Vietnam Briefing: A Prominent Writer Dies, Sparking Discussions Of His Works And Censorship

Trinh Huu Long
Trinh Huu Long

The Vietnam Briefing is released every Monday.

Last week, we had a new chief of external relations of the Communist Party, a detained activist being transferred to an unknown facility, and a prominent writer passed away.


Police transferred a detained land rights activist to another facility without informing his family of the details of the sudden move

Detained land rights activist Trinh Ba Phuong’s family says they were informed by officials of Hanoi No 1. Detention Center on March 19 during a prison visit that Phuong had been transferred to another detention facility. The officials have given them no further information about the move.

Who is  Phuong? He is a prominent land rights activist who is part of a group of farmers in Duong Noi, a rural area of Hanoi, who have been evicted from their land by the government since 2008. They claim the land acquisition was illegal and the compensation was extremely low. Phuong’s mother, Can Thi Theu, and father, Trinh Ba Khiem, have been imprisoned several times since then. Theu, and Trinh Ba Tu – Phuong’s brother, were arrested and detained again in June 2020 in the same case with Phuong. They are all charged under Article 117 of the Penal Code, which is “making, storing or disseminating information, documents, materials and items against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.”

One thing to note: In Vietnam, the government agency in charge of detention facilities and the investigative agencies are both under the authority of the Ministry of Public Security.


Prominent writer Nguyen Huy Thiep passes away at 72

If you talk about Vietnam’s literature and censorship, Nguyen Huy Thiep is the name you need to pay attention to. He is one of the most prominent Vietnamese writers since the Vietnam War. His death sparked discussions on social media on his work and how he suffered from heavy censorship.

Scholar Thomas Bass wrote:

“Thiep began his meteoric career in 1987, and already by 1988 he had published his collected works and celebrated what everyone was calling ‘the year of Nguyen Huy Thiep’. In 1989, the film of ‘The General Retires’ was released, and by 1990 Thiep was being installed as a member of the Writers’ Association. But this is also the year that copies of his works began disappearing from book stores. Nhan Dan, the party newspaper, published two essays attacking Thiep, claiming that he had ‘betrayed the Vietnamese Revolution by toppling sacred heroes in Vietnamese history’ and that he was ‘deceived by the chimera of pre-1975 Saigon’. The denunciation campaign continued until 1991, when the police raided Thiep’s house, carried off his books and manuscripts, and provoked a turning point in his life. This also marks a turning point in Vietnamese literature, when the country’s brief, five-year experiment with Renovation ended in the dark age that persists today.”


VCP has a new chief of external relations

Following the Party Congress in January-February, the Politburo continued to  appoint new personnel to top Party positions. On March 19, Le Hoai Trung was appointed head of the Commission for External Relations.

Who is he? Trung served as deputy minister of foreign affairs since 2010, and Vietnam’s ambassador to the United Nations in New York (2011-2014). He was elected to  the Party’s Central Committee in 2016 and 2021.


Learn more about Vietnam:

Should Vietnam become a member of the UN Human Rights Council?

ASEAN Today | 19 March 2021

“The UNHRC should push Vietnam to implement existing action plans to improve human rights conditions in the country, rather than offering it a place in the forum. If Vietnam becomes a member of the UNHRC, it will not only discredit the UN body’s standing but will also legitimize Vietnam’s policies of oppression.”

Vietnam Must Be Pleased With the Biden Administration… For the Most Part

The Diplomat | 16 March 2021

“…the Biden administration appears to emphasize not only shared national interests, but values as well, such as democracy, freedom, and human rights. For Hanoi, there is likely a certain amount of trepidation regarding the potential consequences of engaging with a more vocal Washington on these issues, which are extremely sensitive for Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP) leaders. Additionally, Hanoi likely has concerns about whether the Biden administration will take action against Vietnam for Trump-era allegations that it is a currency-manipulator as well as potential U.S. sanctions against Vietnam for purchasing Russian military equipment under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act.”

Vietnam BriefingNguyen Huy Thieppicks

Trinh Huu Long

A journalist and democracy advocate at @luatkhoatapchi and @thevnmesemag magazines. He's also a co-director of Legal Initiatives for Vietnam, a nonprofit organization that runs The Vietnamese.