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Human Rights Peer Review of Vietnam Spotlights Persistent Rights Violations

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From left to right, Pham Doan Trang, Nguyen Tin, Nguyen Dai, three activists beaten by police in August 2018. Photo courtesy: HRW.

On 22 January 2019, Vietnam underwent for the third time a comprehensive peer review of its human rights record at the Human Rights Council (a process known as Universal Periodic Review or UPR), amidst what many rights groups and observers have called the worst wave of crackdown on dissent, activism and civil society in years.

121 governments took to the floor and made close to 300 recommendations on a wide range of human rights issues. Under the rules of the UPR, Vietnam can choose to “accept” or merely “note” the recommendations it receives and must do so in writing by the time the 41st session of the Human Rights Council begins in late June 2019.

Governments have the primary responsibility to implement those recommendations that they have accepted and report progress therein in the next cycle of review.

Many of the issues raised during the third review are the subject of recommendations that Vietnam had accepted to implement or noted in the two previous UPR cycles. Critics say that Vietnam not only failed to implement them but have taken actions to the contrary.

Prior to the latest review, numerous independent civil society organizations, both inside Vietnam and internationally, submitted parallel reports to the United Nations on the non-implementation of previously accepted recommendations and the overall deteriorating human rights situation in Vietnam.

Below are some highlights of recommendations clustered by several major recurring thematic issues (the number preceding each recommendation refers to the paragraph number in the draft outcome report of Vietnam’s third UPR, followed by the name of the recommending country in parentheses):

  1. Civil Society and Human Rights Defenders
  2. Restrictive Laws and Regulations
  3. Death Penalty
  4. Discrimination, Inequalities and Vulnerable Groups
  5. Fundamental Freedoms
  6. Judicial System, Fair Trials and Due Process

Phan Kim Khanh, one of the youngest political dissidents in Vietnam. Khanh is currently serving a 6-year-prison term.

Civil Society and Human Rights Defenders

6.55 Take steps to protect human rights defenders, particularly by repealing or revising the provisions of the Penal Code that make reference to the concept of national security (France)

6.145 Immediately release prisoners who have been arbitrarily or unlawfully detained and allow them to exercise their human rights and fundamental freedoms in Vietnam, including Ho Duc Hoa, Tran Huynh Duy Thuc, Tran Thi Nga, Nguyen Bac Truyen, and the members of the Brotherhood for Democracy (United States of America)

6.175 Release human rights defenders sentenced to prison for exercising the right to freedom of expression (Iceland)

6.177 Take the necessary measures to ensure the freedom of expression of human rights defenders and journalists, in particular by investigating and punishing perpetrators of threats and reprisals against them (Argentina)

6.180 Protect human rights defenders and prosecute all persons guilty of violence or intimidation against them (Luxembourg)

6.186 Review regulations impeding the operation of Civil Society Organisations, to enable a more open space and ensure that national security provisions are not used to prevent peaceful debate and dissent (Ireland)

6.191 Release all human rights defenders as well as political and religious activists detained for the peaceful expression of their political opinions or religious belief (Poland)

6.198 Adopt measures in line with international standards to guarantee freedom of association, opinion and expression, including online, and to ensure that journalists, human rights defenders and NGOs can freely operate (Italy)

6.202 Guarantee Fully freedom of speech, the rights of peaceful assembly and association as well as the safety of journalists, and review cases of persons convicted for having freely expressed their opinion, including human rights defenders (Switzerland)

6.203 Improve protection of the rights to peaceful assembly and expression by reviewing existing legislation, and publishing and implementing clear, transparent guidelines on security personnel conduct in managing peaceful demonstrations (United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland)

6.205 Ensure consistent implementation of the Law on Belief and Religion particularly at the local level, including with respect to registration of Protestant groups and other groups in Northwest Highlands provinces, and remove undue restrictions on access to religious materials and clergy for those imprisoned and cease any harassment of independent groups on account of their religion (United States of America)

6.211 Publicly recognize human rights defenders and provide an environment in which they can carry out their human rights work safely (Belgium)

6.214 Nurture a culture of free expression online and offline, release all imprisoned human rights defenders, including bloggers and political dissenters, and put an end to their harassment (Czechia)

6.215 Create an enabling environment for independent civil society and ensure that the prepared Law on Association facilitates the registration, work and funding of NGOs free from undue State interference and restrictions (Czechia)

6.216 Lay ground for political plurality and democracy and guarantee its citizens the full enjoyment of the rights to vote and to be elected and to take part in the conduct of public affairs (Czechia)

