Vietnam Free Expression Newsletter No. 30/2017 – Week of September 18-24

Greetings from Huong, Ella, and Kaylee from The 88 Project! We are bringing you news, analysis, and actions regarding human rights and civil society in Vietnam during the week of September 18-24. On September 18, in a short, closed off trial, Nguyen Van Oai was sentenced to five years in prison. His supporters were denied entrance into the court and their cell phone connections were blocked. Activist Dinh Thao spoke before the U.N. Human Rights Council about the situation in Vietnam. Locals in the northern Vietnamese province of Hai Duong have vowed to continue protesting a textile factory they say is causing many types of pollution in the area. Australia is being pressured to intervene to help resettle the 29 Montagnards whose asylum applications have been rejected by Cambodia and now face forcible return to Vietnam. Another video interview with dissident singer Mai Khoi and activist Nguyen Chi Tuyen is out. In the relevant news and analysis section, there are many interesting reads this week. Finally, please take action for Nguyen Van Oai and Tran Thi Nga, who were both arrested in January 2017 and are now serving lengthy prison sentences.

Read the full newsletter here.

And please subscribe!


Prisoners of Conscience


Above: Parishioners from Yen Hoa parish in Nghe An province, Nguyen Van Oai’s own parish, took to the streets on September 17 to demand his release.

Nguyen Van Oai, who was arrested on January 23 of this year and spent almost eight months in pre-trial detention, was tried on September 18 and sentenced to five years in prison and four years probation. It was a short, secluded trial. His family was not allowed to attend. Police actively blocked the public’s  cell phones and ability to enter the court. Oai and his lawyer, Ha Huy Son, refused to admit guilt throughout. Son says Oai plans to appeal the decision. Article 304 (“failing to execute probation”), one of the provisions he was tried under, has rarely been used to silence activists previously.

Nguyen Van Oai

The 36-year-old Oai is the co-founder of the Association of Catholic Former Prisoners of Conscience. He has long been in the government’s sights. As an advocate for the rights of prisoners and other social causes, he was arrested in 2011 and sentenced to four years imprisonment.

Environmental Activism/Community at Risk
Protests continue in Hai Duong, in northern Vietnam, at a foreign-owned textile factory, which locals says is causing noise, air, and water pollution. After reporting the issues a year ago to local authorities, nothing has been remedied, and the protestors say they will block the entrance to the factory until it is moved to another location. They have faced harassment from authorities, who have tried unsuccessfully to broker deals between the factory and the locals. The company says it is working on plans to fix the situation and resume operations, but many questions remain.
Refugees & Asylum-Seekers
Australia, who has a refugee resettlement agreement with Cambodia, has been criticized for not intervening to resettle the 29 Montagnard refugees whose asylum applications have been denied, in order to stop them from being forcibly returned to Vietnam. According to the Guardian, the Australia-Cambodia resettlement agreement, which offers refugees in off-shore detention in Australia the option to be resettled in Cambodia, faces high costs and few willing participants. Observers are also concerned about Cambodia’s poor human rights record. Under the agreement, Australia has more leverage with the Cambodian government, and thus, many are asking the country to intervene on behalf of the Montagnards.
Cambodia has rejected the asylum applications of the group, which includes seven children, and they now fear physical harm and prison back in Vietnam, where some have already faced lengthy prison sentences, including one man who had served nearly ten years for participating in a religious freedom demonstration. The UNHCR has reported that Cambodia backed out of completing a review of the applicants’ case with them.
International Advocacy

[facebook url=”” /]

Art & Activism
mai khoi and obama
Mai Khoi with former US President Barack Obama
Watch this video interview with dissident singer Mai Khoi and activist Nguyen Chi Tuyen (a.k.a @AnhChiVN), two among the activists who are speaking out against the government despite risks to their own freedom and safety.


Will Vietnam let its human rights record stifle trade with the EU?: “It is now apparent that EU ratification depends on whether Hanoi improves its human rights record. The proposed EVFTA makes an institutional and legally binding linkage to the EU-Vietnam Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA), in which both sides pledge to respect democratic principles and human rights — a core component of the EU’s policies, initiatives and agreements. It also states that a party may unilaterally take appropriate measures with respect to the FTA when ‘it considers that the other party has committed a material breach of the PCA,’ such as violating the essential element constituted by the EU’s ‘human rights clause.’”

Growing disquiet about repression in Vietnam: “The plight of civil society activists in Vietnam has been overshadowed by the ethnic cleansing in nearby Myanmar, and the growing tension in Korea, but there are signs that the EU, at least, is waking up to the extent of the violations in Vietnam. A senior trade official visiting Hanoi last week warned that ratification of the EU’s 2015 free trade agreement with Vietnam could be jeopardised by concern over human rights.”

Facebook Faces a New World as Officials Rein In a Wild Web: “While Facebook said its policies in Vietnam have not changed, and it has a consistent process for governments to report illegal content, the Vietnamese government was specific. The social network, they have said, had agreed to help create a new communications channel with the government to prioritize Hanoi’s requests and remove what the regime considered inaccurate posts about senior leaders.”

Vietnam’s Conservatives Purge Former PM Dung’s Allies: “Indeed, it is quite true that Hanoi’s minions have been hauling in dissident activists much faster than usual. Vietnam’s media minders have also cowed Facebook and You Tube into taking down content that the regime considers seditious. There’s a problem, however: a causal connection between Trump’s indifference and the crackdown on alleged subversion is both implausible and unprovable. Vietnam’s internal security agencies and their political masters have their own reasons for what they do. They’re the core of a regime that is dead set on firming up discipline within the all-powerful Communist Party and shutting down public agitation for changes to the system.”


On September 11, at the 36th session of the Human Rights Council, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, updated the Council on the human rights situation around the world. Here’s his statement regarding Vietnam: “In Viet Nam, a revision of the Penal Code in May retained the death penalty for 18 offenses, including drug offenses not considered by the human rights mechanisms as “most serious crimes” under international law. Until recently the Vietnamese people were not permitted to know the number of people put to death every year, but in January a report released by the Ministry of Public Security stated 429 were executed between August 2013 and June 2016. Official newspapers have recently reported that five new execution facilities will be built, doubling the country’s current facilities. I urge Viet Nam to reconsider its position on the death penalty. I note also that people in Viet Nam who express any form of public criticism of the government or who seek to mobilize others face the risk of arrest, incommunicado detention and long sentences, in contravention of human rights standards.”


Share Frontline Defenders’ Urgent Appeal for both Nguyen Van Oai and Tran Thi Nga (scroll towards bottom for pdf), who were both arrested in January 2017 and are now serving 5 and 9 years in prison, respectively.

© 2017 The 88 Project