Vietnam Free Expression Newsletter No. 49/2019 – Week of December 2-8

Featured Image: Loc Hung protest on December 3, Source: Facebook Vườn Rau Lộc Hưng

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 December 2-8. Eight members of the Hien Phap group will face trial on December 25. One of the members, Le Quy Loc, was finally able to meet with an attorney more than a year after his initial arrest. Journalist Le Anh Hung continues to be forcibly medicated behind bars. This week, we share a translation of some of Tran Huynh Duy Thuc’s writing, reminding global audiences of his commitment to Vietnamese democracy and economic and social improvement. Many activists and communities were at risk this week, including environmental activist Cao Vinh Thinh and the Loc Hung vegetable garden community. Death row inmate Ho Duy Hai’s case will be submitted for further review for possible judicial misconduct after a years-long public campaign to re-examine the case. In the news, read an interview with imprisoned Australian citizen Chau Van Kham’s family and analysis on Vietnam’s positions on current political and maritime issues. And please take action for Chau Van Kham and his co-defendants Tran Van Quyen and Nguyen Van Vien this week by sharing Human Rights Watch’s letter to the Australian foreign minister, calling on her to press for the three’s release from prison.

Finally, thanks to everyone who donated in support of our Giving Tuesday fundraiser!


Prisoners of Conscience

On November 29, 2019, activist Le Quy Loc, who was arrested on September 3, 2018 on the accusation of “disrupting security,” was finally able to consult an attorney for his case. The People’s Procuracy of Ho Chi Minh City issued the Notification of Defense Attorney Approval, which recognizes Attorney Nguyen Van Mieng as Loc’s lawyer.  More than a year after his arrest, Loc still defends his innocence, and he was not permitted to meet with any relatives until August 4, 2019, when he asked for his family’s support to secure him a lawyer. Loc is one of several Hien Phap activists who are set to face trial on December 25. December 2 marked Loc’s second birthday spent in prison.

From top left, clockwise: Doan Thi Hong, Ngo Van Dung, Do The Hoa, Ho Dinh Cuong, and Hoang Thi Thu Vang
The People’s Court of Ho Chi Minh City will try eight activists who belong to the Hien Phap group starting on December 25. They are: Le Quy LocDoan Thi HongNguyen Thi Ngoc HanhNgo Van DungTran Thanh PhuongDo The HoaHo Dinh Cuong, and Hoang Thi Thu Vang. All were arrested ahead of a planned protest in Ho Chi Minh City in September 2018. The Hien Phap (Constitution) group, was established on June 16, 2017, with the aim to promote peoples’ understanding of their human rights in the 2013 Constitution.

Le Anh Hung‘s mother visited him on December 5 and shared that the doctor kept increasing Hung’s anti-psychotic medication, which has made him very sick. He also has started developing symptoms such as hallucinations and insomnia. He has been forced to take the medication against his will and has been subjected to forced mental health treatment for much of his time in detention. Hung is a journalist who was arrested in July 2018 and still awaits trial.

On November 29, 2019, blogger and entrepreneur Tran Huynh Duy Thuc spent his 11th birthday in prison – and he still will have to serve five more behind bars until he can celebrate out in the world with his family. Last week, we interviewed his daughter to get an update on his current situation. And this week, we would like to share more of Thuc’s writing to continue to remind the world of his commitment to Vietnamese democracy and economic and social improvement. In one of the many letters he sent home, Thuc wrote: “The Path to Justice will not only lead me home, it will also bring a brighter future for everyone. Otherwise, why would I even choose imprisonment? Why would we, out of personal concerns, choose to spend a few years less in jail at the expense of justice? Realizing that point is the key to understanding the importance of creativity. Our greatest strength is our ability to think creatively. If we just blindly and diligently follow the same old paths, we won’t be able to avoid a bleak future. Not even for another thousand years.” Read the full translation of his letter, here.