A policeman, flanked by local militia members, tries to stop a foreign journalist from taking pictures outside the Ho Chi Minh City people’s court, where a human rights case was taking place in August 2011. Photograph: Ian Timberlake/AFP/Getty Images

Restrictive Laws and Regulations

6.73 Adapt the Code of Penal Procedure to international standards and amend Articles 109 and 117 on “activities against the State” in the Penal Code, in line with human rights standards (Switzerland)

6.167 Repeal or amend provisions in the Penal Code and Cyber Security Law so that provisions relating to national security are clearly defined or removed, to ensure that they cannot be applied in an arbitrary manner to endanger any forms of freedom of expression, including internet freedom (Finland)

6.171 Review all convictions based on laws restricting freedom of expression and opinion, in particular articles 79 and 88 of the Penal Code, according to the revised penalty ranges (Germany)

6.174 Consider revising national legislation, including the Law on Belief and Religion and the media Laws, in order to harmonize it with international standards regarding the right of freedom of expression and of religion (Brazil)

6.183 Amend, within one year, the 2015 Penal Code, Decree 174/2013, Decree 72/2013, Decree 27/2018, the 2018 Law on cybersecurity and articles 4, 9, 14 and 15 of the 2016 Press Law, to guarantee offline and online freedom of press and expression, and the right to privacy, in line with articles 17 and 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Netherlands)

6.185 Related Cybersecurity Decrees should include clear provisions for interpretation of the Law on Cybersecurity according to international standards on freedom of expression (Ireland)

6.187 Ensure that the legal framework protects freedom of expression both offline and online and accordingly amend the Penal Law and Law on Cybersecurity to ensure consistency with international human rights law, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (New Zealand); Ensure that freedom of expression is protected online and offline by amending national security provisions in the Penal Code, and the Cybersecurity law and its implementing decree, so as to comply with article 19 of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and other commitments (Sweden); Guarantee the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly and amend the penal code and the Cyber Security Law to make sure that the limitations on the right of freedom of expression are in line with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Austria); Review the Criminal Code and the law on cybersecurity to harmonize it with international standards related to the freedom of expression, association and assembly (Canada)

6.188 Revise the provisions of Articles 117 and 331 of the 2015 Penal Code and other relevant laws that restrict the ability to exercise fundamental freedoms and allow free operation of national and international media (Norway)

6.193 Ensure full implementation of its international human rights obligations regarding freedom of religion and belief by reviewing the Law on Belief and Religion to bring it into line with article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Poland)

6.194 Abolish prior censorship in all fields of cultural creation and other forms of expression, both online and offline, including by bringing the restriction to freedom of expression under the 2016 Press Law in line with international standards and fostering a pluralistic and independent media environment (Portugal)

6.197 Review and amend national legislations in order to enable the effective exercise of the rights of freedom of expression and peaceful assembly in line with the standards enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Seychelles)

6.212 Review the law on religion and belief to enable religious groups to practice freely (Canada);Review the 2016 Law on Belief and Religion and bring it in conformity with international human rights standards and freedom of religion or belief standards (Croatia)

Nguyen Thi Loan, mother of Ho Duy Hai. Photo credit: Nguyen Lan Thang.

Death Penalty

6.5 Accede to the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights aimed at abolishing the death penalty (El Salvador); Ratify the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights aiming at the Abolition of the Death Penalty (Montenegro); Ratify, without reservations, the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty (Slovenia); Ratify the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights aiming at the abolition of the death penalty (Croatia)

6.140 Initiate a moratorium on the imposing of capital punishment and especially for non-violent crimes (Finland); Consider implementing a full moratorium on the death penalty (Georgia); Impose a moratorium on executions and abolish the death penalty (Iceland); Establish a de facto moratorium on the death penalty with a view to its abolition (Portugal); Establish a moratorium on the application of the death penalty as a step towards its definitive abolition and modify the Penal Code to reduce the number of crimes for which the capital punishment can be imposed (Spain); Impose a moratorium on executions with the goal of abolishing the death penalty (Albania); Establish a moratorium on the death penalty as a step towards complete abolition of this practice (Australia); Immediately adopt a moratorium on the death penalty with a view to ultimately abolishing it (Austria); Take the necessary measures to establish a moratorium on executions of death row prisoners as well as to repeal the death penalty from their national legislation (Argentina)

