Vietnam Free Expression Newsletter No. 46/2019 – Week of November 11-17

Featured Image: Nguyen Nang Tinh at trial, Source: State media via Radio Free Asia

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 November 11-17. In a series of three different trials this week, several people were convicted in cases of political persecution. They are: retired baker Chau Van Kham (12 years on charges of terrorism), democracy activist Nguyen Van Vien (11 years on charges of terrorism), electronic trades worker Tran Van Quyen (10 years on charges of terrorism), music teacher Nguyen Nang Tinh (11 years on charges of conducting propaganda against the state), and human rights lawyer Tran Vu Hai and his wife Ngo Tuyet Phuong (12-15 months of house arrest on charges of tax evasion). In addition, on November 15, activist Dinh Thao was detained for several hours upon her return to Vietnam. Also this week, we brought you reports on the denial of healthcare to An Dan Dai Dao Buddhists in prison, as well as the mistreatment of Hoa Hao Buddhist Vuong Van Tha, per an interview with his family. In the news, read about Vietnam’s possible legal actions in the South China Sea dispute and a new documentary on dissident musician Mai Khoi. Please take action for those targeted for their peaceful activism this week by sharing statements from international human rights organizations in support of their protection and release from prison. Since October 29, 2019, Vietnamese authorities have sentenced six people to a combined 50 years in prison for online posts and peaceful participation in civil society groups. Also in that time, the authorities sentenced a prominent lawyer to a year of house arrest, arrested yet another person for their alleged “anti-state” content, and upheld the convictions of three activists at their appeal trials.


Political Prisoners
Chau Van Kham (left) and Tran Van Quyen at trial, Source: Vietnam News Agency/AFP
In the first of several trials this week, on November 11, Australian citizen and retiree Chau Van Kham was sentenced to 12 years in prison, local activist Nguyen Van Vien to 11 years, and camera installer Tran Van Quyen to ten years. They were convicted on charges of “terrorism” under Article 113 of the 2015 Criminal Code, having been targeted for being part of overseas democracy group Viet Tan. Vien is also a member of the Brotherhood for Democracy. All three men were arrested in January 2019 and originally charged under Article 109 of the 2015 Criminal Code, for subversion. At 70 years old, many are concerned about Kham’s health, which has already declined since his arrest.
Nguyen Nang Tinh at trial, Source: State media via Radio Free Asia
On November 15, music teacher Nguyen Nang Tinh was sentenced to 11 years in prison for his Facebook posts with alleged “anti-state” content, continuing a troubling crackdown on social media users. A video of him teaching students the famous song “Give back to the people” attracted a lot of attention and the support of Vietnamese people both inside and outside of Vietnam. While Tinh never calls for violence, the authorities said that his case is “exceptional” and “dangerous.” Many of his friends were forced to leave when they tried to attend the trial. Father Nguyen Cong Huong, the local priest in the church that Tinh used to attend, also wanted to witness the trial, but his request was denied. In a Facebook post, Trinh Vinh Phuc, Tinh’s defense lawyer, reported that Tinh was very calm and determined at trial, stating: “10 years, 20 years… No matter how harsh the sentence will be, I will never change my opinions.”

The public blocked from approaching the Court, Source: Facebook Vu Hai Tran
Also on November 15, human rights lawyer Tran Vu Hai and his wife, Ngo Tuyet Phuong, were convicted on charges of tax evasion. They will have to serve 12-15 months of house arrest. The tax authority themselves did not request that the public security in Nha Trang investigate suspicious tax evasion activities. This, combined with the fact that Hai. had previously agreed to represent dissident blogger Truong Duy Nhat, leads many to believe that the charges against Hai are politically-motivated. Before the trial began, most of the representatives of official news outlets and journalists were barred from entering the courtroom. On the second day of the trial, November 14, attorney Nguyen Duy Binh was forcefully escorted out of the courtroom for merely asking one of the defendants whether she had petitioned for five other lawyers to represent her and whether the Court had denied her request. Binh was also detained for a short period of time at the office of the public security force of Phuoc Tan ward. With the unprecedented support of dozens of lawyers, an extremely weak accusation against him, and clear political motives behind the indictment, if attorney Tran Vu Hai can still be found guilty, there is no realistic way in which other defendants can protect their legitimate rights and interests before this judicial system, especially those who are accused of political crimes. Read our full report on the trial here.
On October 5, political prisoner Doan Dinh Nam died from kidney failure; he had only recently been moved from prison to a hospital for further treatment, despite many requests for treatment from his family. An Dan Dai Dao’s founder, Phan Van Thu, has been suffering from poor health in prison. Read our report on the lack of medical treatment for imprisoned members of the An Dan Dai Dao Buddhist sect, here, in which we interviewed Mr. Thu’s daughter-in-law for the latest update on his and other members’ situation.
This week, we remember the arrest anniversaries of the following political prisoners:
Le Thi Hong Hanh and Thich Nhat Hue
  • Kpuil Mel, Montagnard Christian activist arrested November 2011 and sentenced to nine years in prison
  • Kpuil Le, Montagnard Christian activist arrested November 2011 and sentenced to eight years in prison (expected to be released this month)
  • Nguyen Van Teo, arrested November 2016, with very little information available about his case
  • Tran Linh, arrested November 2016, with very little information available about his case
  • Le Thi Hong Hanh, Hoa Hao Buddhist arrested November 13, 2017, and sentenced to three years in prison
  • Thich Nhat Hue, arrested November 16, 2016, co-defendant in the case of pro-democracy activist Luu Van Vinh, sentenced to eight years in prison
Activists at Risk

