The Washington Post: Apparent crackdown in Vietnam on social media, but many users undeterred

Vietnamese activist Anh Chi searches the Internet at Tu Do (Freedom) cafe in Hanoi. REUTERS/Kham (Kham/Reuters)

By Vincent Bevins

HANOI — The police in ­communist-led Vietnam have been cracking down especially hard on free expression over social media for the past few months.

Or, at least as far as experts, regular users and dissident bloggers can tell, that seems to be the case.

“Even activists in Vietnam struggle to say how many people are actually caught and arrested” for online activity, said Janice Beanland, a campaigner at Amnesty International. “But one striking thing is that Vietnamese activists seem not to be deterred.”

Vietnam doesn’t have the resources of its big neighbor to the north to maintain a “great firewall” or its own social media platforms. So Facebook and other global social networks are popular here. They are filled daily with all kinds of political speech, including quite direct attacks on the government. Vocal users wonder whether their output is being watched, and rumors swirl about shutdowns or hacking.

It’s not clear to anyone on the Web here exactly what the rules are, leading some to question whether Vietnamese censorship is haphazard and counterproductive or part of a more considered strategy to create an efficient chilling effect.

Those who take free speech too far risk harassment or arrest. But how far is too far?

“It’s getting more difficult for us. Why? Some people say that Donald Trump doesn’t care about human rights, and so the [Vietnamese] Communist Party feels more free. I don’t think that is the full answer,” said Nguyen Chi Tuyen, known as “Anh Chi” online, one of the country’s most prominent dissidents now that two of his peers have been handed long prison sentences. “They also want to threaten a younger group which is thinking of following us.”

He was sitting in downtown Hanoi, at a self-declared ­“hipster” cafe decorated with tongue-in-cheek celebrations of the North Vietnamese communist forces that defeated the United States 40-some years ago. Downstairs, well-dressed Vietnamese youth clacked away on Apple products.

“I am safe at this cafe now,” he said, looking around. “But I have been arrested more times than I can count and could go to jail anytime.”

There are many users, nonetheless, who have not been slowed by the uncertainty.

“I used to be a little afraid [of getting in trouble], but not anymore,” said Luke Nguyen, a real estate investor, sitting in an upscale Ho Chi Minh City cafe. He showed a piece of sexually explicit satire he recently posted publicly about the case of Trinh Xuan Thanh, a former Vietnamese oil executive Germany said was abducted by his own country in Berlin. “Because I’m just a little guy, not even an activist, just a citizen exchanging ideas.”

This sentiment — you can probably say what you want, as long as you aren’t famous – can be heard often in Vietnam. But Beanland said that even if most of the arrests that get attention are of high-profile dissidents, there may be much more going on that does not make headlines.

“It appears that there have been more arrests recently. But what we hear about may just be the tip of the iceberg,” she said.

This year so far, Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, known as “Mother Mushroom,” and Tran Thi Nga, often called Thuy Nga, were given long sentences. Mother Mushroom got 10 years, while Thuy Nga got nine.

Facebook is the social network most often used to express political opinions here, and for many other daily activities as well. New SIM cards in Vietnam often come bundled with free Facebook usage, and many citizens use its Messenger app in lieu of text messages. But it wasn’t always clear that Mark Zuckerberg’s company would play such an important role in the world’s 14th-largest country.

In 2013, then-Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung announced the goal of building a homegrown social network for young Vietnamese people. But in early 2015, he acknowledged that it would be impossible to ban social media platforms such as Facebook. “You here have all joined social networks, you’ve all got Facebook up on your phones to read information. We cannot ban it,” Dung told his cabinet members. “We must publish accurate information online immediately.”

Instead, the government has set up its own Facebook page, to keep the public in the loop on new policies or to live-stream monthly cabinet meetings.

“The Communist Party of Vietnam is in a bind,” said Zachary Abuza, a professor researching Southeast Asian politics at the National War College in Washington. “It is committed to maintaining its monopoly of power and, as such, feels threatened by unfettered social media. Yet its Internet is relatively open, and they have nothing like the Great Firewall of China.”

Vietnam’s intermittent censorship doesn’t exist only online; it often appears that the state acts in cyberspace the same way it operates elsewhere. In the capital, it’s quite easy to come across almost clumsy or comical surveillance. At the recent opening night of an art exhibition in Hanoi, a slightly overweight man in casual clothes walked in. “Oh, that’s the spy, he comes to every opening,” said the artists to a group of visitors. “He just eats all our snacks and drinks all the wine and then leaves.”

He proceeded to do exactly that. But censorship is not always a joke for Vietnam’s artists, who say they can have exhibitions shut down for reasons that are never explained to them.

The surveillance extends to sports, as well. The dissident soccer team No-U FC plans the location of its weekly games — on Facebook — just before kickoff to avoid having cops show up to disrupt them. The team’s name is a rejection of the U-shaped delineation of China’s claim in the South China Sea. For dissidents, nationalist opposition to Chinese aggression is their biggest issue.

“I’d like to see electoral democracy, but not everyone I know agrees. But almost everyone I know opposes China. China is less popular than communism,” said Pham Anh Cuong, a member of No-U FC. As he was talking over lunch, he got a Facebook message and burst out laughing. “A friend just saw something I posted criticizing a local official and is asking me to take it down.”

Would he? He laughed louder. “Of course not! Why would I?”


Source from The Washington Post

Amnesty International: Missing Human Rights Defender At Risk Of Torture: Nguyễn Bắc Truyển



Former prisoner of conscience, Nguyễn Bắc Truyển was last seen on 30 July 2017 after dropping off his wife outside her place of work in Ho Chi Minh City, Viet Nam. Although State media reported that he was arrested by authorities, more than three weeks later his wife has received no official confirmation from police as to the accusations against him or his place of detention. He is at risk of torture or other ill-treatment and has preexisting medical conditions that require treatment.

The whereabouts of Nguyễn Bắc Truyển remain unknown since he was forcibly disappeared on 30 July 2017. According to State media reports, he was arrested for “carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the People’s Administration” under Article 79 of the 1999 Penal Code. The offence, which falls under the vaguely worded “national security” section of the Penal Code, provides for a sentence of up to life imprisonment or capital punishment. On the same day that Nguyễn Bắc Truyển was forcibly disappeared, three other activists were formally arrested in the presence of one or more family members. The families of those activists have since been informed either verbally or in writing that the men are being held at

On the same day that Nguyễn Bắc Truyển was forcibly disappeared, three other activists were formally arrested in the presence of one or more family members. The families of those activists have since been informed either verbally or in writing that the men are being held at B14 prison in Ha Noi. Despite requesting information from police, the family of Nguyễn Bắc Truyển have received no similar confirmation as to his whereabouts and they fear for his safety. Nguyễn Bắc Truyển suffers from heart and bowel conditions that could deteriorate if he does not have access to the medication he requires.

A former prisoner of conscience, Nguyễn Bắc Truyển is a follower of Hòa Hảo Buddhism, a minority religious tradition centred primarily in the south of Viet Nam. He was arrested in 2006 and imprisoned for three and a half years after being convicted of “conducting propaganda” against the State for providing legal advice to land grab victims. On 24 February 2014, Nguyễn Bắc Truyển and his wife were pulled from a taxi in Ha Noi by men in plain clothes and severely beaten while on the way to the Australian embassy to discuss the harassment they had faced from police in Đồng Tháp province in the lead up to their wedding. His wife has recalled four other specific incidents in 2015 and 2016 when one or both of them were beaten or attacked by men in plain clothes.
Please write immediately in Vietnamese, English, or your own language urging Vietnamese authorities to:

+ Immediately disclose the whereabouts of Nguyễn Bắc Truyển;

+ Release Nguyễn Bắc Truyển immediately and unconditionally if he is in State custody, as it appears he has been deprived of his liberty solely for peacefully exercising his rights to freedom of expression and association;

+ Pending his release, ensure that Nguyễn Bắc Truyển is protected from torture and other ill-treatment and is allowed access to his family, a lawyer of his choice, and adequate medical care.