6.141 Abolish the death penalty and, without delay, reduce the number of offences punishable by the death penalty (France); Abolish definitely the death penalty and ratify the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights aiming at the Abolition of the Death Penalty (Luxembourg); Continue reform towards abolition of the death penalty, including by continuing to reduce the list of crimes punishable by the death penalty under the Penal Code 2015, in particular non-violent crimes, and by providing greater transparency about the numbers, methods and associated crimes relating to its use (New Zealand); Abolish the death penalty for all crimes, and consider ratifying the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aimed at abolishing the death penalty (Uruguay)

6.142 Further reduce the list of offences punishable by death, eliminate the death penalty for “activities against the people’s government”, “espionage”, “embezzlement”, and “taking bribes” as well as for serious drug offences (Germany); Continue to reduce the number of crimes subject to the death penalty and consider introducing a de facto moratorium on its application (Mexico); Continue to reduce the scope of crimes subject to the death penalty only for “most serious crimes” and consider introducing a moratorium (Norway); Continue the process of reduction of offences subject to death penalty, until the abolition of the capital punishment and to publish statistics on the use of death penalty in Vietnam (Romania); Further reduce the offences punishable by death penalty and provide official figures regarding death sentences and executions; consider to introduce a moratorium of death penalty (Italy)

6.143 Reduce further the list of crimes punishable by the death penalty, in particular economic crimes and drug-related offences, and envisage a complete moratorium on the application of the death penalty (Switzerland)

6.144 Assist the process of national discussion on death penalty with a view of its eventual abolishment (Ukraine)

6.146 Restrict the use of the death penalty to crimes that meet the threshold of “most serious crimes” under international law (Belgium)

6.290 Cease applying the death penalty for non-violent crimes, including drug offences (Australia)

6.291 Introduce a national moratorium on the death penalty, aiming at complete abolition. Until then, reduce the number of crimes subject to the death penalty, ensuring that it does not apply to offences other than the “most serious” crimes, in accordance with International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Sweden)

A group of Jarai people in Vietnam’s Highlands. Photo courtesy: Thinh Nguyen.

Discrimination, Inequalities and Vulnerable Groups

6.90 Continue efforts in eliminating inequalities in access to public services (China)

6.92 Increase efforts in addressing discrimination, in line with its international obligations, and towards improving its legal framework against gender-based violence (Greece)

6.93 Enact legislation to ensure access to gender affirmation treatment and legal gender recognition (Iceland)

6.96 Continue to conduct studies with a view to amend existing or introduce new legal instruments to eliminate all forms of discrimination against people living with HIV (Malaysia)

6.97 Take further steps to ensure the protection of all vulnerable groups in society including LGBTI persons (Malta)

6.98 Legalize same-sex marriage before the next UPR (Netherlands)

6.99 Explicitly provide “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” as a forbidden ground of discrimination in the revised Labour Code and other relevant laws (Norway)

6.107 Take further measures to reduce inequalities and enhance access to services especially to vulnerable persons, including women, children and disabled (Bhutan)

6.108 Review the Labour Code and the law on gender equality to include a detailed definition of sexual harassment (Canada)

6.109 Develop legislation against discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity (Chile)

6.153 Set up a robust legislative framework prohibiting and sanctioning all discriminatory practices, enabling victims access justice (Madagascar)

6.170 Take measures to combat religious motivated violence and harassment and ethnic discrimination and inequality (Brazil)

6.217 Revise the Penal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code and criminalise all forms of violence against women, raise public awareness on gender equality and combating discrimination against women and girls, enhance efforts and measures to prevent and combat human trafficking, especially that of women and children (Hungary)

6.229 Adopt marriage equality legislation, extending full marriage rights to same-sex couples (Iceland)

6.230 Review the Law on Marriage and Family with a view to setting the same minimum age for marriage for women and men (Zambia)

6.231 Review the law on marriage and the family to guarantee the equality to same sex couples (Canada)

6.259 Step up the efforts for the participation of woman in political and public life and their representation in the decision-making bodies (Ethiopia)

6.260 Prohibit all forms of violence against women and strengthen women’s access to justice (Iceland)

6.261 Continue to strengthen measures to prevent abuse and violence against women (Japan)

6.262 Adopt a national plan of action to prevent all forms of violence against women and assign sufficient resources for its implementation (Spain)

6.263 Further invest in women’s economic empowerment and promote decent work for women in partnership with relevant international organizations (Thailand)

6.268 Implement the policy on promoting gender equality and bridging the gender gap, which focusing on enhancing the role and participation of women in the political, economic and social spheres (Cambodia)

6.284 Develop, in line with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, community-based and people-centred mental health services that do not lead to institutionalization and over medicalization and that respect the free and informed consent of persons with mental health conditions and psychosocial disabilities while combatting stigma and violence against them (Portugal)

6.288 Pursue efforts to adopt national legislation to ensure further respect of the rights of migrants, to prepare the ground for the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of all Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (Egypt)

6.289 Continue its efforts on prevention and reduction of statelessness through among others reacquisition of Vietnamese nationality and prevent children statelessness (Kenya)

Protest in Ho Chi Minh City on June 10, 2018. Photo courtesy: Facebook, unknown author.

