Vietnam Briefing: Vietnam Continues Using Article 331 To Suppress Human Rights

Vietnam Briefing: Vietnam Continues Using Article 331 To Suppress Human Rights
Human Rights Measurement Initiative (HRMI) webpage (left;) five of the six prosecuted members of Tinh That Bong Lai, an independent religious facility (right.) Photo: HRMI webpage/ Tinh That Bong Lai Facebook page.

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

Human Rights Measurement Initiative publishes a report on Vietnam’s human rights situation

  • According to an annual report released on June 22 by the Human Rights Measurement Initiative  (HRMI), Vietnam has made progress in improving the quality of life for its citizens over the years, but it still lags behind other countries in the region in terms of respect for civil and political freedom.
  • HRMR, a New Zealand-based organization founded by a group of human rights practitioners and researchers,  measures the state of human rights performance in countries around the world based on a total of 13 rights, which are categorized into three main sections: Quality of life, Safety from the State, and Empowerment.
  • Vietnam scores 5.3 out of 10 in the “Safety from the State” section, which is considered a “bad” performance by HRMI measurement. According to the measurement chart, Vietnamese citizens are still subjected to the threats of arbitrary arrest, death penalty, torture and ill-treatment by the state.
  • Meanwhile, Vietnam only scores 3 out of 10 in the “Empowerment” section; the score is deemed ‘very bad’ by HRMI. This is due to major restrictions on citizens’ rights to freedom of association, expression, and participation in the government.
  • In an interview with RFA, HRMI head of strategy and communications, Thalia Kehoe Rowden, said that it’s encouraging to see Vietnam’s small but steady improvements over the last few years in several areas of human rights, such as the right to be free of forced disappearance, arbitrary arrest and detention, and extrajudicial execution.
  • However, Rowden added that “there is considerable room for improvement” since “these scores still all fall in the ‘bad’ or ‘fair’ ranges.”

Former police captain sentenced to 3 years in prison under Article 331

  • Le Chi Thanh, a former police captain, who is well-known for his live-stream postings exposing corruption and wrongdoings within the police forces, received three years in jail on June 22 for “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe on State and individuals’ legitimate rights and interests,” under Article 331 of Vietnam’s Penal Code.
  • Lawyers and legal professionals in Vietnam argue that Article 331 is completely redundant and can be abused by the government to restrict freedom of speech.
  • The indictment states that Thanh used social networks to accuse Colonel Le Ba Thuy, his former superior officer at Ham Tan Detention Center in Binh Thuan Province, of corruption and receiving bribes. The court claimed that the information published by Thanh was “distorted and untrue.”
  • The former police captain was previously convicted of “resisting officers on official duty” and sentenced to two years in prison. Together with the new conviction, he will serve a total of five years in prison.
  • According to RFA, Le Thi Phu, Thanh’s mother, said her son would not file an appeal. Instead, she plans to lobby high-level officials in the police agency to reduce his prison term.

A Vietnamese Facebook user is jailed for “publishing distorted information on COVID-19 prevention policy”

  • On June 23, Phan Huu Diep Anh, a Facebook user living in Ho Chi Minh City, was sentenced to one and a half years in prison on the charge of “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe on State and individuals’ legitimate rights and interests,” under Article 331 of Vietnam’s Penal Code, state media reported.
  • According to the indictment, on July 19, 2021, Anh used his Facebook account, called Phan Anh Huu, to publish two photos and a video of a man self-immolating, and claimed that the man killed himself because he was frustrated with the Vietnamese government’s radical and abusive zero-COVID policy.
  • The local authorities later denied Anh’s accusation and explained that this man committed suicide because he had a mental illness and that this incident had nothing to do with Vietnam’s COVID-19 prevention policy.
  • On July 21, 2021, Binh Thanh District’s Public Security Agency officially prosecuted Anh for posting “defamatory and false information” and “spreading fear and confusion among the population.” The Public Security Agency also concluded that Anh had edited and posted more than 30 items on social media that were “false and distorted.”

The international community calls for the release of environmental activist Nguy Thi Khanh

  • In a press statement on June 19, State Department Spokesperson Ned Price said the U.S. government “is deeply concerned” about the sentencing of Vietnamese environmental activist and Goldman Environmental Prize recipient Nguy Thi Khanh. Khanh was convicted of “committing tax evasion” and sentenced to two years of imprisonment on June 17.
  • The Vietnamese environmental activist has been popularly known for her role in campaigning for Vietnam to cut down coal production and adopt greener energy alternatives. Many believe that Khanh’s activism puts her at odds with Vietnam’s ambition to boost its coal production.
  • The State Department added that civil society plays “a crucial part in helping countries like Vietnam meet their climate change and environmental protection goals.” Vietnam previously arrested and imprisoned other climate and environmental activists, including Mai Phan Loi, Dang Dinh Bach, and Bach Hung Duong on similar charges.
  • In a public statement on June 21, the U.K. government said that it is concerned “over the shrinking space in Vietnam for civil society to discuss and contribute to issues of importance, such as climate change.” The U.K. also acknowledged the crucial role of civil society representatives like Khanh in “highlighting the key problems of our age and in finding practical solutions to address them.”
  • The Canadian consulate-general in Ho Chi Minh City on June 22 said that Canada “expresses deep concern” for the sentencing of Nguy Thi Khanh and that it “joins the calls for her release.” “Vietnam’s climate change and environmental goals require the contributions of all sectors of society without fear,” the consulate-general added.
  • The international environmental group Climate Action Network (CAN,) a global network of 1,800 civil society organizations in over 130 countries, in a news release on June 20 condemned the imprisonment of Nguy Thi Khanh and also called for her immediate release.
  • CAN said that Khanh’s environmental work against coal use is the reason for her arrest and it had brought “a chilling effect on other environmental civil society groups advocating for environmental protection and addressing the effects of climate change.”
  • The Vietnamese government, on the other hand, claimed that the imprisonment of Nguy Thi Khanh was for “tax evasion” and not because of her environmental campaigning. It also rejected calls for the release of Khanh and other climate change activists.
  • “Comments saying that Khanh’s arrest and the verdict were due to her environmental campaigns are groundless and do not reflect the nature of this case,” Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Le Thi Thu Hang said on June 23.

