Vietnam Free Expression Newsletter No. 5/2018 – Week of January 29-February 4

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 January 29-February 4. Tran Hoang Phuc, Vu Quang Thuan, and Nguyen Van Dien were sentenced to 6, 8, and 6.5 years in prison on January 31. One day later, Dr. Ho Van Hai was sentenced to four years in prison in an unannounced trial. Pastor Doan Van Dien has been released from police custody after more than a month of detention. Read Radio Free Asia’s interview with Vu Minh Khanh, Nguyen Van Dai’s wife, after her recent visit with him. In the news, read commentary about environmental reporting in Vietnam, the government’s reaction to increased activism, and new democracy and rule of law rankings for Vietnam. On February 6, environmental activists Hoang Duc Binh and Nguyen Nam Phong face trial. On February 9, so do six Hoa Hao Buddhists. Take action and share Human Rights Watch’s appeal to free Vu Quang Thuan, Nguyen Van Dien, and Tran Hoang Phuc.

Tet, the Vietnamese Lunar New Year, is around the corner. Please consider contributing to the Doan Ket Fund, a fund established by the NOW! Campaign to support prisoners of conscience in Vietnam and their families, to show solidarity with them during this most important holiday of the year.

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Prisoners of Conscience
Prisoner collage 3Vu Quang Thuan and Nguyen Van Dien
On January 31, Tran Hoang Phuc (left), Nguyen Van Dien (middle), and Vu Quang Thuan (right), were sentenced to a total of 20.5 years in prison in Hanoi under Article 88, cl. 1, of the 1999 Criminal Code. Video blogging partners Thuan and Dien were sentenced to 8 and 6.5 years, respectively. Twenty-three-year-old Phuc was a participant in the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI), a U.S. government leadership development and networking program in Southeast Asia. He assisted Thuan and Dien with posting some of their videos and was sentenced to 6 years. The defendants asked the Court to view the videos in question, but the Court denied the request because of alleged logistical obstacles to viewing them, even though Thuan offered to pay for equipment that the Court lacked. Several local activists were prohibited by plainclothes police from leaving their homes to attend the trial. The EU in-country delegation’s request to send a member to watch the trial was denied.
Ho Van Hai
On February 1, in a secret trial that was unknown to other activists, Dr. Ho Van Hai was sentenced to four years in prison and two years of probation in Ho Chi Minh City. He was tried under Article 88 for posting online content and rallying support for an election boycott and protests of Formosa following the 2016 environmental disaster. Hai had been in pre-trial detention since November 2016.
Nguyen Van Dai
On January 29, Vu Minh Khanh, imprisoned human rights lawyer Nguyen Van Dai’s wife, was able to briefly visit Dai in prison and speak with him through a glass screen. She reported to Radio Free Asia that his resolve is strong, but his health is suffering in prison and he has not been allowed to secure his own lawyer. “The prison is designed in an evil way to torture the prisoners. It is very cold in the winter and very hot in the summer. He always has to suffer from such extremes. Besides that, the prison is very close to the highway, so that every night he has a hard time trying to sleep because the passing trucks make the whole building rumble and shake. They also do things like cut off the water to add additional indirect distress. My husband also suffers from constant intestinal pain, and I am worried because his skin seems to be getting darker and darker.” Dai is the founder of the Brotherhood for Democracy. He was arrested in December 2015 and still has not been brought to trial; his colleague, Le Thu Ha, also remains in pre-trial detention.
Activists at Risk
Authorities released Pastor Doan Van Dien on January 30 after having held him in detention since Christmas Eve. He was held for unknown reasons, and the family believes Dien’s arrest was a ploy to actually arrest Doan Huy Chuong, Dien’s son, a labor activist and former political prisoner.


Environmental reporting in Vietnam often a comedy of errors: “On the ground, this translates to heavily restricted access for journalists, cagey responses to questions, and absolutely zero interest from anyone involved in the government in talking to the press. Over the last year in particular, numerous citizen journalists have received lengthy prison sentences for writing about corruption and environmental abuses. Since starting as a Vietnam-based correspondent for Mongabay in 2016, I’ve come to rely on NGOs such as the WWF and Forest Trends for access to information and guides when in the field reporting. I quickly learned that emails to government ministries go unread.”

‘A crisis for human rights’: new index reveals global fall in basic justice: “The Philippines ranks among the worst performers in a region – East Asia and Pacific – where more than two-thirds of countries experienced a decrease in their overall rule of law score. Thailand and Vietnam also dropped significantly (seven places each), while Cambodia remains bottom of the region, and second bottom overall after Venezuela.” For the full World Justice Project Rule of Law Index 2017-2018, click here.

The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index 2017: “In China and Vietnam dissenters are locked up in large numbers and on a far bigger scale than anywhere else (Turkey’s recent clampdown on the media is comparable in its highly repressive treatment of journalists, who are accused of seeking to undermine or overthrow the president and the government).” Vietnam fell to a low 140 out of 167 with a total score of 3.08 (from a combined score including subcategories such as civil liberties and political culture) — its worst score since 2012. It’s ranked 25 out of 28 countries in the Asia & Australia category.

“Hostile forces” out to destroy Communist party: police: “The increased rhetoric about internal threats and subversion matches an escalating campaign to silence and imprison government critics, and the recent labelling of a second exile group in the United States as a terrorist organisation. Mr Trong has put much emphasis on ideological rectitude, following years of emphasis on growth and development, since his reappointment as general-secretary of the party in January 2016.”


Hoang Duc Binh and Nguyen Nam Phong’s trial will be held on February 6, 2018, in Nghe An. The environmental activists were involved in Formosa protests. Binh, vice president of the independent Viet Labour Movement and a well-known blogger who covered news on the environmental disaster, is charged with “resisting persons in the performance of their official duties” under Article 330 and “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the State” under Article 331 of the new 2015 Criminal Code. Phong is charged with “resisting persons in the performance of their official duties” under Article 330.
Bui Van TrungBui Van ThamNguyen Hoang NamLe Thi Hong Hanh
Six Hoa Hao Buddhists: Bui Van TrungBui Van Tham, Nguyen Hoang Nam, and Le Thi Hong Hanh (left to right, above) who are currently in pre-trial detention, and Le Thi Hen and Bui Thi Bich Tuyen (Bui Van Trung’s wife and daughter whose movement is restricted within their locality even though they are not in detention) will be tried on February 9 in An Giang province. Bui Van Tham is charged under Article 257 (“resisting persons in the performance of their official duties”) and Article 245 (“causing public disorder”), while the other five are charged under Article 245. According to the indictment by the People’s Procuracy of An Phu district on November 30, 2017 (available in Vietnamese here), the defendants “disturbed the public order and impacted the safety and order of the traffic, causing a traffic jam on national route 91C by hindering, obstructing, pushing, and screaming to provoke and denounce transportation police.” According to supporters, this is a case of repression against Hoa Hao Buddhist disciples who came for the commemoration of the death of Bui Van Trung’s mother at Ut Trung sangha.


Share Human Rights Watch’s press release demanding the Vietnamese government release and drop charges against Vu Quang Thuan, Nguyen Van Dien, and Tran Hoang Phuc.

Consider contributing to the Doan Ket Fund, a fund established by the NOW! Campaign to support prisoners of conscience in Vietnam. Doan Ket is Vietnamese for solidarity. All donations go directly and entirely to prisoners of conscience and their families or to individuals identified by the NOW! Campaign as at risk of arrest, detention, and imprisonment.

 © 2018 The 88 Project