Fundamental Freedoms

6.42 Enhance efforts to comply with the recommendations accepted during the second Universal Periodic Review cycle on guaranteeing the right to freedom of expression (Chile)

6.168 Take steps to guarantee freedom of opinion and freedom of expression, including on the internet, in the context of the adoption of the law on cybersecurity (France)

6.179 Protect civil and political rights, especially freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association (Luxembourg)

6.184 Restrictions on freedom of expression, and particularly online freedom, be lifted in line with Vietnam’s obligations under international law (Ireland)

6.189 Strengthen efforts to ensure the freedom of expression, including in the digital environment (Peru)

6.195 Ensure freedom of expression, including online, and promote actions to ensure freedom and independence of the media (Japan)

6.196 Continue the measures aimed at lifting all restrictions on the right to freedom of opinion and expression and to allow bloggers, journalists and other internet users to promote and protect human rights (Romania)

6.199 Enhance efforts to guarantee freedom of religion or belief, also by further reducing administrative obstacles to peaceful religious activities and by combating violence and discrimination on religious grounds (Italy)

6.200 Adopt legislative changes to guarantee the protection and free exercise of freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly (Spain)

6.206 Take the necessary measures to eliminate administrative barriers in order to guarantee exercise of freedom of worship (Angola)

6.207 Enact laws to provide for freedom of assembly and peaceful demonstration in line with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Australia)

6.209 Take further steps to ensure an independent and pluralistic media landscape, including by reducing political influence on media outlets (Austria)

6.210 Safeguard freedom of religion and believe for all in Vietnam (Kenya)

6.213 Increase and ensure Vietnamese citizens’ access to information, including by increasing radio and television coverage in all parts of the country (Cyprus)

6.236 Allow for the establishment of independent trade unions and to recognize their right to organise (Canada)

Four death-row inmates from left to right, Ho Duy Hai, Le Van Manh, Nguyen Van Chuong, Dang Van Hien. Photo courtesy: Luat Khoa.

Judicial System, Fair Trials and Due Process

6.147 Ensure that evidence obtained through torture is inadmissible in trial in keeping with Viet Nam’s obligations under the Convention against Torture (New Zealand)

6.148 Take steps to prohibit harassment and torture during the investigation process and detention and punish the perpetrators (Togo)

6.150 Abolish immediately at all levels the exercise of outdoor trials to ensure the right to the presumption of innocence, effective legal representation and fair trials (Denmark)

6.152 Revise the judicial system to provide a safer environment to victims in case of all crimes (Hungary)

6.156 Pursue judicial and institutional reforms to bring them into line with international human rights standards (Senegal)

6.158 Ensure that fair trial guarantees and due process rights, as provided in international law and standards, are respected and upheld in all cases (Slovakia)

6.164 Amend the Criminal Procedural Code so that persons are represented by a lawyer immediately following their arrest and to guarantee their right to a fair trial (Canada)

About the Author

Shiwei Ye is an Asia-based independent human rights analyst, strategy advisor, trainer, and civil society consultant.

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Freedom of expression

Reporters Without Borders Calls For The Release Of Pham Doan Trang

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Pham Doan Trang. Photo courtesy: Thinh Nguyen

On April 7, 2021, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) released a press statement condemning the arrest of jailed Vietnamese journalist Pham Doan Trang

Phan Doan Trang, co-founder and editor of the online magazines The Vietnamese and Luât Khoa, and a recipient of the 2019 RSF Press Freedom Prize for Impact, was arrested at her home on the night of October 6, 2020. She was taken away by plainclothes policemen and has not been heard from since She has been denied access to a lawyer and her family has also been unable to contact her. Currently, she faces up to 20 years in prison under Article 117 of the Vietnamese Penal Code, under the charge of engaging in “anti-state propaganda”. 

Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk, says: “The Vietnamese Communist Party’s current leadership… needs to understand that history will hold them to account for the crackdown on press freedom …. They can save face by freeing Pham Doan Trang and all of the other unjustly detained journalists.”