Prime Minister
Nguyễn Xuân Phúc
Prime Minister’s Office
Hà Nội, Việt Nam
Salutation: Your Excellency

Minister of Public Security
To Lam
44 Yết Kiêu St. Hoàn Kiếm District Hà
Nội, Việt Nam
Fax: + 844 3823 1872
c/o Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Salutation: Dear Minister

And copies to: Minister of Foreign Affairs and Deputy Prime Minister
Phạm Bình Minh
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
1 Ton That Dam Street, Ba Dinh district
Hà Nội, Việt Nam
Fax: + 844 3823 1872

Also send copies to diplomatic representatives accredited to your country. Please insert local diplomatic addresses below:
Name Address 1 Address 2 Address 3 Fax Fax number Email Email address Salutation Salutation


Before his arrest, Nguyễn Bắc Truyển was working for a Christian church in Ho Chi Minh City, contributing to a charitable program that supports war veterans. He has monitored and reported on the harassment of religious minorities in Viet Nam and in 2014 he met with the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief during a country visit to Viet Nam. He has also provided legal advice to victims of land grabs and police harassment, and helped to facilitate charitable support to the families of prisoners of conscience.

The three other activists that were arrested the same day as Nguyễn Bắc Truyển are Phạm Văn Trội, 45, from Ha Noi; Trương Minh Đức, 57, from Ho Chi Minh City; and Nguyễn Trung Tôn, 45, from Thanh Hoa province. Each of them has previously been imprisoned for their peaceful activities (see A fifth individual, Nguyen Trung Truc, was arrested on 4 August 2017. According to State media, all five men are alleged to have connections to human rights lawyer Nguyễn Văn Đài who was himself arrested in Ha Noi on 16 December 2015 and, along with his colleague Le Thu Ha, is also accused of committing an offence under Article 79 of the Penal Code (see ASA 41/3098/2015 ).

Although Hòa Hảo Buddhism is an officially recognized religion in Viet Nam, historically there has been tension between its adherents and the Communist Party of Viet Nam. Individuals and families who choose to practice the religion independently of State-sanctioned religious authorities often face harassment from authorities.

Nguyễn Bắc Truyển is a former prisoner of conscience. He was arrested in November 2006 and imprisoned for three and a half years after being convicted of “conducting propaganda” against the State. According to his wife, Bui Thi Kim Phuong, he was accused of giving incorrect information to victims of land grabs, thereby turning them against the government. Nguyễn Bắc Truyển was released from prison in May 2010 but was briefly detained again on 9 February 2014 when police raided the home of Bui Thi Kim Phuong, his fiancée at the time, in Đồng Tháp province days before their planned wedding. He was accused of stealing money and property but was released after twenty-four hours. The accusations and investigation were later dropped due to lack of evidence, however uniformed and plain-clothed police continued to threaten and harass the couple and their family for the rest of the month, including by following them, throwing waste at the house and allegedly cutting the water supply.

Viet Nam is in the midst of a sustained crackdown on human rights which has resulted in the arbitrary detention of at least fifteen activists and government critics since January 2017. Prisoners of conscience are routinely held for long periods of pretrial, incommunicado detention. Incommunicado detention can facilitate torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and when prolonged can itself amount to such practices. In addition, the right to promptly communicate with a lawyer and prepare a defence, an essential part of the right to a fair trial, is denied. Both the prohibition against torture and other illtreatment and the right to a fair trial are provided in treaties that Viet Nam, as a state party, is legally obliged to abide by, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

Prison conditions in Viet Nam are harsh, with inadequate food and health care, falling far short of the minimum requirements set out in the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (Nelson Mandela Rules) and other international standards. Prisoners of conscience have been held in solitary confinement as a punishment for prolonged periods. For more information see the Amnesty International report, issued in July 2016: “Prisons Within Prisons: Torture and Ill-treatment of Prisoners of Conscience in Viet Nam”,

Name: Nguyễn Bắc Truyển
Gender: male
UA: 197/17 Index: ASA 41/6964/2017 Issue Date: 22 August 2017

4 things that VOICE changed my life forever

In order to enhance the interns’ public communication skill, VOICE usually organizes presentation competition simulating according to the form of “TED Talk”. They do not only present in Vietnamese but also in English. There will be three TED Talk competitions in one six-months long-term training program of VOICE: two in Vietnamese and one in English.

The following is the script of Hannah Vu’s speech that won the first place in the last TED Talk competition:

My name is Hannah, I am 24 years old. I am an activist from Vietnam, and I am also an intern at VOICE, I have been in the Philippines for 6 months.

6 months ago I wanted to become a rich person with a lot of money, today I still want to become a rich person but of knowledge and loves.

6 months ago I didn’t know how to introduce myself in English, but today I can make an English presentation.

6 months ago, I was single, today I have a very “handsome” boyfriend.

So, why my life has changed too fast? It’s because of VOICE.

Today I will talk about 4 things that VOICE changed my life forever.

Firstly, VOICE gives me an opportunity to go back to school. I had to leave my school when I was 15 years old because of family problems. My dad passed away when I was 10 years old. After that, my family didn’t have enough money for me to continue in school.

Going back to school always is my dream, but it seemed impossible. That’s why when I got VOICE scholarship and came here, I have to say as my dream comes true. At VOICE school, I have classes, I have teachers, I have classmates and I can learn everything what I loved to.

The second thing that VOICE changes me is respecting the differences. Before I came here I didn’t hate but I also didn’t like LGBT people, now I really love them. Before I came here it was very easy to make me angry if someone say something not good about my religion, but now I feel comfortable and I want to hear more from them. I have to change myself a lot because of VOICE working environment. At VOICE, there are people from different regions of Vietnam: the North, the South, and from the center. There are also different religions: Catholics, Christians, and Buddhists.

VOICE gave me a lesson: the only way we can live together happily is for us to respect the differences of each other.

Bốn điều VOICE đã thay đổi cuộc đời tôi

Thirdly, VOICE makes me more confident. When I first came here, my English was zero, as our office manager used to say: when I came here, even I could not spell my name. But today I can stand here and do a TED talk in English in front of all of you. Next month, I am going to some conferences abroad and I will have some English presentations. The important thing is I believe that I can do well. I know I still need to improve more, but I think it’s good for me for six months.

And not only English but also a lot of skills that VOICE gives me. I cannot imagine myself a worker 3 years ago can do all things what I am saying today. 3 years ago I even didn’t know how to use computer, I didn’t know what Microsoft word or excel is. VOICE helps me to achieve the impossible things. I know I tried my best, but I understand that I cannot try myself without VOICE.

Finally, that VOICE changes me. After 6 months I can see my passion more clearly. I know who I want to become and what I need to do to help our country.  And, after 6 months, I got a lot of skills, experiences.

Today I can see the big picture of Vietnam. I know how to build a team of people with the same vision and mission, I know how to start a social project and make a good campaign.

Today I am confident to say: I am a young person, I am an activist, I will contribute to democratic process of Vietnam. And I will inspire the other people.

Every day there are many opportunities coming to us. For me, I am very happy about what I did choose 6 months ago, it was my opportunity.

In our lives , there are many turning points. To me, until now, the most wonderful turning point in my life is coming to VOICE.

Thank you VOICE.

Thank you for listening.

TIME: Facing Jail, Democracy Activist Joshua Wong Says ‘Hong Kong Is Under Threat’

Feliz Solomon and Aria Hangyu Chen / Hong Kong
Aug 17, 2017

Joshua Wong is a free man, and a very young one, when he arrives Wednesday afternoon in front of a plaza in Hong Kong that he calls Citizen’s Square. But he may not be free for much longer. On Thursday, the 20-year-old faces a prison sentence for kicking off massive pro-democracy protests here three years ago. “I am not really ready for it,” he told TIME in an exclusive interview.

On Sept. 26, 2014, Wong and a small crowd of fellow student activists stormed the forecourt of Hong Kong’s government headquarters to oppose what they viewed as political and social encroachment by China. Originally an open plaza, the forecourt was fenced off in 2014 to prevent protesters, from democracy activists to land rights campaigners, from assembling there.

That night, Wong and others were pepper-sprayed amid scuffles with police, and at least a dozen students were arrested. Two days later , partly in response to clashes at the forecourt — which protesters began calling “Civic Square” or “Citizens’ Square” — tens of thousands of mostly young people flooded the Central and Admiralty neighborhoods, Hong Kong’s seats of power. There, they vastly swelled already-planned protests against Chinese interference in Hong Kong elections, and stayed on the streets for 79 days of mostly peaceful occupation. Wong’s remarkable role in the protests is the subject of the Netflix documentary Joshua: Teenager vs. Superpower.