This week, we remember the birthdays of the following political prisoners:

  • Nguyen Dinh Khue, birthday December 3, an activist who was tried last week and sentenced to 28 months in prison

  • Vu Quang Thuan, birthday December 5, a pro-democracy blogger who is serving an 8-year sentence
Activists at Risk
On November 29 2019, Vu Huy Hoang, a well-known grassroots activist who lives and works in Ho Chi Minh City as a taxi driver, informed the public about the constant harassment that his family (including his wife and two kids) has been subjected to because of his activism. In his testimonial, Hoang accepts the fact that the political climate in Vietnam is forcing people like him to a dead-end, but he is willing to face it since he believes his struggle can contribute to a better future for his children. He also disclosed that after attending several demonstrations, on October 15, 2019, he was unlawfully detained and seriously beaten, and he is still having health issues from the incident. After this incident, he moved out to make sure that his wife and kids would not be affected by his activism. Unfortunately, the local public security has repeatedly harassed the family with invitations “to talk” at the local office. Hoang also noted that his wife and kids are being watched even when traveling to school, going to the market, or visiting relatives. Hoang asserts that his activism does not have anything to do with his family and requests that the regime respects the rule of law.

Hoang spoke to Radio Free Asia and disclosed details about the incident in October and his views on activism. He seems to have been at least partially targeted for delivering books for the unsanctioned Liberal Publishing House, which has been under recent scrutiny from the authorities (Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch released a joint statement in support of the publishing house) even though this is not his main job. “I just do what I can in a very small way to help make this a better society,” he told RFA. “As a taxi driver, I come into contact every day with people from various walks of life, and I see many things that are unjust.” Hoang reported to RFA that his family’s conditions had improved since Hoang came forward to explain the harassment against them.

On the morning of December 5, 2019, a large group of self-proclaimed public security officers surrounded environmental activist Cao Vinh Thinh’s house and requested that she open the door. She rejected the group’s request, and they eventually left, but only after waiting for a while. It is possible that they wanted to prevent Thinh from having lunch with the German State Secretary of the Federal Foreign Office to talk about the current human rights situation in Vietnam. Thinh is an active member of Green Trees, a civil society group that works to promote environmental protection and human rights. The group has recently been subjected to a crackdown by the authorities, and Thinh herself was kidnapped and interrogated about the group’s activities earlier this year.

Bach Hong Quyen and family, Source: Steve Russell/Toronto Star
In some good news this week, environmental activist Bach Hong Quyen — who fled Vietnam after the crackdown on environmental protests in the wake of the 2016 Formosa environmental disaster — is safe in Canada with his family. Quyen was previously in prison in Vietnam and feared re-arrest after promoting human rights in his community. He and his family also faced harassment while seeking asylum.

Community at Risk

Loc Hung protest on December 3, Source: Facebook Vườn Rau Lộc Hưng
On the morning of December 3, 2019, the authorities of Tan Binh District, Ho Chi Minh city deployed hundreds of people to the area of Loc Hung vegetable garden to hang a map of a “development plan” for the area, which then prompted a quick response from the residents, who had lost their houses and properties in the area after forced evictions earlier this year. Many people showed up to observe and record the process. In the afternoon, a government speaker located in the area started broadcasting incorrect information such as “the authority has provided adequate compensation for the residents,” “the residents have met and agreed on the displacement and compensation plan with the authority,” and “the area is public land.” The residents, hence, participated in a small-scale demonstration to protest against the inappropriate propaganda. 2019 started with the high-profile forced eviction of residents of Loc Hung vegetable garden, which is a Catholic residential neighborhood situated in the middle of Ho Chi Minh city. Hundreds of residents, many of them political activists, suddenly found themselves homeless, with neither compensation for the lost land nor the benefit of a resettlement program. They have become Dan Oan, or Victims of Injustice, a term that people whose land has been seized with little or no compensation call themselves.

The authorities targeted a disabled veterans program this week in Tien Giang province, preventing a group from handing out donations. The event was part of a series of events held around the country to support disabled veterans of the former Republic of Vietnam, whose military service is not recognized by the state. The event was hosted by volunteers and Rev. Ho Dac Tam of the Redemptorist Church. Police and thugs alike intervened in the event, prohibiting many veterans from receiving the donations, which were intended to be gifts for the upcoming Vietnamese New Year.

