Vietnam Free Expression Newsletter No. 32/2019 – Week of August 5-11

Featured Image: Political prisoner Le Anh Hung

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 August 5-11. Political prisoner Le Dinh Luong’s family was denied a visit with him in prison this week, while Le Anh Hung’s mother was able to visit him and reported that his health is stable. Authorities continue to try to charge kidnapped blogger Truong Duy Nhat in a case of alleged land fraud. And several activists have found themselves the subjects of a new state media documentary denouncing social media for allegedly causing protests and for spreading misinformation in the country. Read about activists’ reactions to the film. In addition, many people took to the Internet or to the streets this week to protest issues of sovereignty after a recent incident in which Chinese ships entered a Vietnamese economic zone. Read The 88 Project’s reflections of Vietnam’s Universal Periodic Review. And in the news, check out analysis on EU-Vietnamese security ties and a video about the repression of Buddhists in Vietnam. In case you missed it, watch our interview with translator and activist Nguyen Nguyen Binh, the latest in our series with Vietnamese female activists. And please take action for Truong Duy Nhat, calling for further investigation into his case.


Prisoners of Conscience

On August 9, 2019, Nguyen Thi Xoan, daughter-in law of political prisoner Le Dinh Luong, went to visit Luong in Nam Ha prison. The prison wardens stopped Xoan and asked her to buy tickets to use the prison’s transport system in order to visit Luong. She asked for an official document requiring visitors to buy tickets to visit prisoners, but the wardens did not comply and prohibited her from visiting. Xoan submitted a complaint to General Ho Thanh Hai, director of C10 department which manages prisons. Le Dinh Luong is a pro-democracy and environmental activist serving 20 years in prison for his peaceful activities.

On August, 8, 2019, Nguyen Vu Binh and Vu Hung took Mrs. Niem, mother of political prisoner Le Anh Hung, to visit Hung. Only Mrs. Niem was allowed to meet with him. She told Binh that Hung’s health was stable and his spirits were better than in previous visits. Hung asked his mother to secure help from others so he can return home soon. In June, Hung’s mother sent an application to authorities asking them to release Hung so that she can care for him at the family’s home, as he was in poor health and spirits after being subjected to forced mental health treatment while detained. Prior to his detention, she confirmed that Hung was healthy physically and mentally. Hung, a journalist, was arrested over a year ago and still awaits trial for “abusing democratic freedoms.”

Truong Huu Loc. Artwork by Dinh Truong Chinh for The 88 Project
Truong Huu Loc was sentenced to eight years in prison in June 2019 for “disrupting security.” Loc advocates for freedom of expression and sovereignty in Vietnam. He was taken into custody a day after large-scale protests in June 2018. Loc was selected as a prisoner to highlight in our portrait series, which aims to bring attention to lesser-known political prisoners in Vietnam.

On August 8, 2019, the Department of Police Investigation announced that Truong Duy Nhat allegedly abused his position at Dai Doan Ket newspaper to help with a fraudulent purchase of land. His action is alleged to have made the state budget lose 13 billion VND. Nhat, a blogger and former political prisoner, was kidnapped from Thailand in January while attempting to seek asylum there and forcibly returned to Vietnam, where he is now in prison. Earlier in the year, he was charged with “abusing position, authority to obtain public property,” but just last week, authorities changed the charged to “abusing position, authority while in office,” due to their inability to prove the property embezzlement act. He denies all charges against him.

This week, we remember arrest anniversaries, as well as birthdays, of the following prisoners:

  • Journalist and Brotherhood for Democracy member Truong Minh Duc, birthday August 10, who was sentenced to 12 years in prison. On August, 6, 2019, Nguyen Kim Thanh, Duc’s wife, posted on Facebook to express her worry about Duc. He lost his temper and beat the phone during a meeting on August 2, 2019, after prison officials interfered with his meeting with his wife. Authorities warned he would be punished as a result.
  • Blogger and women’s rights advocate, Huynh Thuc Vy, arrested August 9, 2018, and sentenced to two years and nine months in prison for spray painting the national flag in 2017 as a sign of protest. She is exempt from serving the sentence until her youngest child turns three; then she will have to serve it in its entirety.
Activists at Risk

On August 8, 2019, Pham Doan Trang, author of several political books, told Radio Free Asia (RFA) that 1000 copies of her book “Cam nang nuoi tu” had been given away to readers. But Trang also told RFA that many secret agents pretended to be interested in the book and made appointments at hidden locations to grab and beat the shippers. Activists have undertaken many efforts to publish uncensored books, but the Vietnamese government maintains tight control over the publishing industry by ordering all printing companies to print books only with permission from approved publishers.

Activists are reacting to a documentary, produced by state media’s Vietnam Television (VTV), called “Opposite: The reverse side of social media,” which claims that activists and Facebookers have used social media to encourage protests and spread false information with the aim of overthrowing the government. The documentary is accused of singling out certain dissidents and did not interview any activists. Activists defended their right to protest and made it clear that they are not intending to overthrow the regime, just exercising their right to express their discontent with existing policies. “I challenge any Party organization, radio stations or VTV station to point out any incorrect facts from my articles or interviews, or to show where there is any misrepresentation or agitation,” said Pham Chi Dung, a journalist who was targeted by the documentary.

