Vietnam Briefing: 119 death sentences recorded in 2021

Vietnam Briefing: 119 death sentences recorded in 2021
Photo: Amnesty International/ Martin Ennals Award. Graphics by The Vietnamese Magazine.

The Vietnam Briefing, which is released every Monday morning Vietnam time, looks at Vietnam’s social and political developments of the past week.

Amnesty International report: Hundreds of people sentenced to death annually in Vietnam

  • In an annual report released on May 24 documenting the international judicial use of death penalty, Amnesty International noted that at least 119 death sentences were recorded in Vietnam last year, and that “a 30% increase was recorded between 1 October 2020 and 31 July 2021.”
  • The report said that there is no official record of the number of death penalties that have occurred  in Vietnam since the numbers are classified as a state secret. However, Amnesty’s calculation suggests that there were around 1,200 people under sentence of death at the end of 2021 in Vietnam. According to the report, Vietnam is the only country in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations that carried out executions in 2021.
  • Drug trafficking offenses accounted for the majority of death sentences in Vietnam. It was calculated that 93 of the 119 new death sentences in Vietnam were imposed for drug-related offenses.

Former Vietnamese journalist’s health worsens in jail


  • Nguyen Tuong Thuy, a Vietnamese journalist jailed for writing articles that criticized Vietnam’s one-party communist government, is in failing health, according to RFA. The prison authorities also refused his family’s request to approve medical treatment for Thuy outside the facility.
  • Thuy, 72, is a former vice president of the Vietnam Independent Journalists Association (IJAVN). He is currently serving an 11-year sentence at the An Phuoc Detention Center in Vietnam’s Binh Duong Province on the charge of “distributing anti-state propaganda.”
  • The former journalist is now suffering from back pain, high blood pressure, scabies and inflammatory bowel disease, Thuy’s wife, Pham Thi Lan, told RFA in a recent interview.
  • Thuy’s harsh treatment behind bars may be due to his refusal to plead guilty to the charges filed against him, Lan said. She called on the international community to pressure Vietnam to allow him to receive medical care.

Vietnamese delegation arrives in Geneva to advocate for human rights improvements in Vietnam

  • In preparation for the Martin Ennals Award (MEA) ceremony on June 2, a Vietnamese civil society delegation arrived in Geneva, Switzerland on an advocacy trip to push for the improvement of the human rights situation in Vietnam and the release of journalist Pham Doan Trang, one of the three MEA laureates this year.
  • Bui Thi Thien Can, Doan Trang’s mother, and a member of the delegation, will receive the award on behalf of her daughter. Other members of the delegation include Will Nguyen, a former political prisoner, and a pro-democracy advocate; and Tran Quynh-Vi, co-director of Legal Initiatives for Vietnam (LIV.)
  • In an email interview with RFA, Nguyen said one of the priorities of the delegation’s agenda is to pressure the Vietnamese authorities to “provide adequate and immediate healthcare services” for Pham Doan Trang as her health has significantly deteriorated while in detention.
  • Nguyen added that the delegation would also demand the international representatives at the award to pressure Hanoi to respect the human rights of its citizens and uphold Vietnam’s international commitments and its own Constitution in safeguarding fundamental freedoms.
  • The latest arrests and imprisonment of civil society leaders in Vietnam, including Mai Phan Loi, Dang Dinh Bach, and Bach Hung Duong, who are the executive board members of the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA)-VNGO, are also mentioned in the delegation’s working agenda with the international community, Nguyen said.

Vietnamese activist arrested on “anti-state” charges

  • Truong Van Dung, a Vietnamese pro-democracy activist, was arrested at his home on May 21 on “anti-state” charges. Nghiem Thi Hop, his wife, told RFA in an interview that Dung was detained by plainclothes police around 7.30 am. The police later conducted a house search and confiscated some of Dung’s books, laptop computer and protest bandrolls, according to Hop.
  • According to State media, Dung was charged with “distributing anti-state propaganda,” a violation of Article 88 of Vietnam’s 1999 Penal Code. The arrest warrant was approved by the Hanoi City People’s Procuracy, state media reported.
  • Dung, 64, is popularly known for his activism on the promotion of human rights and Vietnam’s maritime sovereignty issues. Dung also co-founded a civil association named “Hoi Bau Bi Tuong Than” (Mutual support among countrymen,) which was established to support political prisoners in Vietnam and their families.
  • Dung previously participated in several demonstrations protesting Beijing’s aggression in the South China Sea and consequently became a target of police harassment and assault. In 2018, he was beaten unconscious by Hanoi police after attending a memorial ceremony for Vietnamese martyrs who died in the Gac Ma incident, according to the ceremony attendees.
  • The family of Truong Van Dung also encountered difficulty in sending him supplies in detention. Nghiem Thi Hop told RFA that when she came to the detention center on May 24 to deliver basic necessities to her husband, the authorities refused to receive her supplies and requested that she purchase those items at the facility-owned canteen.
  • Hop added that the authorities also refused to accept the books she sent to her husband since they claimed they could not “verify its content.”

Activist Do Nam Trung transferred to a prison camp far from home

  • In an interview with RFA on May 26, Nguyen Thi Anh Tuyet, fiancee of Vietnamese activist Do Nam Trung, said that Trung had been transferred from the Nam Dinh Prison to Thanh Hoa Province’s Prison Camp 5 on the same day. The new prison is located 200 kilometers away from his home.
  • Do Nam Trung was convicted of “distributing anti-state materials” in December last year and subsequently sentenced to 10 years in prison. A court in Vietnam’s Nam Dinh Province upheld his conviction in an appeals trial on March 24.
  • The Vietnamese authorities have commonly transferred political prisoners to detention centers located far from their homes in order to limit family visitations and their contacts outside the prison.