Facing Jail, Democracy Activist Joshua Wong Says 'Hong Kong Is Under Threat'
Joshua Wong, then 17 and leader of the pro-democracy group Scholarism, sits on steps alongside metal security barriers outside the Central Government Offices in the Admiralty district of Hong Kong, China, on Wednesday, Dec. 10, 2014. Lam Yik Fei/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Of all the events that made the movement that was later dubbed the Umbrella Revolution, it was this first act that may haunt Wong. On Aug. 19, 2015, he and two of his peers, with whom he founded the political party Demosistō, were charged with unlawful assembly and inciting unrest for their role in storming the government forecourt. They were convicted on July 20, 2016 and sentenced to 80 hours of community service. On Thursday , Wong, along with Nathan Law, 23, and Alex Chow, 26, face a judicial panel that has been asked by prosecutors to imprison them on the grounds that their sentence was too lenient and sent the wrong message to other activists.

In September last year, Law became, at 23, the youngest lawmaker ever elected to Hong Kong’s legislature, but he was ousted by pro-Beijing colleagues over claims that he disrespected China during his oath-taking ceremony. If he is imprisoned for more than three months, he will be legally disqualified from running for political office for five years — as will Wong and Chow. That the courts have even agreed to reassess the trio’s sentences after they have already been dealt and served has sounded alarm bells that China, of which Hong Kong is a semi-autonomous territory, may be putting pressure on what has long been cherished as an independent judiciary.

On Wednesday, an anxious but resolute Wong met with TIME outside the very same plaza he stormed three years ago. With less than 24 hours before the judges’ decision, he spoke candidly about his belief that he has become a target of political prosecution, his goal of a democratic and self-ruling Hong Kong, and his hopes that his hometown will stand its ground to remain what he calls the freest territory of China.

His interview has been edited for length and clarity.

The court is about to revisit its punishment for your role in the events of Sept. 26, 2014, when you and other student activists stormed the forecourt at government headquarters. Could you also revisit those events for us?

Three years ago, we organized an action to reclaim Citizens’ Square and to ask for free elections and democracy in Hong Kong. We were against the interference of the Communist Party of China. Today we’re facing a verdict that comes from the Chinese government. They will probably send me to prison for more than half a year. What I want the international community to realize is that Hong Kong is already under authoritarian rule. This is a long-term battle, and we ask for long-term support. Hong Kong is now under threat.

Looking back on that action, is there anything you would have done differently if you could do it over?

I have no regrets at all. We were against patriotic education [an attempt by local authorities to impose a pro-Beijing curriculum on local schools], which is why we took the square. Three years ago, the government set up a barrier to block our freedom of assembly. So we organized an action to reclaim the square to remind people that it’s time to take back their rights. This was the first place I was arrested, and it’s the reason I will be sent to prison, but I do not regret it at all and I will still keep fighting for democracy.

Given that you’ve already served a sentence for this case, and given that revising the sentence would legally derail your stated aim of running for political office, do you view the appeal on your sentencing as a political act?

Last summer I was sentenced to 80 hours of community service — tomorrow [Thursday] I will face nearly a year-long sentence with immediate imprisonment. It just proves that the Hong Kong courts just obey China. This is meant to be a threat.

If imprisoned, many will view you and your colleagues as Hong Kong’s first political prisoners. What does this say about the independence of Hong Kong’s judiciary, which you have referred to as one of the “core values” of the territory?

Judicial independence is under threat because of the Department of Justice’s loyalty to China. I hope people will realize that. One decade ago, people described Hong Kong as a place without democracy but with rule of law. Now Hong Kong has already transformed into an authoritarian regime.

We won’t be the first political prisoners in Hong Kong [on Tuesday, the courts sentenced 13 activists to jail terms of 8 and 13 months for storming the legislature on a protest over rural development projects]. We’re just the first from the Umbrella Movement. The government reviewed this case against us because they hope to send us to prison and block our chances of running in elections. I believe the Department of Justice is reviewing my sentence because they hope I don’t run in an election.

Do you view Hong Kong as a barometer of freedom elsewhere in Asia, and do you view the way you’re being treated as an omen for democratic norms and rule of law in the broader region?

Hong Kong is the city with the highest degree of freedom of all the Chinese territories. In the Asia Pacific, I think Hong Kong should be in the spotlight to make people realize that [China] is still violating human rights. I hope the experience of Hong Kong will urge global solidarity and make people care about Hong Kong. Now it’s a place where youngsters — like her or him or me [gestures at passersby] — are sent to prison.

What impact do you think your experience with the courts will have on the many young people in Hong Kong and elsewhere that have become more politically active in recent years?

In the past few years there has been an uprising, a new political awareness among my generation. However, political prosecutions and sentences are increasing. We are in a time of darkness for my hometown. But in a dark era like this, with the repression of the Beijing regime, youngsters must fight on the front line to ask for democracy. I just want to say that if Nathan, Alex and I are in prison, and we cannot stand on the front line, there’s no reason for anyone else to take a step backwards.

It’s safe to say that most observers predict that you are going to prison. You’re only 20 years old. Are you afraid?

I am not really ready for it. And when, after I have been sent to prison, I can only meet my parents twice per month for half an hour. I will miss them, and I will miss my home. No one wants to be sent to prison, including me. I’m tired, and I’m scared, but I will still keep on fighting.

14th Australia-Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue

21 August 2017

Australia and Vietnam held their 14th Annual Human Rights Dialogue in Canberra on 10 August 2017. The two sides engaged in robust and constructive dialogue discussing a wide range of human rights issues.

Media Release from Australian Government 

Australia reiterated its recognition of Vietnam’s significant progress and achievements made in enhancing social and economic rights over recent decades, and the increasing recognition of the rights of LGBTI persons in Vietnam. Australia commended Vietnam on the passage of a law on religion in late 2016, which improves the regulatory environment for religious practice in Vietnam.

Australia expressed concern regarding ongoing restrictions on civil and political rights, including freedom of expression, association and assembly. It reiterated its serious concerns about the harassment, arrest and detention of human rights activists. Australia raised particular cases of concern.

Australia recognised the challenges and high levels of disadvantage faced by Indigenous Australians, including the high proportion of Indigenous Australians in custody. Australia outlined the policies and programs in place to address the intergenerational social disadvantage that Indigenous Australians face.

The two sides discussed continuing legal reforms in Vietnam, including the Criminal Code, the Criminal Procedure Code and the Law on Associations. Australia again welcomed the imminent removal of the death penalty for seven crimes and encouraged Vietnam to move towards the abolition of the death penalty.

Vietnam offered its advice as a former member of the Human Rights Council to Australia if successful in its candidacy for membership. Australia urged Vietnam to continue engaging with civil society in the lead-up to its next Universal Periodic Review in 2018. Australia encouraged Vietnam to issue a standing invitation to all Special Rapporteurs and encouraged Vietnam to accept another visit by the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion and Belief. Australia urged Vietnam to establish an independent National Human Rights Institution in accordance with the Paris Principles.

In the margins of the Dialogue, the Vietnamese delegation met a range of Australian organisations to learn about Australia’s own human rights challenges, and the valuable contributions a vibrant civil society can make in identifying and addressing these issues. These included local government and non-government organisations that support vulnerable groups, including LGBTI persons, women who have experienced domestic violence and homelessness, and Indigenous Australians.

The head of the Australian delegation, Dr Lachlan Strahan, First Assistant Secretary, Multilateral Policy Division at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, led NGO consultations before the dialogue and will debrief these organisations in the coming weeks.

The Australian delegation also included the Chair and Deputy Chair of the Human Rights Sub-Committee of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, Hon Kevin Andrews MP and Dr Anne Aly MP; Australia’s Special Envoy for Human Rights, Hon Philip Ruddock MP; the Australian Human Rights Commission; and Australian government agencies. The Vietnamese delegation was led by Mr Vu Anh Quang, Director General of the International Organizations Department of the Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Vietnam and included officials from a range of other Vietnamese government ministries and agencies.

The 15th round of the Human Rights Dialogue will be held in 2018 in Hanoi.

