Vietnam Free Expression Newsletter No. 6/2019 – Week of February 4-10
Featured Image: Former political prisoner, Truong Duy Nhat, currently missing, at his 2014 trial. Source: AFP Photo/Vietnam News Agency
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 February 4-10. Activist Chau Van Kham’s wife published an open letter this week officially confirming his arrest in Vietnam after he traveled there for a “fact-finding” mission. Michael Nguyen’s wife went to Washington DC to lobby for his release from prison after Nguyen, a US citizen, was detained eight months ago while on a trip to visit family in Vietnam. This week, we remember the trials of environmental and labor rights activist Hoang Duc Binh, Binh’s driver Nguyen Nam Phong, and six Hoa Hao Buddhists, on their one-year anniversaries, as well as the arrest of Nguyen Van Truong. Truong posted content online that was critical of the state; he remains in incommunicado detention a year after his arrest. Meanwhile, blogger and former political prisoner Truong Duy Nhat is still missing over two weeks after he was last seen in Thailand, and some now fear that he has been abducted by Vietnamese agents. Vietnam once again has been classified as “Not Free” by Freedom House in its annual report, “Freedom in the World.” And in news and analysis, read about the preservation of the ethnic minority Hmong culture in Vietnam, as well as commentary on labor rights in Vietnam and on the complicated line in Asia between filtering out fake news and restricting free speech. In case you missed it, five people have been arrested in Vietnam for activism in less than one month; two other activists are currently missing. If you’d like to support these or other activists at risk and political prisoners, please consider donating to the Conscience Fund, run by Dr. Nguyen Quang A.
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HUMAN RIGHTS & CIVIL SOCIETY
On February 1, 2019, nine Members of the European Parliament sent a letter to Vietnam to call for Hoang Duc Binh’s unconditional release and remind the Vietnamese authorities of their human rights obligations, as trade negotiations between the EU and Vietnam continue. The MEPs also highlighted “the importance for Hoang Duc Binh to be allowed to remain inside his home country, Vietnam, and not forced into exile as a precondition for his release.”
We also remember six Hoa Hao Buddhists — Bui Van Trung, Bui Van Tham, Nguyen Hoang Nam, Le Thi Hong Hanh, Bui Thi Bich Tuyen, and Le Thi Hen (not pictured) — who were tried in An Giang Province on February 9, 2018. Bui Van Tham was charged under Article 257 of the 1999 Criminal Code (“resisting persons in the performance of their official duties”) and Article 245 (“causing public disorder”), while the other five were charged under Article 245. Trung and Tham were sentenced to six years in prison; Nam was sentenced to four; Hanh and Tuyen were sentenced to three; and Hen was given a two-year suspended sentence. While authorities charged the six for a causing a traffic jam, many believe this is actually a case of religious repression against the disciples who had gathered for the commemoration of the death of Bui Van Trung’s mother.
Nhat allegedly left Vietnam for Thailand after he found out that he faced risk of re-arrest. Some say Nhat potentially had information that could be damaging to the Vietnamese Prime Minister and now fear that Nhat was abducted by Vietnamese agents. Thai officials say they do not have a record of Nhat’s entry into the country but are now investigating his disappearance. The US supports the investigation. Both Reporters Without Borders and the Committee to Protect Journalists have called for immediate investigation into Nhat’s disappearance.
NEWS & ANALYSIS
The battle for Hmong heritage in Vietnam: “Bao had been living in Hanoi, but on return to the family home, he discovered local authorities had taken ownership of the palace and rejected his claim to it because he could not provide deeds. He branded the request ‘absurd’ and said official documents did not exist when the property was built but his family’s connection to it was set out in history books about the local area and even in pictures of it displayed in the museum. Many Hmong fear the government is simply commandeering their culture to boost tourism dollars. For Bao, his battle for repossession goes beyond the personal.”
Between fake news and press freedom: “ASEAN governments for the most part, have continued prioritising concerns about the spread of false news as opposed to the freedom of the press. In fact, false and misleading news was among the chief topics at the 14th meeting of the ASEAN Ministers Responsible for Information (AMRI) in May last year. The ministers issued a declaration on a framework to minimise the harmful effects of fake news and agreed that member-countries should work together to improve digital literacy, encourage relevant agencies to develop guidelines for responding to fake news, and to share best practices.”
Vietnam: When Workers’ Rights Face Resistance From A Socialist Government: “On the ground, the Vietnamese government is proposing a roadmap that could take almost five years to get all three ILO conventions ratified. It is not fast enough for the EU’s MEPs, and as of right now, these ILO conventions continue to be part of the obstacles to move the EV-FTA forward. Vietnam maintains that its current Labor Code and legal framework would protect the rights of workers in the country while waiting for the Draft of the amended Labor Code to be reviewed and passed by its Congress later in 2019, paving the way for the ratification of the ILO conventions to take place between now and 2023.”
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
Nguyen Van Vien, Source: Brotherhood for Democracy (left). Tran Van Quyen, Source: Facebook Nguyen Van Mieng (right)
While many of us have been celebrating Tet, there is a dark reality about freedom of expression in Vietnam. In just the past four weeks, seven people have been arrested or have disappeared:
— Chau Van Kham (m), Australian activist and member of overseas democracy group Viet Tan, arrested January 13
— Nguyen Van Vien (m), environmental activist and member of the Brotherhood for Democracy, arrested January 13
— Tran Van Quyen (m), allegedly arrested for connection to Viet Tan, arrested January 23
— Huynh Minh Tam (m), Facebooker, arrested January 26
— Truong Duy Nhat (m), former political prisoner disappeared in Thailand (where he was attempting to seek asylum), missing since January 26
— Dieu Hang (f), Facebooker, missing since January 28
— Duong Thi Lanh (f), Facebooker, arrested January 30
Would you like to help Vietnamese political prisoners and activists arrested and missing in recent weeks? Donate to the Conscience Fund, managed by Mr. Nguyen Quang A and other activists inside Vietnam. The fund was established in May 2017 with the commitment that “no families will be abandoned when their loved ones are being imprisoned because of their struggle for human rights in Vietnam.”
© 2019 The 88 Project