On May 23, 2019, Quach Duy, an officer with the People’s Committee of Ho Chi Minh City, was fined 7.5 million VND (approximately 320 USD) because of his post on Facebook, which was alleged to “slander, offend the honor and reputation of other individuals.” According to the decision on the administrative fine, on April 9, 2019, Quach Duy posted on Facebook about distributing land in a project, in which he said that “the Public Security Ministry investigates the Vice President of the People’s Committee in Ho Chi Minh City for distributing premium land at a cheap price.” On August 2, 2019, the Committee of Inspection of Ho Chi Minh City decided to expel Quach Duy. They said he had violated the Decision 102, 2017 of the Politburo, on punishing party members, and the Decision 47 on what party members cannot do.

Public Protest

For several weeks, Vietnamese ships have been in a deadlock with Chinese ships after a Chinese surveying expedition in contested waters entered a Vietnamese-owned area known as Vanguard Bank. The ships have since left the area, but not before provoking a widespread public reaction to a perceived challenge to Vietnamese sovereignty. On his Facebook page, well-known activist Nguyen Quang A urged everyone to put the words “SUE CHINA” on t-shirts, jackets, helmets, cars, etc.

On August 5, four residents of Tan Tao Industry Zone, Binh Tan District, Ho Chi Minh City carried out a demonstration against China’s activities at Vanguard Bank.  Le Thi Thanh Thuy, one of the four protesters, was “invited” to work with police, and the public security of Tan Tao Ward, Binh Tan District, fined Thuy 750.000 VND (approximately 33 USD) for “disturbing public order”.

On August 6, 2019, a few members of the No-U civil society group, which protests Chinese territorial claims in the South China Sea, organized in front of the Chinese embassy in Ha Noi. The police quickly dismissed the protest. One of the protesters, Khanh, told activist Le Hoang later that, just as he arrived home, two ward police officers approached him and asked him to go to Hai Ba Trung’s police station to promise not to protest anymore.

On August 10, 2019, Vu He, a father taking care of his son at Swedish Children’s Hospital, demonstrated against China’s illegal activities at Vanguard Bank at the Nguyen Chi Thanh intersection. His demonstration lasted only 40 minutes due to public security’s intervention. After he went back to his accommodation, security forces took him to the police station for interrogation, while leaving his son alone. Luckily, he was released later in the day.

On August 8, 2019, a delegation of intellectuals, on behalf of more than 1,000 people signing the Bien Dong Declaration (East Sea or South China Sea Declaration) on the occasion of China’s illegal activities at Vanguard Bank of Vietnam, went to submit the declaration at the Office of National Assembly. However, they were all refused entrance.

International Advocacy
Read our report on Vietnam’s 2019 Universal Periodic Review commitments on freedom of expression and suggestions of actions it should take to fulfill those promises. Part 1, Overview and Legal environment assurance promises, is available here. Part 2, on substantive freedom of expression commitments, is coming soon.


What’s in a Deeper EU-Vietnam Security Partnership?, Prashanth Parameswaran, The Diplomat, August 10, 2019: “The steps were announced around what was officially characterized by the EU as a ‘defense and security cooperation partnership’ following a meeting between Mogherini and Vietnam’s Defense Minister Ngo Xuan Lich. Under that banner, most of the headlines noted the conclusion of negotiations on framework participation agreement (FPA) that would facilitate greater Vietnamese involvement in crisis operations. To be sure, that agreement is in of itself quite significant. It gives the EU its first partner in Southeast Asia of this kind, providing yet another concrete example of how it is trying to translate the potential for defense collaboration into reality in the subregion. At a more practical level, an FPA agreement opens the door for operationalizing EU-Vietnam security cooperation in areas such as peacekeeping and conflict management.”

Vietnam police disperse protest at Chinese embassy over South China Sea standoff, James Pearson, Reuters, August 5, 2019: “‘We are doing this in front of the Chinese embassy to show our anger to the world,’ Le Hoang, one of the protesters, told Reuters. Vietnam accuses Chinese survey vessel Haiyang Dizhi 8 and its escorts of illegal activities in the country’s exclusive economic zone and continental shelf, and has demanded that China withdraw all its ships. Last week, a Vietnamese fishermen’s group urged the government to take stronger measures to remove the ships, saying they were disrupting fishing activities.”

Vietnam takes a stand in the South China Sea, David Hutt, The Asia Times, August 6, 2019: “Another reason is that Hanoi has more big power allies than it did in 2018, including the United States. Washington is keen to forge even closer military ties with Hanoi, though Vietnam remains reticent about any formalities, consistent with its non-committal foreign policy. But while the US went quiet last year when China challenged Vietnam in the South China Sea, leaving Hanoi without big power backup, this year it has been more outspoken in defending Vietnam’s position.”

What’s Up With Buddhist Persecution in Vietnam?, Vishal Arora, The Diplomat, August 6, 2019 (VIDEO): “While reports of arrests of, or attacks on, Buddhists in Vietnam are not frequent, the religious community has for decades lived in a perpetual atmosphere of persecution, which cannot be quantified by the number of ‘incidents’ but instead manifests through official and unofficial restrictions imposed by the Southeast Asian country’s communist government.”


After working in the military, Nguyen Nguyen Binh started translating books. But in 2011, a series of political corruption cases caused her to change paths, and she started joining social movements for political change. She spoke to us about what that means in our latest interview with Vietnamese female activists. Watch it, here!


Take action with Amnesty International for Truong Duy Nhat. Call on Thai authorities to investigate his kidnapping, which they are now believed to have assisted in facilitating.
© 2019 The 88 Project