This is not the first time RSF has demanded her release. On October 7, 2020, just one day after her arrest, it published its first statement which echoes much of the same sentiments here. It has also launched an international awareness campaign to fight for her cause. 


Support from Other RSF Laureates 

Several other RSF awardees have called for Phan Doan Trang’s immediate and unconditional release. They have also released several videos in various social media outlets to show their support for her, and to help bring this situation to the attention of the international community. 

Tomasz Piatek, a Polish journalist and an RSF prize recipient in 2017, addressed Vietnam’s leaders:, “I am asking you to release my friend from prison immediately and stop harassing and tormenting her for writing the truth. If you want to present yourself to the world as politicians and leaders of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, you must immediately stop harassing your citizens and give your citizens the right to the truth.”

Swati Chaturvedi, an Indian journalist and Reporters Without Borders prize awardee in 2018, said, “RSF stands for the fight of all journalists. Please help and speak out for my colleague, my Vietnamese colleague Pham Doan Trang right now.”

Can Dündar, a Turkish journalist, documentary filmmaker and 2016 RSF laureate, similarly asked that the Vietnamese authorities release Phan Doan Trang and to respect the freedom of the media.

Inday Espina-Varona, a Filipina journalist and awardee of RSF’s Prize for Independence in 2018, stated that Pham Doan Trang “has been charged with disseminating information that opposed the state of Vietnam… [it is] every journalist and citizen’s obligation to criticise and when necessary to oppose policies and actions inimical to the welfare and rights of people… it is also the duty of journalists and citizens wherever we are in the world to stand up when those who seek to do the right thing are battered for their efforts.”


Statement from the Publication: 

The Vietnamese joins Reporters Without Borders and our other international allies in demanding for the expedient release of Pham Doan Trang. The trumped-up charges against her are clearly false and the only thing she is guilty of is providing Vietnamese citizens with accurate and independent information free from the manipulation and misdirection of the Vietnamese government and its selfish misguided agenda.

The fight for freedom, democracy, and a better tomorrow for Vietnam continues and we at The Vietnamese will do our part to see this through till the end. 

To show your support for this cause, kindly consider signing this petition for the swift release of our co-founder, colleague, and friend. 

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Human Rights

The Women Of Possibilities

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From left: Pham Doan Trang, Can Thi Theu, Nguyen Thuy Hanh. Photo: Luat Khoa Magazine/PhotoMania.

This article was published in Vietnamese by Luat Khoa Magazine on March 8, 2019. The translation was done by Will Nguyen. More than two years after the Vietnamese article was published, all three women in this article have been arrested and charged with national security laws in Vietnam. We do not want their stories to go in silence, so we translate them to tell the world about who these women are: the women of possibilities.


March 8, is International Women’s Day, and Vietnam celebrates this holiday wholeheartedly.

However, no mainstream newspapers will write about the three women in this article. No organizations will honor them. No solemn ceremony will have them as guests. And among those who “care” about them the most are usually…the Vietnamese police.

They say things few people say.

They do things few people do.

They’ve accepted risks that few people dare accept. 

In actuality, they’re part of a world that few care about or dwell on; for these individuals, few are willing to stand by their side.

The women we speak of in this special piece represent the hidden aspirations, the beautiful reflections, the burning dreams of an entire nation. They’re singing for us a song of freedom, nurturing a better future for each and every one of us.

Nguyen Thuy Hanh

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Activist Nguyen Thuy Hanh. Photo: Huynh Ngoc Chenh. Graphic: Luat Khoa Magazine.

In February of 2016, a wave of independent candidates competed for seats in the National Assembly, setting off a movement that was the largest of its kind in post-1975 Vietnam. Approximately 30 candidates had signed up, only for the “consultation” process to remove them from the roster. Nguyen Thuy Hanh was among them.

Different from Party-nominated candidates, independent candidates announced their action plans. And different from nearly all independent candidates, Nguyen Thuy Hanh was the rare voice that included women’s rights in her platform. She called for stricter laws on violence against women and human trafficking, encouraged job creation, and pushed for education policies and legal support for women.

Born in 1963, Nguyen Thuy Hanh is a Hanoi woman whose soul is full of art and romance. She has participated in civil society struggles since the 2011 anti-China protests, when protesting was especially taboo not just in the minds of state officials but the vast majority of ordinary citizens.

Over nearly eight years, having participated in tens of protests and having been beaten and arrested many times, she has witnessed Vietnamese society slowly change, from opposing the right to protest to respecting and then supporting it. When boisterous, nationwide protests broke out on June 10th, 2018 and tens of thousands of people took to the streets to oppose the Special Economic Zones and Cybersecurity Laws, Nguyen Thuy Hanh was perhaps one of the most elated, for her contributions had normalized what had previously been one of the most “sensitive” acts in society. 