Amnesty International: Four peaceful activists arbitrarily arrested in connection with long-detained human rights lawyer



1 August 2017

Index: ASA 41/6855/2017

Viet Nam: Four peaceful activists arbitrarily arrested in connection with long-detained human rights lawyer

On 30 July 2017, Vietnamese authorities arrested four activists in Ha Noi, Ho Chi Minh City, and Thanh Hoa province. They are Nguyễn Trung Tôn, 45, a Protestant pastor from Thanh Hoa province; Phạm Văn Trội, 45, from Hanoi; Trương Minh Đức, 57, from Ho Chi Minh City; and Nguyễn Bắc Truyển, 49, from Ho Chi Minh City. Each of the four, all men, has previously been imprisoned for his peaceful activities. The four are prisoners of conscience, having been deprived of their liberty solely for peacefully exercising their human rights to freedom of expression and association. Amnesty International calls on the Vietnamese authorities to release all four immediately and unconditionally, release all other prisoners of conscience and end its policy of intimidating, arresting and punishing peaceful activists.

The four activists have been accused of “carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the People’s Administration” under Article 79 of the 1999 Penal Code. The offence, which falls under the vaguely worded “national security” section of the Code, provides for a sentence of up to life imprisonment or capital punishment.

The arrests are part of an intensifying crackdown on the peaceful exercise of the rights to freedom of expression, assembly, and association in Viet Nam that has seen lengthy prison sentences handed down to two prominent human rights defenders in the last five weeks. Prior to the most recent arrests, at least seven other activists had been arrested in the last six months.

The four men arrested on Sunday are alleged to have connections to human rights lawyer Nguyễn Văn Đài who was himself arrested in Ha Noi on 16 December 2015 and has, along with his colleague Le Thu Ha, been detained without trial for more than 18 months. Both Nguyễn Văn Đài and Le Thu Ha were initially accused of “conducting propaganda” against the state under Article 88 of the 1999 Penal Code. However, according to Vietnamese police and state-controlled media, Nguyễn Văn Đài and Le Thu Ha are now accused of committing an offence under Article 79 along with those recently arrested.

Nguyễn Văn Đài is a well-known human rights lawyer. In 2006 he founded the Committee for Human Rights in Viet Nam – now called the Vietnam Human Rights Centre – and was one of the original signatories to an online petition calling for freedom and democracy in Viet Nam, which garnered the support of thousands. Between 2007 and 2011, Nguyễn Văn Đài served four years in prison after being convicted of “conducting propaganda” against the state. In April 2013, he founded the Brotherhood for Democracy, envisioned as a coordinated and collective movement for achieving democracy in Viet Nam.

Pastor Nguyễn Trung Tôn has written about freedom of religion and corruption in Viet Nam. He was arrested in January 2011 and convicted of “conducting propaganda” against the state, serving a sentence of two years’ imprisonment.

Phạm Văn Trội was arrested in September 2008 for unfurling banners, distributing leaflets, posting information on the internet criticizing government policies, and calling for democracy in Viet Nam. In October 2010 he was convicted of “conducting propaganda” against the state and served a sentence of four years’ imprisonment.

Journalist and labour rights activist Trương Minh Đức has written about corruption and abuse of authority in Viet Nam. He was arrested in May 2007 and in March 2008 was convicted of “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the state” under Article 258 of the Penal Code, serving a sentence of five years’ imprisonment.

Nguyễn Bắc Truyển is a human rights lawyer who in 2007 was convicted of “conducting propaganda” against the state and sentenced to three and a half years’ imprisonment. Since his release in May 2010, he has been a vocal member of an association of former prisoners of conscience.

A sustained crackdown on human rights

Viet Nam is in the midst of a sustained crackdown on human rights. In the last five weeks, two prominent human rights defenders were convicted of “conducting propaganda” against the state and sentenced to lengthy prison sentences.

On 29 June 2017, Nguyễn Ngọc Như Quỳnh, also known by her blogging pseudonym, Mẹ Nấm (Mother Mushroom), was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment for her activities on Facebook and other social media, including writing, uploading and sharing articles and video content critical of the ruling Communist Party of Viet Nam and the state. On 25 July 2017, Trần Thị Nga was sentenced to nine years’ imprisonment for “posting video clips and documents containing anti-state propaganda on the internet”. The videos related to issues such as pollution of the environment and corruption. Both decisions have received widespread international coverage and been condemned by local and international human rights groups, United Nations human rights experts, and diplomatic representatives of the United States and the European Union in Vietnam.

Both Trần Thị Nga and Nguyễn Ngọc Như Quỳnh had raised concerns about the authorities’ response to the 2016 Formosa environmental disaster, which severely affected fish stocks in several Vietnamese provinces. The incident has impacted the livelihoods of up to 270,000 people and led to sustained activism and protests across the country on a scale rarely seen.

Others who have recently been arrested include Trần Hoàng Phúc, a 23-year-old activist arrested on 3 July under Article 88 of the Penal Code for allegedly posting material critical of the government on social media and Lê Đình Lượng, a political dissident who was arrested on 24 July under Article 79 of the Penal Code. At least five other activists arrested since November 2016 are currently held in incommunicado pre-trial detention. Incommunicado detention can facilitate torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and when prolonged can itself amount to such practices. In addition, the right to promptly communicate with a lawyer and prepare a defence is an essential part of the right to a fair trial. Both the prohibition against torture and other ill-treatment and the right to a fair trial are provided in treaties that Viet Nam, as a state party, is legally obliged to abide by, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

The ICCPR also protects the right to freedom of opinion and expression (Article 19), peaceful assembly (Article 21), and association (Article 22). It also protects the right to liberty and security of a person, which includes the right to not be subjected to arbitrary arrest and detention (Article 9).

Amnesty International urges the Vietnamese authorities to comply with Viet Nam’s human rights obligations, and drop all charges against those who have been peacefully carrying out activities to promote and protect human rights and/or peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression, opinion or belief, assembly, and/or association. The international community must condemn, in the strongest possible terms, the current crackdown on human rights in Viet Nam, and advocate for the immediate release of all prisoners of conscience.

BACKGROUND Amnesty International has documented information on at least 90 persons currently deprived of liberty whom the organization considers prisoners of conscience, including bloggers, labour and land rights activists, political activists, ethnic and religious minorities, and advocates for human rights and social justice who have been convicted solely for peacefully exercising their human rights. In many of these cases there have been concerns about unfair trials, incommunicado detention, and torture and ill-treatment of those detained. Prison conditions in Viet Nam are harsh, with inadequate food and health care that falls short of the minimum requirements set out in the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (Nelson Mandela Rules) and other international standards. Treatment of prisoners of conscience has been documented by Amnesty International in a report, Prisons within prisons: Torture and ill-treatment of prisoners of conscience in Viet Nam , July 2016, available at


Public Document****************

Dinh Nguyen Kha’s mother met an Australian politician

On 18 July 2017, VOICE representatives and supporters, along with Mrs. Lien Thi Kim Nguyen, met with Mr. Milton Dick, an Australian Labor Party politician and member for Oxley in the Australian House of Representatives, at his office in Brisbane.

Discussions were held regarding Mrs Lien Nguyen’s son and prisoner of conscience, Dinh Nguyen Kha, as well as the treatment of bloggers, human rights activists and political prisoners in Vietnam. In particular, what the Australian government can do to put pressure on the Vietnamese government regarding political prisoners and the human rights situation. Mr. Dick is an avid supporter of the Vietnamese community and a promoter of human rights in Vietnam.

VOICE Australia and Prisoner of conscience Dinh Nguyen Kha’s mother advocate for human rights in Vietnam

On 12 July 2017, VOICE, along with a number of interested civil society organizations (CSOS) met with Dr. Lachlan Strahan, First Assistant Secretary of the Multilateral Policy Division, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Canberra, Australia, ahead of the fourteenth Australia-Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue, which is expected to be held in Canberra in August.

Ms. Giang Nguyen represented VOICE Australia and Ms. Anna Nguyen represented VOICE, along with Mrs. Nguyen Thi Kim Lien, mother of Prisoner of conscience, Dinh Nguyen Kha, who is currently serving a 6-year sentence for distributing pamphlets critical of the Vietnamese government.

