Vietnam Free Expression Newsletter No. 30/2018 – Week of July 23-29

Above: Land rights activist Do Cong Duong will face trial in August, according to his lawyer

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 23-29. Authorities have postponed pro-democracy activist Le Dinh Luong’s trial, originally scheduled for July 30. Land rights activist Do Cong Duong will face trial in August. After sixteen days. Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh (Mother Mushroom) has ended her hunger strike in prison. This week, we remembered labor rights activist Tran Thi Nga on the anniversary of her trial; she is serving a nine-year sentence. A blogger and member of the Brotherhood for Democracy, Bui Quang Thuan, was detained and interrogated by police on July 27. Human Rights Watch called this week for Le Dinh Luong’s release from prison, and they also submitted their recommendations to the UN in preparation for Vietnam’s upcoming Universal Periodic Review. In the news, read about Vietnamese activists and citizens’ complicated relationship with Facebook, the trial of protesters in Binh Thuan province, and the ongoing issues of free press in Southeast Asia, including the recent suspension of a popular Vietnamese newspaper. Coming up, July 30 marks the arrest anniversaries of five political prisoners, all currently imprisoned for their various peaceful defenses of multi-party democracy and religious freedom. Please take action for them.

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Prisoners of Conscience
Le Dinh Luong
Activist and veteran Le Dinh Luong was originally scheduled to be tried on July 30. However, his lawyer Ha Huy Son announced on July 27 that the trial has been postponed; reasons are unclear, however Luong’s other lawyer, Dang Dinh Manh, is currently travelling outside of Vietnam. A new trial date has not been announced. Luong was arrested on July 24, 2017, and charged under Article 79 of the 1999 Criminal Code for subversion. Luong is from Nghe An province and has written on the Formosa environmental disaster. He has been targeted by authorities for supporting political prisoners, calling for an election boycott, and for alleged connections to Viet Tan, an overseas pro-democracy group. Human Rights Watch called for his release ahead of the previously-scheduled trial, noting that Luong has been denied due process, lacking a lawyer for almost the entire first year of his detention.
Do Cong Duong
Land rights activist Do Cong Duong will face trial in August in Tu Son commune, according to his lawyer Ha Huy Son. Duong was arrested on January 24, 2018 by the police of Tu Son commune while he was filming a forced eviction in Tu Son commune, Bac Ninh province. He is charged with “disturbing public order” under Article 318 of the 2015 Criminal Code and faces up to seven years in prison.
Mother Mushroom
Imprisoned blogger Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, Mother Mushroom, has ended her hunger strike after sixteen days. From July 6-July 23, Quynh was striking against inhuman prison conditions. She ended her strike after a visit from a US embassy representative. Quynh was arrested in October 2016 and sentenced in June 2017 to ten years in prison for her social and environmental activism.
Tran Thi Nga_campaign
We remembered Tran Thi Nga on the first anniversary of her trial this week. On July 25, 2017, the labor and land rights activist was sentenced to nine years in prison for her peaceful activism. Once a migrant laborer herself, she was inspired by her struggles working abroad to become an advocate for fair labor conditions in Vietnam. She is one of 15 female political prisoners currently being held in the country. We hope to share Nga and others’ stories in a short interview series focusing on female political prisoners and activists at risk in Vietnam, but we need your help. Click here to donate to our crowdfunding campaign.
Activists at Risk
Police detained blogger and member of the Brotherhood for Democracy Bui Quang Thuan on July 27 and questioned him for several hours. Police raided a friends’ residence in Hoa Binh province, where Thuan was staying, and confiscated Thuan’s laptop and several shirts bearing logos protesting Chinese involvement in Vietnam and Chinese territorial claims.
International Advocacy
Human Rights Watch submitted its comments to the UN ahead of Vietnam’s Universal Periodic Review in January 2019, stating that Vietnam has done little to correct its dismal human rights situation since the previous review in 2014. Despite committing to bring its criminal code in line with international human rights obligations, Vietnam “passed a revised penal code that extends even wider liability to rights bloggers and activists and those who assist them. Among these are new clauses that criminalize unspecified actions in preparation for committing an offense.”


Vietnam jails 10 more for protests over economic zones: “The official Voice of Vietnam Radio said a people’s court in the central province of Binh Thuan convicted the offenders, aged between 18 and 43, of ‘causing public disorder’. They were seen hurling bricks and stones at police, besides damaging several police vehicles and causing traffic jams during a June 10 protest, it cited the indictment as saying. Their lawyers were not immediately available for comment. Monday’s trial came days after a court in Ho Chi Minh City ordered the release and deportation of an American man of Vietnamese descent accused of the same charge.”