However, Nguyen Thuy Hanh’s name is more often connected to the “50k Fund”, which she created to financially support prisoners of conscience and their families.  The fund started at the beginning of 2018, originating from a brief, online fundraiser to help a number of activists on trial. Hanh had received several fold the amount requested and thus, the idea for a future fund to help activists at-risk unexpectedly came into being.

The 50k Fund aimed to help with difficult situations lesser known to the public, and its name was purposefully chosen to encourage people to donate small amounts, rather than >50,000 VND (~2.20 USD), popularly believed to be the minimum for charity. Such small amounts also assuaged donor fears of police harassment.

To this day, Nguyen Thuy Hanh’s 50k Fund has received thousands of donations, totaling many billions of VND (~hundreds of thousands of USD), all of which are documented in detail on her public Facebook account.  

The 50k Fund’s meaningfulness goes beyond providing prisoners of conscience everyday material support. It also awakens the emotions of ordinary citizens, encouraging them to care more about politics and helping them overcome the intangible fear constraining their hearts and minds. The 50k Fund normalizes and makes concrete that which is considered “political” or “sensitive”, bringing to citizens the full splendor and meaning of civil society struggle.

A lover of beauty and romance, Nguyen Thuy Hanh draws a long, brilliant stroke for the Vietnamese democracy movement.  

Can Thi Theu

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Peasant leader Can Thi Theu. Photo: RFA. Graphic: Luat Khoa Magazine.

People normally think of peasant leaders as something from their history classes, as figures only found in textbooks. But Can Thi Theu is a real-life, flesh-and-blood peasant leader, a heart beating strongly within the body politic.

The life of this courageous woman is connected to the phrase “Duong Noi’s disenfranchised citizens”. Duong Noi is a ward in Ha Dong District. Prior to 2008, it was part of Ha Tinh Province, but today, it has been incorporated into Hanoi. Can Thi Theu’s name is probably not mentioned very often in domestic or international press, and she doesn’t have her own English-language Wikipedia page. From 2007, she became one of thousands of disenfranchised citizens who lost their land when the government forcefully reclaimed agricultural and cemetery land in Duong Noi for new urban construction projects.

The “disenfranchisement” of farmers like Can Thi Theu lies in their complete exclusion from the process, from project planning all the way to land acquisition.

They were not consulted about compensation or relocation assistance, and the government did not provide them any kind of vocational training after taking away their livelihoods. Furthermore, the gravesites of their ancestors were leveled without notification of their displacement.

As a woman born in the year of the Tiger (1962), Can Thi Theu rose among the thousands of disenfranchised citizens to become leader, with her strategic mind, her ability to see in the short- and the long-term, and her skill in thwarting police tactics.

Her leadership skills also manifest in her ability to endure and sacrifice for others, forever taking the hit while protecting those in her care. She is patient and looks past the small, unimportant details to achieve the peasant movement’s longer-term goals. It must be remembered that these farmers lost their land 12 years ago; it’s not easy to keep Duong Noi a hot topic to this day.

The price that Can Thi Theu had to pay was not small. She was twice imprisoned (2014 – 2015 and 2016 – 2018) for a total of two years and 11 months, for obstruction of officials and disturbing public order.

From prison in the Central Highlands, she wrote a letter home to her fellow citizens before the 2017 Lunar New Year: “Fight to the end, to demand the return of our land, our right to live, and our rights as human beings, which the communist regime has stolen from my family and those who share our plight.”

You read that properly. Northern farmer Can Thi Theu is not afraid of calling out the “elephant in the room”, the direct perpetrators of the injustice that she and farmers like her have had to endure.

Can Thi Theu became the face of one of the greatest forms of injustice that Vietnamese citizens contend with, when she fell victim to the Vietnamese Communist Party’s larcenous land policy, which it has consistently carried out for decades.

She is also a living representative for those fighting to abolish “universal ownership” of land, seeking to establish legitimate, private land ownership rights for every individual. Every act in Vietnamese history has been intimately tied to land, and Can Thi Theu has placed herself center-stage for the next.

Pham Doan Trang

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Activist Pham Doan Trang. Photo: Tri Dung. Graphic: Luat Khoa Magazine.

If someone believed that it was impossible to be a bona-fide journalist in Vietnam’s mainstream media environment, then Pham Doan Trang proves the opposite. She has 12 years of experience as a sterling journalist at VnExpress, VietNamNet, and Ho Chi Minh City Law, with reams of critical stories and excellent documentations.