Attorneys ask for the postponement of Tinh That Bong Lai’s trial

  • On June 23, a group of five attorneys sent a complaint letter to Long An Provincial People’s Court to ask for the halt of the trial of six members of Tinh That Bong Lai,  a local orphanage and independent religious facility, due to the lack of preparation time for the hearing. The trial date for Tinh That Bong Lai members was set to take place on June 30.
  • Five monks at Tinh That Bong Lai, including the head monk Le Tung Van, Le Thanh Hoan Nguyen, Le Thanh Nhat Nguyen, Le Thanh Trung Duong, Le Thanh Nhi Nguyen, and the facility’s landowner, Le Thi Cuc, were arrested and prosecuted for “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe on State and individuals’ legitimate rights and interests,” under Article 331 of Vietnam’s Penal Code.
  • The local authorities alleged that the monks and nuns at Tinh That Bong Lai took advantage of their reputation as a religious facility to “call for donations” and “defame” other legitimate Buddhist leaders. Head monk Le Tung Van was also accused by Vietnam’s state-run media of “committing fraud” and “incest.” Tinh That Bong Lai members have denied all of the allegations.
  • On June 21, Tinh That Bong Lai’s defense attorneys also sent an 11-page urgent report to Vietnam’s central government to raise concerns over serious legal violations of the investigation process into the alleged wrongdoings of this religious facility. For example, the lawyers pointed out that local police were both prosecutors and investigators of the case, which might violate the objectivity of the investigation process.

An ethnic Hmong family told to renounce their religious belief or face punishment


  • A Hmong family in Vietnam’s Nghe An Province say they are being persecuted by local authorities for religious reasons. They told RFA at least one child was denied a birth certificate because the parents refused to renounce Protestantism.
  • On June 15, Xong Ba Thong, a Hmong Protestant from Na Ngoi Commune, Ky Son District, Nghe An Province, sent a report to the Evangelical Church of Vietnam, claiming that his family had faced persecution for practicing their religious belief, even though his family had been approved to join a legal religious organization.
  • Thong said that around 2017, his entire family, including his parents, younger siblings and himself, voluntarily converted to Protestantism after learning about the religion through radio broadcasts. But around 2019, local authorities began demanding that the family renounce Protestantism and forced them to return to the Hmong custom of spirit-worshipping.
  • “They said that here in Ky Son District, Na Ngoi Commune and the whole of Nghe An Province, no one followed such a religion, and they said it was against the law to follow another religion. [The authorities] also said that [by following Protestantism] we have greatly affected national unity,” Thong said.

Vietnam Insight: Learn more about Vietnam

‘Surprise’ jailing in Vietnam tests US, EU climate strategy

Politico/ Karl Mathiesen, Zack Colman/ June 24

“The sentencing of Ngụy Thị Khanh, her country's most high-profile environmental voice, to two years in prison for tax evasion raises questions about Vietnam’s commitment to ditching coal. But it highlights a broader challenge that U.S. Special Climate Envoy John Kerry and his EU counterpart Frans Timmermans face in trying to convince nations such as China and Saudi Arabia that have poor human rights records to take action to reduce their planet-warming emissions.

The Friday sentencing came as the western powers were negotiating with Vietnam on a plan to spend billions to further its transition to cleaner energy sources. But civil society organizations are now pressuring U.S. and EU government officials to require climate activists jailed in Vietnam to be released in exchange for helping to finance that transition. That move could be on the table, but would be a difficult step to take given fragile diplomatic relationships and because they are wary of derailing a deal aimed at shifting the ninth largest coal consumer off the dirtiest fossil fuel.”

Behind Vietnam’s anti-fake news decree, a campaign against dissent

Rappler/ June 20

“The Vietnam Anti-Fake News Center has, to date, been the largest-scale top-down initiative in correcting false or wrong information in the country. It does so by adapting its fact-checking method to the realities of a media environment where news organizations come under the state.

According to Minh Le, vice president of the Vietnam News Agency, Vietnam has not had independent and professional fact-checking organizations similar to those found in other countries.

The center works under the Authority of Broadcasting & Electronic Information of Vietnam, which falls under the Ministry of Information and Communications. The center’s website categorizes false information under eight topics, from policy and law to disasters and epidemics. These topics remain unelaborated, however.”

Dual Covid corruption scandals rock Vietnam

Asia Times/ Nate Fischler/ June 20

“Equally important, the Blazing Furnace campaign merely targets individual corruption, not institutional corruption. Despite the Party’s best efforts, what has been accomplished is tantamount to hundreds of instances of individual cases that do little to stem institutional factors.

With millions of people on the state payroll, wages and benefits remain mostly meager. Those wishing to join the state apparatus are, in practice, required to pay a fee. Afterwards, when a degree of power is accumulated, such individuals are exposed to a variety of corrupt practices that are intrinsic to maintaining the status quo.

Corruption is thus not an individual choice but an institutional necessity. Those who refuse corruption tend to find themselves on the outside looking in.”

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