Facebook and Vietnam’s new cybersecurity law: “As an example of the importance of the platform to Vietnamese political life, Vietnam’s leading activist group, Viet Tan, is banned in Vietnam but in 2013 began teaching courses in online activism, from the US, including how to get around sporadic Facebook bans. A 2015 report by the organisation shows how the platform has changed the media and political landscape in Vietnam substantially, making traditional press become more responsive, introducing measures of accountability, and expanding political space in a country where apolitical assemblies have long been banned. Facebook users in Vietnam are distrustful of the government. But user trust in Facebook may also be waning.”

Why Did Vietnam Suspend a Popular Newspaper?: “After all, Tuoi Tre was certainly more investigatory and less prone to pure propaganda than Vietnam’s other state-run newspapers. Many on the Communist Party’s conservative wing thought it to be too liberal. Members of the growing reactionary movement known as ‘red flag groups,’ who agitate online and in the streets for the Party to be more socialist, more disciplined, and stricter on liberal voices in society, certainly disliked Tuoi Tre and have spread rumors about it for months. But Tuoi Tre was still a very popular news outlet (one of the most popular in Vietnam) that allowed the Party to broadcast its message to millions of people. It is difficult to see how the Party made any gains by temporarily closing the newspaper, if it was only motivated by the offending articles. After all, there are unconfirmed reports that in recent months Tuoi Tre took down other controversial articles after being asked to do so by the Ministry of Information and Communications.”

Why Vietnam is quitting Facebook: “Facebook is by far Vietnam’s most popular social media platform, with roughly 53 million users out of a population of 96 million. Vietnam has been one of Facebook’s fastest growing markets worldwide in recent years. But even if the number of Vietnamese users of Minds, for instance, continues to rise, it may take months if not years until it has a fraction of the number of users that Facebook currently boasts. That means a much smaller, fragmented audience for sharing information critical of the Communist Party regime. One human rights activist who requested anonymity said this is a dilemma for the growing movement that is agitating for multi-party democracy and promotion of human rights. Do they endanger their own safety for the sake of reaching a larger audience, the activist asks, or cut back from raising awareness of issues for security reasons?”

Journalists are being crushed in South-East Asia: “Vietnam’s government is energetically silencing critics, too. This month lawmakers in the one-party state approved a sweeping cyber-security law that would push social media firms to remove content the government dislikes and to reveal the identities of those who use their platforms to spread dissent. Offline, thugs already follow, threaten and sometimes attack activists critical of the Communist regime.”


Nguyen Bac Truyen_databasePham Van Troi

Truong Minh Duc_squarePastor Nguyen Trung Ton

July 30 will mark the anniversaries of the arrests of five political prisoners: Y Hriam Kpa (not pictured), Nguyen Bac Truyen (top left), Pham Van Troi (top right), Truong Minh Duc (bottom left), and Nguyen Trung Ton (bottom right).

Y Hriam Kpa is an evangelical Christian leader who was pressured into dissolving his church, but he refused and protested against the policy. He was arrested under Article 87 of the 1999 Criminal Code and sentenced to seven years in prison.
Nguyen Bac Truyen is also a religious freedom activist, as well as a human rights defender who has provided free legal advice to victims of land grabs. He was arrested under Article 79 of the 1999 Criminal Code and sentenced to 11 years in prison in April 2018. He was recently transferred to a new prison over 800 km from his family.
Pham Van Troi is a pro-democracy writer and activist and member of the Brotherhood for Democracy. He was sentenced to seven years in prison under Article 79 in April 2018. He was also recently transferred to a new prison.
Truong Minh Duc is a journalist and member of the Brotherhood for Democracy who was sentenced to 12 years in prison under Article 79 in April 2018. He was recently moved to a remote prison without notice.
Nguyen Trung Ton is a Protestant pastor and member of the Brotherhood for Democracy. He was sentenced to 12 years in prison under Article 79 in April 2018 alongside Truyen, Troi, and Duc. He was recently transferred to a prison 1000 km away from his home.


Please take Amnesty International’s Urgent Action for Pham Van Troi, Truong Minh Duc, and Nguyen Trung Ton. You can also take Front Line Defender’s action for Nguyen Trung Ton, Pham Van Troi, Nguyen Bac Truyen, and Truong Minh Duc, calling for their immediate release from prison.

© 2018 The 88 Project