Death Penalty
The infamous case of death-row inmate Ho Duy Hai finally has support from a state agency. On December 1, 2019, the Supreme People’s Procuracy submitted their official request for a cassation review (a type of appellate review) on the case of Ho Duy Hai, with several important findings noted. The request points out that the investigation process and trial procedure have left out many contradictions, judicial misconducts, and even abuse of power. These include the fact that the weapon used could not be found but was bought and added to the case profile by the investigators; there are unknown fingerprints at the crime scene that have yet to be examined; a bloodstain found at the crime scene was also not analyzed by DNA test; and the investigators ignored witnesses’ testimonies and even omitted evidence. Ho Duy Hai is accused of committing murder and robbery in Long An Province. His attorneys and the lawyer community have repeatedly raised concerns about the legality of the case and its procedures, but they were unable to affect the outcome of the case. In both the first instance and appeal trials, Hai was sentenced to death. In 2014, after an outcry when the public became aware about the poor judicial standards and investigative misconduct, the Office of the President issued a decree to request a deferral in executing the sentence. The case highlights a sinister “business-as-usual” alliance between the public security forces, the procuracy and the court, where they usually discuss and agree to a specific judgment before the trial even occurs.

International Advocacy

Chau Van Kham, Nguyen Van Vien, and Tran Van Quyen
Human Rights Watch (HRW) sent a letter to Australia’s foreign minister, Marise Payne, urging her to press for the release of Australian citizen Chau Van Kham and his co-defendants, Nguyen Van Vien and Tran Van Quyen. The three were tried in November and handed long prison sentences, targeted for their affiliation with overseas pro-democracy group Viet Tan. Elaine Pearson, Australia director of HRW, said of the men: “They are being prosecuted simply for their affiliation with a foreign political group deemed a threat to the Communist Party of Vietnam.” HRW also raised concerns about potential procedural issues with the detentions and the trial. Read the full letter, here.
In its latest global report, CIVICUS has listed Vietnam as “closed” in regards to its civic space, noting its oppressive “national security” laws and surveillance against activists. The top violations of civic space in the Asia-Pacific region are: censorship, restrictive law, criminal defamation, harassment, and protesters detained. Read the full report, here.


‘Please, bring him back’: family fear Australian democracy activist will die in Vietnamese jail, Ben Doherty, The Guardian, December 6, 2019: “Chau’s [Van Kham] son Daniel tells Guardian Australia his father’s serious health conditions have deteriorated badly in prison and his isolation has heightened his family’s fears. ‘Twelve years is pretty much a death sentence. Dad is suffering.'”

US, China rivalry puts Vietnam in a no-win bind, David Hutt, Asia Times, December 4, 2019: “The largest protests in recent decades took place last year against a hated law on special economic zones that anti-China demonstrators claimed would effectively cede Vietnamese land to Chinese businesses and investors. Despite what the maxim says, full alignment with China would more likely lead to the ‘collapse of communism’ in Vietnam than a full embrace of the US. Indeed, the US has willfully looked the other way on Vietnam’s persistent rights abuses against mostly pro-democracy activists in pursuit of closer strategic and economic ties. Donald Trump’s administration has largely followed the precedent set by his predecessor Barack Obama of paying lip service to human rights, but doing little to punish Vietnam for its repression. Nor have new deals and strategic agreements been conditioned on demonstrable progress on rights.”

Vietnam Draws Lines in the Sea, Huong Le Thu, Foreign Policy, December 6, 2019: “In a much more detailed fashion than past defense white papers, the 2019 version refers to the escalating nature of threats in the East Sea as well as Hanoi’s position toward them. Hanoi explicitly declared support for innocent passage, congruent with the principle regularly invoked by the United States and its allies to justify freedom of navigation operations, as well as the security and safety of navigation and overflight on the East Sea. This is one of the strongest forms of support expressed by Vietnam, particularly important given that other Southeast Asian claimants are increasingly reluctant to express such support for the freedom of navigation operations. The white paper calls for taking no actions that would complicate the situation or expand disputes, at the same time avoiding militarization, threat, or use of force.”


This week was Giving Tuesday, and we almost reached our goal of $1,000 to support freedom of expression in Vietnam! Thank you to all of our supporters!


Please take action for Chau Van Kham, Tran Van Quyen, and Nguyen Van Vien by sharing Human Rights Watch’s letter to Australia’s foreign minister, calling on her to urge Vietnam to immediately release the three activists, who were sentenced to between 10 and 12 years in prison last month. Share the letter.
© 2019 The 88 Project