VOICE Australia cùng mẹ tù nhân chính trị Đinh Nguyên Kha đi vận động cho nhân quyền Việt Nam
VOICE Australia and political prisoner Dinh Nguyen Kha’s mother advocate for human rights in Vietnam

The Dialogue is an important component of the bilateral relationship between Australia and Vietnam, which allows discussion of the full range of human rights issues of interest and concern in a constructive, franks and open atmosphere.

Ms. Anna Nguyen, on behalf of VOICE, made a number of submissions to Dr. Strahan and his staff at DFAT in order to help expand civil society in Vietnam and send a strong international message to the Vietnamese government.

This was VOICE’s third participation in the meeting prior to the Australia-Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue. VOICE will continue to play an integral role in future dialogues.

VOICE representative, Ms Anna Nguyen and Mrs Nguyen Thi Kim Lien met with Ms. Elaine Pearson, Australia Director at Human Rights Watch today in Sydney to discuss matters of concern relating to prisoners of conscience and human rights issues in Vietnam. Specially, Dinh Nguyen Kha’s current medical condition and Human Rights Watch’s Vietnam report, No Country for Human Rights Activists: Assaults on Bloggers, and Democracy Campaigners in Vietnam, published on 18 June 2017, was brought up, as well as Mrs. Lien Nguyen’s idea to start a network for parents of prisoners of conscience in Vietnam.

VOICE Australia cùng mẹ tù nhân chính trị Đinh Nguyên Kha đi vận động cho nhân quyền Việt Nam
VOICE Australia and political prisoner Dinh Nguyen Kha’s mother advocate for human rights in Vietnam

Human Rights Watch is an American-founded international non-governmental organization that conducts research and advocacy on human rights and has routinely called out on the Vietnamese government and authorities on its treatment of bloggers and human rights activists.

The Diplomat: What’s Behind Vietnam’s Rising Violence?

The rise of physical violence committed against activists is a troubling trend.

A recent report by Human Rights Watch, “No Country for Human Rights Activists: Assaults on Bloggers and Democracy Campaigners in Vietnam”, documents the rise of physical violence committed against activists, mainly by plain-clothed “thugs,” some of whom may be police or soldiers, and most of whom target their victims in very public place.

Nguyen Trung Ton, a pastor and blogger, and a friend, were set upon by a group of men after exiting a bus in February:

[They] took our belongings, stripped our clothes off, covered our heads with our jackets and beat us repeatedly with iron tubes. They did not tell us any reason. The van moved and they continued to beat us [in the van]. There was a driver and at least six other men.

And this happened to the pro-environment activist Nguyen Thi Thai Lai when she was leaving a restaurant with a friend:

Four young men, like four water buffalo, blocked our motorbike. They grabbed me by my neck and threw me on the ground. They beat me until I fainted. They kicked me in the face – look at my [bruised] face. They kicked me in the face. They kicked me and beat me until I fainted.

While “physical attacks against human rights activists and bloggers in Vietnam are not a new phenomenon,” as the Human Rights Report notes, there does appear to be a trend away from detention and towards public violence. The report states:

In 2014, during an especially contentious phase of negotiations over the Trans-Pacific Partnership between Vietnam and the United States, the number of people convicted for political crimes in Vietnam decreased to 31. However, according to the Association of Former Prisoners of Conscience, the number of physical attacks increased to at least 31 incidents targeting 135 rights bloggers and activists.

In 2015, the number of reported convictions continued to decrease, with only seven activists convicted throughout the year. On the other hand, according to research by Human Rights Watch, roughly 50 bloggers and activists reported that they were assaulted in 20 separate incidents. In 2016, at least 21 rights campaigners were convicted while at least 20 physical assaults were carried out against more than 50 people.

“Marxism needs a dictator,” according to the late Russian-American literary giant Vladimir Nabokov, “and a dictator needs a secret police”. The secret police in Vietnam, however, is hardly that secret. In 2013, Carl Thayer, then of the Australian Defense Forces Academy, estimated as many as 6.7 million Vietnamese work in some fashion for the country’s numerous security agencies – so about one in six people.

In 2015, when I met Pham Chi Dung, an activist who founded the Independent Journalistic Association of Vietnam, and who worked for the Ho Chi Minh City’s security bureau for sixteen years before becoming disillusioned, he knew that two security agents had followed him from his house to our café rendezvous. And he knew they would follow him home again. (He was arrested once again a few months after we met).

The use of paid (one assumes) bullies to attack activists, however, is different from the use of security agents to spy on or arrest dissidents. When an activist is threatened by the police or military, at least he recognizes his attacker. The uniform reveals all. People know who is his attacker and for whom his attacker works. As a result, he understands the message that comes from up-high; we want to cripple all activism. In a sense, then, some credit must go to a government that sends its police or military to do its dirty work; at least it’s being honest about its motives.

The use of plain-clothed attackers is different. It’s dishonest. It’s cowardly. The removal of a police or military uniform (if that is the case) before an attack is an effort to distance the boss from the violence. Not only that, it is an attempt to say: the regime isn’t against activists, fellow citizens are.

Because of this, a corollary is necessary to the view of Human Rights Watch; the use of plain-clothed thugs isn’t just an effort to “sow fear and uncertainty among activists” but, as well, to sow fear and uncertainty among those who might become activists.

For the secret police to arrest an activist is to silence that critic. For the police or military to beat an activist is to demonstrate that the regime won’t put up with criticism. But for a plain-clothed thug to attack an activist is to publicly humiliate that activist.

Indeed, an imprisoned activist is removed from society; a beaten activist is forced to show his scars to all, perhaps a more effective deterrent. A detained activist, also, often inspires more activism; his or her release becomes a motivating reason for protest.

The fact that friends and family are often targeted in the attacks, as the Human Rights Watch report makes clear, also changes the game. Every committed activist has considered their own imprisonment. But violence against one’s family compels a different response. Self-sacrifice is one thing but having to also sacrifice your family makes a person think again about continuing.

The changing tactics of the Vietnamese regime no doubt reflect changes in the pro-democracy, human rights movement. Social media, the modern-day samizdat, has become almost impossible for the regime to censor as it would like. Activists have also become more emboldened, willing to protest and demonstrate publicly. And with closer ties to the United States and the European Union (which agreed to an important free-trade agreement that will probably take effect next year) the risk of irking these partners is potentially too important economically. Plain-clothed thugs, therefore, provide some distance between the regime and the violence.

Moreover, the rights-movement is simply much stronger than it once was. As I have written before, the growth in environmental activism has coalesced disjointed parties: middle-class urbanites and poor rural farmers, democrats and nationalists, have been united under the banner of they all have a stake in. (The fact that some of the attacks were committed while activists were visiting one another was most likely intended to show the dangers of solidarity.) This is unprecedented in modern Vietnamese history, and the regime knows it.

The Guardian: How Vietnam locked up its most famous blogger – Mother Mushroom

One of Vietnam’s most influential political bloggers, given a courage award by Melania Trump, faces a decade behind bars for her ‘reactionary’ work.

Vietnamese blogger Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, known as Mother Mushroom, on trial in the city of Nha Trang. Photograph: Vietnam News Agency/EPA

“Each person only has a life, but if I had the chance to choose again I would still choose my way.”

They are the words of one of Vietnam’s most influential bloggers — known by her online pseudonym, Mother Mushroom — minutes before she was handed the shock sentence of a decade in prison. Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh directed her defiant comments at her 61-year-old mother, who was watching a live feed in a room next door as she was not allow into the courtroom.

The 37-year-old was accused of defaming Vietnam’s communist regime in her blogs and interviews with foreign media.

“I clapped my hands in the room, where 20 security officials looked at me with very angry eyes, but I was not afraid; I was OK, very proud of her,” said Nguyen Thi Tuyet Lan.

Arrested in October while attempting to visit another dissident in prison, Quynh, 37, has already spent nine months behind bars, in what her lawyer said were desperate conditions.

She subsisted only on a diet of anchovies and spinach soup for the first seven months, and was denied both sanitary pads and underwear, Vo An Don said.

After Quynh was arrested on 10 October, her mother heard nothing about her whereabouts or wellbeing until a brief reunion in prison hours before her 29 June trial for crimes against the state.

The months had taken their toll on her daughter, Lan told the Guardian in a phone interview from her home in the southern coastal city of Nha Trang. Quynh appeared sickly during their meeting, she said.