12 Hmong people jailed for attending a religious leader’s funeral

  • In an online update on May 24, attorney Nguyen Van Mieng announced that a court in Vietnam’s Tuyen Quang Province had given prison sentences to  12 Hmong people who had participated in the funeral of religious leader Duong Van Minh on December 12, 2021.
  • The Tuyen Quang authorities previously prosecuted a total of 15 people, charging them with “resisting officers in the performance of their duties” and “violating safety regulations in crowded places.”
  • According to Mieng’s update, after a three-day trial, from May 18-20, the court sentenced one person to four years in prison, four people to two years and six months in prison, and the other seven people to two years each in prison. They were charged with “resisting officers on public duty,” a violation of Article 330 of Vietnam’s Penal Code.
  • The attorney added that a person could only be prosecuted using this law when they are proven to have inflicted death, injuries or financial damages to more than two people. However, none of the public officers were killed or injured during the funeral, he noted.
  • The trial date for another three Hmong practitioners, including Duong Van Tu, Ly Van Anh, and Duong Van Lanh, has not been announced, Mieng wrote.

The Third Meeting of Vietnam’s 15th National Assembly begins on May 23

  • According to vice chairman of Vietnam’s National Assembly Office, Vu Minh Tuan, the third session of the country’s 15th National Assembly began on May 23 and is expected to last for 19 days. At a press conference in Hanoi on May 20, Tuan said that the Vietnamese legislators are expected to debate and approve five draft laws, three draft resolutions, and to examine six other bills.
  • More specifically, the National Assembly will consider and approve amendments to a number of articles of the Intellectual Property Law, the Insurance Business Law, the Cinematography Law, the Emulation and Commendation Law, and the Mobile Police Law.
  • At the same time, the legislators will debate six bills, including the draft revisions of the Domestic Violation Prevention and Control Law, Medical Examination and Treatment Law, Implementation of Democracy at Grassroots Level Law, Inspection Law, Radio Frequency Law, and Petroleum Law.
  • Most importantly, the Vietnamese lawmakers also expressed their concerns over the draft revision of the Mobile Police Law and emphasized the need for the law to be more specific and strict regarding situations where mobile police forces are allowed to bring weapons and other special technical devices onto airplanes and ships. They noted that this law needs to be further reviewed to avoid an abuse of power by police officers.

Vietnam Insight: Learn more about Vietnam

Deadly confessions, the hidden abuse by Vietnam’s police

Southeast Asia Globe/ Govi Snell/ May 27

“Torture as an interrogation technique is driven by the rat race in Vietnam’s police force where there is constant pressure to close cases quickly to get promoted, said Le Cong Dinh, a lawyer and human rights advocate who was jailed and then put under house arrest for critiquing Vietnam’s ruling one-party government. Instead of investigating the evidence, police force their understanding of the crime onto a suspect.”

Biden must promote democracy among Asian nations — including Vietnam

The Hill/ Lianchao Han, Bradley A. Thayer/ May 22

“As the U.S. is tested in the Sino-American security competition, it needs allies that possess a shared vision. It needs a solid partnership that can be sustained in the face of China’s aggression. To meet the dangers posed by Beijing, the U.S.-ASEAN partnership must be based on similar values.

It is critical, therefore, for the U.S. to realize that communist values and ideology are the definition of the VCP.  That makes Vietnam a potentially unreliable partner for the U.S. and its democratic allies in the Indo-Pacific. The U.S. must promote democracy in Vietnam — and strengthen democracy in other ASEAN countries — to create the strongest coalition possible to resist China’s expansion and avoid the strategic ​​errors of the past.”

It Takes Two to Tango: Vietnam-US Relations in the New Context

ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute/ Hong Kong Nguyen, Pham Muoi Nguyen/ May 23

“Just as it has taken Vietnam and the United States decades to transform their relationship from foes to friends, it will take time for the two countries to build trust and deepen their current partnership. During this process, bilateral dialogues and engagements in different domains, including trade and investment, cultural, education and people-to-people exchanges, as well as defense and security cooperation activities, should be further strengthened and promoted.”

Vietnam and Russia’s Political Alignment: More than Meets the Eye

Fulcrum/ Hoang Thi Ha, Darren Cheong/ May 25

“Vietnam and Russia advocate alternative approaches that challenge the West’s human rights discourse. Such approaches put emphasis on national and regional particularities versus the notion of universality of human rights; the right to development and the importance of social-economic development as a means to realize human rights; respect for national sovereignty, non-interference in internal affairs, and diversity of democratic systems in electoral processes; and equitable geographical distribution of membership in human rights treaty bodies. Unlike the divergence in the previous period, both countries have completely converged in voting against resolutions on human rights situations in countries such as Sudan, Iraq, Syria, Uzbekistan, Belarus, North Korea and Myanmar.”

PM Chinh Goes to Washington: Equal Importance of Foreign and Domestic Goals

Fulcrum/ Le Hong Hiep/ May 17

“Boosting Vietnam’s economic performance within the next three years and strengthening his economic credentials will therefore be of critical significance for Chinh’s political prospects. Compared to foreign policy goals, economic outcomes from the U.S. visit and follow-up actions to implement them will be of equal, if not greater, significance for Chinh and his supporters. Vietnam’s economy is running into significant headwinds. If Chinh’s efforts in this regard are successful, he will burnish his political prospects — and also benefit the Vietnamese economy as a whole.”

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