On November 15, 2019, environmental and pro-democracy activist Dinh Thao returned to Vietnam after nearly four years of capacity building and advocating for human rights for Vietnam across tens of countries around the world. Soon after she landed at Noi Bai international airport in Hanoi at 9:30 am local time, she was taken into interrogation by a group of ten security officials. Within a few hours of the news, international media and human rights organizations quickly condemned the detention and called for her release, including BBC VietnameseAmnesty InternationalFIDHHuman Rights FoundationHuman Rights Watch, and The 88 Project. She was released at 5:00 pm local time, after eight hours of detention and interrogation.


Public Protest
On November 12, 2019, in a very unexpected event in Ha Noi, dozens of former officers of the Public Security forces of Dong Anh District, Ha Noi City, participated in a demonstration to protest a nearly 20-year delay in a housing development project. According to news sources, in 2002, the Public Security Department of Dong Anh Districts was allocated land to develop a housing project for their eligible members. The members were required to pay around 100 million VND at the time. After more than 15 years, however, no progress has been made on the project. News about his event has quickly gone viral in Vietnamese social media, since the public security forces in Vietnam are often the perpetrators of violations against the rights of freedom of assembly and freedom of expression.



Vietnam drops a legal gauntlet in South China Sea, Richard Javad Heydarian, Asia Times, November 12, 2019: “If Vietnam does seek to internationalize the sea disputes through court action, recent history shows Beijing will not take kindly to the legal threat. The resort to legal action would also more clearly align Vietnam with its budding ally the US, which has consistently advocated that customary international law should be upheld in the strategic waterway.”

Is Vietnam Now A Country Without A Solid Leader?, Quynh-Vi Tran, The Vietnamese, November 13, 2019: “But why can’t the public in Vietnam be informed about the health of their top leaders and about their fitness for office? The answer probably would lie in the manner with which the Communist Party controls and decides elections, as well as its appointment of the top leadership in Vietnam. Despite having a law on elections, in reality, voting in Vietnam is essentially meaningless. Vietnamese people often joke that we don’t have free elections, but rather a selection. And it is a selection that takes place among the Communist Party’s factions, after all the infighting has settled.”

New Doc Charts How “Vietnam’s Lady Gaga” Became an Activist Banned From Playing in Her Own Country, Matthew Scott, The Hollywood Reporter, November 14, 2019: “‘I think if people see this documentary they will understand my activities and my music more than before,’ Khoi tells The Hollywood Reporter from New York, where she attended the premiere. ‘It will inspire people to care and make a change in society. Especially I hope it will inspire Vietnamese artist to create without thinking about censorship.’ At the time of talking, Khoi was not even sure she would be allowed to return to her homeland, believing the documentary would further raise the ire of a traditionally conservative government she said had done its utmost to silence her, and her music.”


Imprisoned religious freedom activist and Hoa Hao Buddhist Vuong Van Tha is facing inhumane treatment in prison. His family has been cut off any communication and has not been allowed to send supplies. We spoke to his family to gain insight into the situation. Watch the interview, here.


Share Amnesty International’s statement in support of female activist Dinh Thao, who was detained and interrogated for eight hours upon her re-entry into Vietnam for the first time in several years. You can also share Human Rights Watch’s statements calling for music teacher Nguyen Nang Tinh’s release from prison and for authorities to drop charges against Nguyen Van Vien, Chau Van Kham, and Tran Van Quyen. Please share the stories of these peaceful activists.
© 2019 The 88 Project