“I said: ‘My dear daughter, now I believe you are still alive.’ But she looked weak with very pale skin,” she added.

Vietnam is infamous for its limits on freedom of expression, yet Mother Mushroom’s detention and unusually lengthy sentence raised fresh alarm among the country’s blogging community, which avoids the censorship of state-control print media. The US state department quickly called for all prisoners of conscience to be released immediately.

While Quynh has been branded a “reactionary” by the state for her anti-government blogging, her friends and family defend her as a champion of free expression in a country where dissent against single-party rule is outlawed.

“My daughter has done a normal thing in an abnormal society, so she has to pay the price of prison and being denounced,” Lan said.

Quynh rose to fame in Vietnam’s blogosphere in the late 2000s for her doggedly independent citizen journalism. A founding member of the underground Vietnamese Bloggers Network, she is especially passionate about environmentalism, police brutality and Vietnam’s dispute with China over control of the South China Sea.

Lan said her daughter’s political awakening began after studying foreign languages in university.

Upon discovering the pluralistic online world, Quynh came to her mother with difficult questions.

“She asked me: ‘Mum, do you know this or that [about the government]?’ I said I did, she questioned me, ‘Why didn’t you tell me?’” recalled Lan.

“I told her I knew, but in this society we are living in, it is not the society where you can speak out, and they will denounce you.”

Quynh has since become a prominent figure outside Vietnam, and has championed efforts in Vietnamese civil society to hold political discussions on Facebook. The government has become so angered by the movement that it has called on all companies in Vietnam to stop advertising on YouTube and Facebook.

The Guardian: How Vietnam locked up its most famous blogger – Mother Mushroom
Quynh championed efforts in Vietnamese civil society to hold political discussions on Facebook. Photograph: Tracey Nearmy/AAP

In March the US first lady, Melania Trump, awarded Quynh the International Women of Courage Award, which Vietnam said “was not appropriate and of no benefit to the development of the relations between the two countries”.

Quynh’s friends described her as frank and hot-tempered but true to her word.

“She always spoke out what she was thinking, so that’s why it’s not good for her when she caused trouble with such a personality, but she was a person who always does what she says she will,” said Trinh Kim Tien, a 27-year-old Ho Chi Minh City-based activist.

Quynh’s last posts on Facebook, her favoured blogging medium before her detention, were a combination of repostings of articles by other activists and brief, poetic, biting attacks on the state.

“What kind of a society is it where people responsible for their [high] positions, where the officials consider the citizens more stupid than pigs?” she wrote on 29 September.

Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for the New York-based Human Rights Watch, said her involvement in protests against the Taiwanese-owned Formosa Ha Tinh Steel plant in north-central Vietnam, which was linked to a catastrophic fish die-off in 2016, was the last straw for the authorities.

“Mother Mushroom’s prominent ties to the anti-Formosa movement, which the government is increasingly viewing as a security challenge to its authority, means she became the ideal candidate for a heavy sentence designed to sideline her and intimidate others,” Robertson said.

The Guardian: How Vietnam locked up its most famous blogger – Mother Mushroom
Environmentalist protesters demand that the Taiwanese conglomerate Formosa leave Vietnam. Photograph: Bennett Murray for the Guardian


Human Rights Watch says there are about 110 known political prisoners in Vietnam, although the country denies holding any. Speaking at a press conference on the day of the trial, foreign affairs ministry spokesperson Le Thi Thu Hang said “all violations of laws must be extremely punished in accordance with the laws of Vietnam”.

Pham Than Nghien, a friend of Quynh whose own blogging led to her being imprisoned from 2008 to 2012, said she cried when the verdict was delivered.

“While I wasn’t astonished because she had committed many crimes according to the regime … I could feel my hands and legs shiver,” she said.

“We’re friends, we’re also both women, and I feel sympathy for her children, her family.”

Quynh’s mother, Lan, is now tasked with raising her two grandchildren while their mother remains in prison. Unless the state grants Quynh clemency the children will grow up parentless.

“I feel empty now,” Lan said.

The New York Times: With Social Media, Vietnam’s Dissidents Grow Bolder Despite Crackdown

HANOI, Vietnam — A prominent blogger and environmental activist in Vietnam was sentenced last week to 10 years in prison on charges of national security offenses, including sharing anti-state propaganda on social media.

Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, better known by her online handle Mother Mushroom, had been held incommunicado since she was arrested in October, and attendance at her trial was strictly controlled.

But barely one hour after the verdict was handed down on Thursday, one of Ms. Quynh’s lawyers summarized his arguments and posted her final statement at the trial to his 61,000 Facebook followers.

New York Times: Nhờ mạng xã hội, các nhà bất đồng chính kiến ở Việt Nam ngày càng quả cảm bất chấp các cuộc đàn áp
Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, the Vietnamese blogger known as Mother Mushroom, at her trial Thursday. A lawyer posted a statement from her on Facebook. Credit Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

“I hope that everyone will speak up and fight, overcome their own fears to build a better country,” she said, according to the lawyer. The statement was reposted thousands of times.

In authoritarian Vietnam, the internet has become the de facto forum for the country’s growing number of dissenting voices. Facebook connections in particular have mobilized opposition to government policies; they played a key role in mass protests against the state’s handling of an environmental disaster last year. Now, the government is tightening its grip on the internet, arresting and threatening bloggers, and pressing Facebook and YouTube to censor what appears on their sites.

“Facebook is being used as an organizing tool, as a self-publishing platform, as a monitoring device for people when they are being detained and when they get released,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch.

Facebook is being used “to connect communities that otherwise wouldn’t be connected,” he said.

Nguyen Anh Tuan, 27, a pro-democracy activist, said the growing number of dissidents forging connections through social media had emboldened him.

The first time the police interrogated him in 2011, he said, he felt utterly alone. His parents and friends disapproved of his political writings, and he knew few other people he could turn to for help.

Mr. Tuan still faces police harassment and his passport has been confiscated. But the most recent time he was called in for questioning, he posted a copy of the summons to Facebook, along with a satirical note demanding to be paid for the time he spent in custody.

His note went viral, and other people followed suit, posting their own police summonses on Facebook and asking for compensation. “Regarding activism, I cannot feel lonely anymore,” he said.

New York Times: Nhờ mạng xã hội, các nhà bất đồng chính kiến ở Việt Nam ngày càng quả cảm bất chấp các cuộc đàn áp
Nguyen Anh Tuan, a human rights activist, said that when police interrogated him in 2011, he had no one to turn to. But now with supporters on Facebook, “I cannot feel lonely anymore,” he said. Credit Quinn Ryan Mattingly for The New York Times

Vietnam’s Facebook users — who now number 45 million, almost half the country’s population — use the site to organize prison visits and vigils outside police stations for detainees, and to solicit donations for political prisoners. And dissidents are increasingly migrating political and personal blogs, which can be easily blocked by the government, onto Facebook, which is so widely used that blocking it entirely would not be feasible.

Mr. Tuan helps run a fund that supports the families of prisoners of conscience, including Ms. Quynh’s mother and two young children. He said that much of the support now came from people inside the country sending money from their personal bank accounts, which the state can trace. In the past, he said, overseas Vietnamese communities drove most of the dissent and supplied most of the money.

“They know very well that they could be checked by the government, but they dare to do it,” he said of his local donors.

That has not gone unnoticed by the government, which is also asserting its authority in new ways. Ms. Quynh is one of over 100 bloggers and activists jailed in Vietnam, according to Human Rights Watch. Pham Minh Hoang, another popular blogger, was stripped of his citizenship and deported last week to France, where he also holds citizenship.

The government has strategically cut access to Facebook when protests are expected, and earlier this year asked both Facebook and YouTube to help it eliminate fake accounts and other “toxic” content, like anti-government material, saying it had identified up to 8,000 YouTube videos that fit that description, according to the local newspaper Tuoi Tre. The government also warned Vietnamese companies that their ads must not appear next to that sort of content.

Facebook has said its policy is to abide by local laws, although there was no indication it had removed content in Vietnam thus far.

Nguyen Quang A, a retired computer scientist and former Communist party member who is now a dissident, said he felt the human rights situation was as bad as ever.

