allegedly placed in incorrect areas or have earned money past their allotted contract times.

Ngo Van Dung, Doan Thi Hong, and Hoang Thi Thu Vang
On July 18, 2019, the families of five activists — Ngo Van Dung, Ho Dinh Cuong, Tran Thanh PhuongDoan Thi Hong, and Hoang Thi Thu Vang — sent a letter to the Prime Minister and many other government institutions denouncing the fives’ unlawful arrests and detentions over a period of more than 10 months. According to the letter, in September 2018, all of the five activists were arrested without official warrants. Since their arrests, they have been held in Ho Chi Minh City’s detention center. The public security of Ho Chi Minh City announced to the families that four of them are charged with “disrupting public order” under Article 118 Penal Code, with a possible sentence of between seven and 15 years in prison. All five still await trial.

Huynh Thi To Nga and Huynh Minh Tam
Activist Huynh Thi To Nga is now known to be held in Dong Nai province‘s detention center. Her family told activists in Ho Chi Minh City that they asked the authorities to let them meet with her, but so far, the request has been denied. Authorities told the family that she is under investigation and cannot have visitors. They have not announced charges against her. To Nga was kidnapped on January 28, 2019 from her workplace, Nguyen Tri Phuong Hospital. Her brother, Huynh Minh Tam, was also arrested on January 26, 2019, just two days before her disappearance. To Nga is a single mother of two and frequently shares her views online that are critical of the regime.

Political prisoner Nguyen Nam Phong will be released from prison on July 28, 2019. Phong was the driver for Catholic priest Nguyen Dinh Thuc and environmental and labor activist Hoang Duc Binh when Binh was arrested in May 2017. When the police ordered Phong to open the car to let them to take Binh out, Phong refused. He was later arrested and sentenced to two years in prison. He was the main financial supporter of a family with three children. Phong and his wife’s eldest daughter was diagnosed with cancer and passed away on June 15, 2019, while Phong was still in prison.

Nguyen Van Huu
This week, we remember the arrest and trial anniversaries of the following political prisoners:

  • Y Lao Mlo, arrested July 15, 2015 and sentenced to eight years, a Montagnard Christian activist
  • Siu Ben, tried July 2009 and sentenced to 12 years, a Jrai Christian religious and indigenous rights activist
  • Nguyen Van Huu, arrested July 2014 and sentenced to six years, member of the An Dan Dai Dao Buddhist sect; 22 members of the An Dan Dai Dao Buddhist sect were arrested in February 2012
  • Rmah Hlach, arrested July 2009 and sentenced to 12 years, a Jrai Christian religious and indigenous rights activist

Nguyen Trung Ton. Artwork by Dinh Truong Chinh for The 88 Project
We also are thinking of pastor Nguyen Trung Ton, one of the pro-democracy activists arrested in a crackdown on the Brotherhood for Democracy. In February 2017, he was kidnapped and beaten by plainclothes agents. To this day, he still suffers from health issues due to the brutal attack. He is currently serving a 12-year prison sentence.
Rule of Law
More than 50 lawyers signed a petition asking for an investigation into the actions and charges against lawyer Tran Vu Hai. The petition was sent to 12 organizations and leaders of Vietnamese government on July 15, 2019. On July 2, the Investigative police division of the Public Security Department of Khanh Hoa Province charged attorney Tran Vu Hai, a prominent lawyer in Vietnam, with “tax evasion.” The police took away a large amount of materials not related to the case, including the dossiers of multiple important cases — such as the case of Truong Duy Nha t— a well-known blogger recently deported by Thai authorities back to Vietnam while seeking political asylum and currently held in T16 prison, Hanoi. On July 3, Tran Vu Hai announced on his personal Facebook account that he was going to take a break from work, to rest, read, and resolve the issue together with his family. Attorney Ngo Anh Tuan, who is concerned about the safety of Vietnamese lawyers, urged 13,000 lawyers nationwide to support the petition.

Internet Freedom

On July 15, 2019, Vietnam’s Minister of Information and Telecommunications, Nguyen Manh Hung, held a meeting with information technology and communications companies of the south of Vietnam. During the meeting, the minister announced that the Ministry of Information and Telecommunications is preparing a set of universal public standards as reference for information technology and communications companies to create a “made in Vietnam” social network. This social network will meet three requirements: sharing values with the users, letting users contribute to the network, and abiding by Vietnamese laws. The announcement comes on the heels of Vietnam’s new Law on Cybersecurity, which went into effect on January 1, 2019, and efforts to clamp down on dissenting viewpoints online.


A Closer Look at How Religious Restrictions Have Risen Around the World, Pew Research Center, July 15, 2019: “The Asia-Pacific region also stands out as relatively high in this category. For example, in 2017 alone, harassment or intimidation of religious groups by governments was reported in 86% of countries in the region. This measure includes long-term, ongoing harassment of religious minorities in some countries, which continued in 2017.”

New EU-Vietnam Economic Deal: Who Wins and Who Loses?, Luke Hunt, The Diplomat, July 19, 2019: “Make no mistake: Vietnam’s human rights record is dismal and deserves criticism, and its current treatment of dissidents should continue to raise significant concerns. However, the key takeaway of the EU-Vietnam deal is that it shows how sharp Hanoi’s diplomatic skills are on the foreign stage. For Vietnam, the EU deal was a triumph over significant challenges. The EU has long had reservations about Vietnam’s human rights and democracy record, and some of those concerns increased in the past few years and threatened to end the deal itself. Nonetheless, at the end of the day, this is clearly a win for Vietnam. Hanoi scored an unprecedented deal for a developing country in Asia, with tariffs to be cut over a 10-year period with some exceptions.”

Vietnam strains to reap the rewards of the U.S.-China trade war, David Pierson, LA Times, July 12, 2019: “As some Vietnamese factory managers turn down orders because they don’t have the capacity, competition for increasingly expensive labor is forcing low-cost clothing companies to rethink their expansion plans. In addition, ports are struggling to deal with container ship traffic that’s almost doubled in the past year, according to data from MarineTraffic. The strain on resources is helping temper expectations in a country that experts say is being unfairly compared to China, the behemoth to the north which dictated the rules of global trade the last two decades. For one thing, Vietnamese producers, unlike those in China, have to import much of their raw materials such as steel, fabric and chemicals.”

Vietnamese-American musician’s song in support of Hong Kong anti-extradition protesters goes viral: “The chorus of ‘freedom, democracy is all that we need’ and the ‘the whole world is watching you every step of the way’ convey’s the song’s clear message in support of the anti-extradition protesters.”


We are proud to announce that our improved Timeline of Freedom of Expression in Vietnam is live! The timeline completes a trio of tools (along with the Database of Persecuted Activists in Vietnam and Map of Human Rights Violations) that track the situation of political prisoners and activists at risk. Filter information by year and type of event. Find out more about the interactive features, here.


“[In the end] I hope that our activities will pressure the authorities to make a change.” Nguyen Nguyen Binh, political activist and translator, spoke to us about how it is worth taking risks in her activism. The full interview is coming soon! Check out the preview, here.


Take action with Amnesty International for Truong Duy Nhat, a blogger and former political prisoner who was forcibly returned to Vietnam while attempting to seek asylum in Thailand. Call on Thai authorities to investigate his kidnapping, which they are now believed to have assisted in facilitating.

© 2019 The 88 Project