If someone believed that journalists and intellectuals in Vietnam faced insurmountable political restrictions, then Pham Doan Trang proves the opposite.

She constantly embarks on endless explorations to (un)cover the most sensitive, most dangerous, most censored topics.

She also does not limit herself within the rigid confines of mainstream newspapers; instead, she uses all the tools at her disposal to write and publish. Independent newspapers, overseas newspapers, blogs, social media, samizdat—Doan Trang has adeptly utilized them all to convey information to her readers.

For Doan Trang, the concept of “hitting the ceiling” is completely foreign; she is forever someone who lifts those ceilings so that others may have more breathing room.

If someone believed that they were unable to surmount material, physical, and even spiritual difficulties, then Pham Doan Trang proves the opposite.

A small and frail woman with numerous scars and injuries, she has had to endure countless assaults by police, drifting through more than 35 different locations across the country over the past 20 months to escape police pursuit and continue her work.

She lives frugally, no different from those provincial students in the 90s, who left to study in the city, but people would see her write consistently and prolifically.

Politics for the Common People, Non-violent Resistance, and Studying Public Policy Through the Case of SEZs are just some of the many titles she’s penned over the years.

Born in 1978, Doan Trang belongs to the post-war generation and grew up when the country and the world were changing at dizzying speeds. Unsatisfied with the disorderly state of the country, people like Doan Trang saw it as their role to address these disorders. For her, there is always work to do, and she does so, without rest.

Doan Trang swears by a lifetime oath: to never leave Vietnam, not even for a day, while it remains without democracy. 

Doan Trang personifies fierceness and does not compromise with evil or cowardice. But she is also full of romance and forever searches for beauty in the strums of a guitar.

She inspires people to stand up, to take steps and discover the beauty of politics. With knowledge and vigor, she represents for many the aspiration for a democratic Vietnam, the light of hope in the dark depths of despair, and the ability for oneself to embody that hope.

Doan Trang talks the talk and walks the walk, inspiring many with what could be; her life, simply put, is a powerful testament to what could be.


The three women in this piece embody the possibilities. They have defied political and gender stereotypes that weigh down their every step. The meaning of March 8th has never lain in flowers or gifts; it lies in the women who fight for what is right and just.

This March 8, we reserve flowers for women like Nguyen Thuy Hanh, Can Thi Theu, and Pham Doan Trang.

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Politics

Ho Chi Minh – From Political Monument To God Of Prayers – Part 2

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The religious teaching documents of the "Way of Ho Chi Minh as the Jade Buddha". Photo: phatgiao.org.vn.

This article was written in Vietnamese by Vo Van Quan and was previously published in the Luat Khoa Magazine on February 1, 2021. 


The religion Way of Uncle Ho aims to start a spiritual revolution in order to save the nation from foreign enemies, both past and present. This revolution also aspires to harmonize the balance between the worlds found in this religion’s metaphysical framework. These worlds include the Heavenly realm, the Buddha’s realm, the Earthly realm, and the Yin realm.

“A spiritual heavenly revolution.

Replace the old, change to the new. This religion will bring the people and our country up and we will no longer be slaves of others.

From now on there will be a new order. By the law of God, by the demand of our ancestors.”

According to the teachings of this religion, the Heavenly realm rules over the other three realms. However, the blasphemous behavior, attitude, and way of worship in the Earthly realm destabilizes the harmony of the other worlds.

This religion espouses that, because of Ho Chi Minh’s achievements, the purity of his soul, and his moral conduct on earth, his soul was “elected” to become the leader of the Heavenly Palace upon passing away. Henceforth, he leads the spiritual revolution which claims to promote the right path to reach heaven in the material world.

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Photo: Hochiminh.vn.

In Chapter 4 of “New Religions and State’s Response to Religious Diversification in Contemporary Vietnam,” the author Hoang Van Chung summarizes the eight issues that this revolution wants to address:

1. A mistaken understanding of the origins of the Vietnamese people and the their neglect of ancestor worship;

2. The overuse of joss paper and objects;

3. The incorrect performance of traditional rituals to the Mother Goddess;

4. A mistake in dating the death anniversary of Ho Chi Minh;

5. The invalidity of rituals of spiritual possession;

6. The pervasive worship of foreign spirits and gods, such as the Indian Buddha, Jesus Christ, and Chinese spiritual figures (Guan Yin or Bodhisattva);

7. Disrespect for heroic martyrs; and

8. Making mistakes in medical diagnosis and the treatment of illnesses caused by spiritual entities.

The religious texts of the Peace Society state:

“In the twenty-first century

The first Vietnamese Buddha was born.”