Last week, shortly before a planned interview, he was picked up by police near his house and taken for a five-and-a-half-hour drive to the seaside and back. He said he had been similarly detained 11 other times in the past year and a half.

He suggested the government was under increasing pressure from citizens frustrated by its handling of recent environmental and land issues. When a chemical spill at the Formosa Steel company killed tons of fish last year, outrage coalesced online, where protests were organized, photographs of the disaster spread rapidly and the hashtag #Ichoosefish became a rallying cry.

“I guess that they are too afraid,” Mr. Quang A said. “They see the situation is too dangerous for them, and they see peaceful activists as a very dangerous enemy.”

In a report released last month, Human Rights Watch detailed what it called a “disturbing trend” of bloggers and activists being beaten on the street by thugs known as “con do.” It tallied 36 such attacks from January 2015 to this April, only one of which the police investigated.

New York Times: Nhờ mạng xã hội, các nhà bất đồng chính kiến ở Việt Nam ngày càng quả cảm bất chấp các cuộc đàn áp
Pham Anh Cuong, left, was alarmed by photographs online showing how brutally an activist, Nguyen Chi Tuyen, right, had been beaten by five men, prompting him to become more politically outspoken. Credit Quinn Ryan Mattingly for The New York Times

The report relies partly on the activists’ own photos and videos of their injuries, often filmed shakily on smartphones and quickly shared online.

Jonathan London, a Vietnam specialist at Leiden University in the Netherlands, said that despite recent repression, the transformation wrought by the internet in a short period had been “astonishing and hopeful.”

It is “remarkable that in a country that as recently as 15 or 20 years ago had one of the lowest rates of telephone usage in the world has thrust rapidly into an era of 24-hour news and continuous social and political criticism accessible to everyone,” he said.

Pham Anh Cuong, 45, an electrical engineer, was not outspoken about politics until two years ago, when an activist he followed online, Nguyen Chi Tuyen, 43, was severely beaten by five men. Mr. Cuong saw photographs of Mr. Tuyen’s bloody face and was alarmed by the brutality of the attack.

Today, he considers himself “one who raises my voice,” if not fully a dissident. His goal is to share information with family and friends, rather than depend on the mainstream news media, which is nearly all state-owned.

“The very first time I wrote on Facebook, nobody even ‘liked’ it — they were scared of pressing the like button,” he said. “Now people are starting to like and they are starting to share as well.”

Offline, he now considers Mr. Tuyen and other dissidents friends, and several of them play together on a soccer team, the No-U FC. (“No-U” refers to a U-shaped line marking China’s bold territorial claims in the South China Sea, an issue that galvanized many Vietnamese dissidents several years ago.) A Facebook page meticulously tracks the team’s wins and losses, as well as its members’ frequent run-ins with the security police.

In a cafe in Hanoi last week, the two friends simultaneously chatted, chain-smoked and checked Facebook. They noticed a state media story criticizing Mother Mushroom for receiving a cash prize from a human rights group in Stockholm. Mr. Tuyen immediately tagged a Swedish diplomat to alert her to the piece and asked the rights group for comment.

The two began scrolling again.

“Here’s news from one of my friends, a doctor in Saigon, who just heard the news that Mother Mushroom is in debt,” Mr. Tuyen said.

“The doctor in Saigon raised his voice that we should contribute to give money to her family,” he said.

He typed for a moment, then looked up again.

“I just commented, ‘I will join.’”


VOICE Statement on Blogger Me Nam’s Trial

30 JUNE 2017

Blogger Me Nam was convicted and sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment after a one-day trial in Vietnam yesterday. She had dared to criticize the government in her blogs, calling for transparency and accountability, as well as social and political reforms. Despite their peaceful nature, she was found guilty of ‘conducting propaganda against the state’, a criminal offence under Vietnam’s draconian Penal Code.

VOICE is shocked and outraged over the sentencing of Blogger Me Nam by Vietnam’s kangaroo court system, which did not even allow her mother and two young children to attend the trial. Her mother was only allowed to follow the trial through a TV screen in an adjacent room.

VOICE is appalled by the inhumane treatment Blogger Me Nam has received since her arrest. She was denied her right to see her appointed legal counsel, which was only granted recently, denied her right to wear her chosen attire at the trial, and even denied her basic right to the use of sanitary products. It is the intention of the Vietnamese authorities to strip Me Nam of her integrity and self-respect. She was forbidden to see her family until one day before the trial, the first and only time since her arrest in October 2016. The meeting lasted five minutes.

Yet, despite the grave deprivation and gross violations of her rights, this is what Blogger Me Nam said before the court: ‘we each only have one life to live but if given the choice, I would still do it exactly the same… people are only free and happy if they have the right to express themselves, to discuss issues they care about. I hope everyone will soon raise their own voice and fight for their rights so that they can overcome their own fears, and build a better and greater nation.’

VOICE will continue to advocate for the unconditional release of Blogger Me Nam and all other political prisoners of Vietnam. But more importantly, VOICE calls on all Vietnamese to heed Blogger Me Nam’s call to continue fighting for their rights, to overcome their own fears, so that one day Vietnam will be a free and democratic country, where no one will be tried and sentenced to imprisonment for merely speaking their minds.


2. VOICE Vietnam
3. VOICE Australia
4. VOICE Canada
5. VOICE Europe
6. VOICE Norway

Full version: VOICE Statement on Blogger Me Nam’s Trial

Reporting Live: The Trial of Mother Mushroom 29/06/2017

Reporting Live: The Trial of Mother Mushroom 29/06/2017 (VOICE team synthesis)

– 5:10 PM: The court has just announced Mother Mushroom’s sentence: 10 years in prison.

– 2:00 PM: Labor Newspaper has published the article, “Proposal of 8-10 Years Imprisonment for Mother Mushroom.” Link here:
There are many people participating in the public hearing, but in reality, many people have not been able to even enter the court. The article posted a photo showing Mushroom’s mother attending the trial, but in the picture, no one was Ms. Lan, Mushroom’s mother.

– 1:45 PM: Trinh Kim Tien interviewed Lawyer Vo An Don after the morning trial. Mother Mushroom has five lawyers but only three lawyers are present, including Vo An Don. Apparently, Mushroom proposed to postpone the trial, but it was not approved. Her attorneys ventured to meet with her, but they were also dismissed. All the while, Mushroom is still being denied to see her Mother, Ms. Lan.

– 1:00 PM: Trinh Kim Tien interviewed Ms. Lan after she left the courtroom. She explained that she was not in the actual trial room, but was instead taken to a separate room to watch it all on television. According to Ms. Lan, Mother Mushroom was not able to present her own argument and view without being interrupted. Ms. Lan claims that the 8-10 year jail proposal by the procuracy was a completely unjust sentence and it only served to expose the regime’s immorality.

– 12:50 PM: Lawyer Le Luan, advocate for Mother Mushroom, shared on Facebook this morning: I request the convening of three assessors of the Department of Information and Communication Khanh Hoa province on many terms. The argument “I find it difficult to understand,” that the chairman spewed at my request is not justified should be reconsidered.

– 12:00 PM: Nguyen Minh Bao Ngoc, cousin of Mother Mushroom, has been arrested and taken to the Xuan Huan Police Station (address: 11 Phan Boi Chau, Nha Trang). Because of this, Ms. Lan and her family are moving to Xuan Huan to demand her release.

– 11:45 AM: Lunch break; at 2:00 PM, the trial continues.
Lawyer Le Kha Thanh reveals that the prosecutor has proposed 8-10 additional years in jail for Mother Mushroom.

– 11:20 AM: Representatives of several civil society organizations are holding a meeting to protest the trial of Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh (Mother Mushroom) in Khanh Hoa, Nha Trang. Https://

– 11:00 AM: Blogger Trinh Kim Tien has updated on Facebook that the morning trial is coming to an end. There is also a doctor, guarded by security, standing outside the court door for unknown reasons.

– 10:40 AM: Young activists protest outside the courthouse by standing behind the barriers and duct-taping their mouths shut.