Monism has since become the motto of Ho Chi Minh’s religion. This religion states that the Vietnamese people can only worship the Vietnamese Buddha: “Uncle Ho.” Worship of any other foreign power also goes against their tenets and beliefs.

“Do not worship foreign gods

We worship our own Buddha in our country.”

Most importantly, Vietnam is seen as the leader of the entire revolutionary process that determines the future of mankind; this demonstrates a somewhat extreme form of nationalism.

“Vietnam is the eldest son of the Emperor.

Born first in the Earthly world.”

If people disobey the Jade Buddha’s commands, natural disasters, epidemics, wars, and social disorder will befall human society. This punishment is therefore not limited to  just one nation or to one group of people, but extends to the entire world. 

What is the Way of Uncle Ho’s religious practice?

The Ho Chi Minh religion has its own form of exorcism and this practice, in general, is very popular in the north. However, Madam Xoan believed that those who perform this act, if they come from the Mother Goddess religion or other popular sects, would often lose their cognitive abilities. On the contrary, Madam Xoan claimed she was a disciple of the Jade Buddha, so she could hear and preach the voice of the Jade Buddha without losing her reason.

As for worship, adherents of this religion are guided to worship Ho Chi Minh at home.

These worshipers have an altar that includes a statue or photo of Ho Chi Minh, the Communist Party’s version of the Vietnamese flag, and a bowl of incense. This altar should also be higher than all other altars in the house. Each day believers are required to offer fresh flowers, cakes, or fruits. Prayer is optional, but burning joss paper and other objects is prohibited. Their holidays also follow the official Vietnamese national holiday calendar which somewhat shows the religion takes a political stance.

One of the Ho Chi Minh Shrines in Ben Tre. Photo: The Vietnamese.

With respect to mass religious gatherings, the Peace Society spends most of its time performing activities such as the annual ancestral worship ceremony, which obviously includes Ho Chi Minh and the martyrs. They also provide magic spells and incantations.

It is also quite interesting to note that the Way of Uncle Ho has a very high anti-Chinese sentiment.

According to the leaders of the Peace Society, evil spirits are the wandering souls of the Chinese invaders who died years ago. They still haunt Vietnam, harm the people’s health, and negatively influence the future of the nation.

“Don’t listen to evil spirits. In the past, they were the enemy who deceived us and harmed us.

They admired evil and always wanted to invade our country.”

When the Hai Duong 981 drilling rig entered Vietnamese territorial waters in 2014, Madam Xoan and 400 other followers gathered, prayed, and condemned the behavior of the enemy in the north, the Chinese.

“I pray to Uncle Ho, he will pour out the safe water

[…] So that he could protect our sovereignty over seas and islands

from being  invaded, in heaven and on earth.”


Madam Xoan has repeatedly tried to register this religion with the Vietnamese government, but the answer from officials is usually to wait for a decision from their superiors. She is also believed to have close connections with more than 30 figures in the central government, including scientists working in state agencies, ministry officials, and intellectuals interested in studying and learning about this religion.

According to research estimates, there are believed to be more than 10,000 official followers of the Way of Uncle Ho, and major ceremonies take place with more or less a thousand believers in attendance. This is a significant figure if you consider the fact that other domestic religions are slowly dying.

In addition, although not officially recognized, the followers of Ho Chi Minh’s religions, such as the Jade Buddha, receive approval from the government, along with the ability to exercise their freedom of religion easier than others. 

However, these were the study’s conclusions up to the time of publication (2017). 

In more recent times, the Way of Uncle Ho as the Jade Buddha has also fallen under the close scrutiny of local authorities. For example, the People’s Public Security newspaper published an article that claimed the Way of Uncle Ho had used Ho Chi Minh’s image with “misguided claims,” such as alleging that it “received Uncle Ho’s blessings” and its leaders offered some medicinal leaves to cure all diseases of the people. The authorities of some provinces, such as Vinh Phuc, also warned that this religion was an act of “illegal” religious activities. 

The Vietnamese government is now in a dilemma. Should it maintain the treatment of Uncle Ho as a well-loved political figure and expect all Vietnamese citizens to continue worshiping his life? Or will the authorities rein in the Way of Uncle Ho and other cults and illegal religions involving Ho Chi Minh, and deal with these religious activities as it has often dealt with other different religions in the country? Only time will tell us how the authoritarian government of Vietnam will act on this issue. 

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