Tường thuật Phiên xử Mẹ Nấm 29/06/2017 (VOICE team tổng hợp)

– 9:40 AM: From Saigon, Vo Hong Ly took to the streets waving the high banner:
“Free Mother Mushroom
Patriotism is not Evil
Environmental & Human Rights for Vietnam”

– 8:35 AM: Outside the trial area, blogger Nguyen Ho Nhat Thanh hosted a live stream ( where he interviewed a few young supporters of Mother Mushroom. One of the supporters, young Phat, states that Mushroom’s sensible activism in fighting for human rights, against Formosa, is not malicious propaganda. It is not something to be afraid of. Another supporter named Nam claims that the authorities should honor Mother Mushroom as an international organization and peacekeeper, rather than condemn her.

Blogger Trinh Kim Tien interviewed Nguyen Minh Hung, Mother Mushroom’s Uncle (Ms. Lan’s brother). Minh Hung left his home quite early to attend the court session, but he was not allowed inside. The post can be found here: /
He says: “I came here for the public hearing but it is nowhere near “public”. Proof is that we are relatives, but we not let in. “

When asked if he knew about Mushroom’s activities, Hung replied, “My niece did nothing wrong. She only speaks truth about this State, but the State does not like the truth. I hope the State will reconsider, and dare to face reality.”

Also, Le Cong Dinh, a prestigious lawyer, posted a facebook status ( that reads: “DOWN WITH THE RIDICULOUS TRIAL OF MOTHER MUSHROOM! No matter the outcome, that judgement would fall on the inhumane communist regime.”

– 8:30 AM: The Khanh Hoa People’s Court opens the trial of Mother Mushroom, accusing her of committing “propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam,” under Article 88 of the Penal Code. There are four lawyers for Mother Mushroom in this trial: Nguyen Ha Luan, Le Van Luan, Nguyen Kha Thanh and Vo An Don. Two unidentified people, one woman and one young man, have been arrested in the court area simply for picking up their phones. More than 10 supporters that have traveled from Saigon to Nha Trang are standing 100 meters away from the court area, intermixed with the Khanh Hoa and Saigon security enclosures.

Six of Mother Mushroom’s close friends are in the court area, and no one has been allowed inside, except Ms. Lan, Mother Mushroom’s Mother. However, no one is able contact Ms. Lan. This is possibly due to the fact that outside, there are many signal waves that are being jammed or tampered with by the Government. All means of communication are cut off.

– 7:45 AM: Ms. Tuyet Lan, Mother Mushroom’s mother and blogger Trinh Kim Tien have begun walking to the courthouse, past the ring of police and secret services. They could not acquire a taxi or bus because of the heavy surveillance. Ms. Lan’s family had to resort to using a motorbike to get to the court. At about 7:45 am, Ms. Lan was admitted into the court area, but she did not know if she could go to the specific courtroom her daughter was in. Meanwhile, blogger Trinh Kim Tien was blocked outside, despite her request to attend the trial as a related person. Tien was also asked to shut down her phone as she was shooting a live stream on Facebook.

– 7:00 AM: The current situation is quite tense; it is difficult to approach the trial. The police forces are surrounding the trial within a 500 meter radius. The house of Mother Mushroom’s mother is also surrounded by nearly 20 police officers, some in uniform and some wearing ordinary clothing.

– Yesterday afternoon (June 28, 2017): Mother Mushroom’s daughter and mother were allowed to see her, despite the countless barriers that were assembled to block away the public.
However, Mother Mushroom was able to meet with her mother for just five minutes. Her devastated mother told Mushroom to simply apologize, but Mushroom insisted, “If you let me start this journey over and choose where to go, I would have done what I did.”

Background: Blogger Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, more commonly known as Mother Mushroom, writes about social equality and speaks out for democracy and human rights. Mother Mushroom was the Civil Rights Defender of the year in 2015, awarded by the Swedish Civil Rights Defenders Foundation. She was also awarded the International Woman of Courage Award in 2017 by Melania Trump, the First Lady of the United States.

In relation to the aforementioned activities, she has been arrested several times between 2009 and 2016. However, the most eminent case and the reason for her trial today is based on her last arrest, which has kept her in prison from October 2016 until now.


VOICE Bangkok Introduction

VOICE Bangkok officially set up its permanent presence in December 2015 and is led by VOICE’s ASEAN Program Coordinator, Anna Nguyen. VOICE Bangkok is responsible for the following:

  1. Refugee: Humanitarian and legal assistance to the stateless Vietnamese asylum seekers in South East Asia
  2. Advocacy:
    a. Implementing advocacy strategies involving the promotion of human rights in Vietnam as well as raising awareness on behalf of Vietnamese human rights defenders at risk and political prisoners.
    b.  Seeking humanitarian assistance for human rights defenders at risk and families of political prisoners.
    c.  Filing communications on behalf of Vietnamese human rights defenders and political prisoners through the use of various UN Special Procedures, such as the UN Special Rapporteur on the Freedom of Opinion and Expression, and the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.
  3. Training: Finding internship and training opportunities for the long-term interns in Manila.

Our achievements so far:

  • Resettling at least 90 Vietnamese stateless asylum seekers that had been left stranded in Thailand for 27 years to Canada (since 2014)
  • Receiving at least 50,000 USD from a number of international NGOs and bodies for human rights defenders at risk and families of political prisoners
  • Developing a close working relationship with the United Nations’ Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Vietnam Human Rights Desk Officer of the US and Swedish Embassy, and international NGOS including Freedom House, Human Rights Watch, Forum Asia, and Amnesty International for advocacy purposes

Giới thiệu về văn phòng của VOICE tại Bangkok - Thái Lan

Giới thiệu về văn phòng của VOICE tại Bangkok - Thái Lan

English Exercise: Vision for Vietnam

Let’s take a look at the new interns’ article: Vision for Vietnam, as partial fulfillment of their English proficiency course.

Bài tập tiếng Anh Tầm nhìn cho Việt Nam


Max: To develop an independent and free society in Vietnam, we need democracy. People must be empowered with their rights and should be responsible in ensuring that the government will implement appropriate social welfare policies.

Only when we understand our rights, we will live in full democratic environment which will help our country grow. People need to raise awareness by learning, participating in social movements, paying attention to the interests of other classes, and by supporting appropriate policies which should benefit everyone, not just the select few.

The Vietnamese society should be more transparent when working with public authorities. The government must take care of the people’s social life and be transparent about financial resource management; it needs to have a strict monitoring and inspection mechanism to avoid the misuse of taxpayer’s money. Civil servants must fulfill their roles and responsibilities, that is: to serve the people. They should not gratuitously persecute and force people to do things that are not in accordance with the regulations of the law.

Associations need to operate independently, to play a crucial role in the government, and to serve the mass.

Finally, the government should improve the quality of life, especially in the education and health sectors. There should be no bureaucracy and corruption, always ensuring that these two areas are clean.

Peter: The most important issue of Viet Nam is the political system which has to be changed by the people. The wrong political system has led my country to the chasm of poverty, so the people need a new political system which will optimize our economic plan and can make Viet Nam wealthy.

I see that in next 10 years, the communist party would collapse and my country would have democratic system setup, in which the people will be able to choose a better government by election. Democracy will benefit the people in my country, for it can have precise rights which will be written in the constitution, and we can really govern our country.

When we have this new government, the people can rebuild from post communism crisis. I firmly believe that in 30 years, my country will develop much. However, we have to opt for an appropriate way to go like Capitalism and avoid Social Democracy system. When we have this form of government, economic freedom will be open to all, allowing people the right to own properties and to use them to build more localized businesses, which in turn, will prosper the country.

I surely believe that we will have a better education system as well, one that would help figure out and develop people’s own talent and produce morally sound citizens. The economy will be prosperous so that everyone will have equal opportunities to work and build their own businesses. Unemployment rate will be at its lowest and almost everyone will have a job to support their life. The quality of life of the people, either in an urban area or rural area, will be high, and malnourishment will be a thing of the past. Improved social services will meet people’s needs quickly, and the Government will make sure that safety will be provided for the people in our country.

Clark: Vietnam’s future will be a crossroad of Eastern and Western cultures, which will harmonize the ideology and advances in science and technology of the rest of the world. Vietnam will develop a balance between the material and the spiritual, it will have a sustainable economic development along with guaranteed living environment, and it’s natural values will be increasingly diverse and rich.

Vietnam must concentrate and actively develop “Knowledge – Based Economy” to become the center of economic trade to the world. Vietnam will provide the international market a wide range of products, raw materials, and services that they need.

Full version: Vision for Vietnam PDF file