Vietnam Briefing September 26, 2022: Activist Trinh Ba Tu Alleged He Was Tortured In Prison

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

Vietnam Briefing September 26, 2022: Activist Trinh Ba Tu Alleged He Was Tortured In Prison
Trinh Ba Tu, a Vietnamese land rights activist, and his mother, Can Thi Theu (left); The premises of Tinh That Bong Lai, an independent Buddhist temple in Long An Province (right). Photo: Human Rights Watch/ State media via RFA.

Vietnamese activist Trinh Ba Tu reportedly assaulted in prison

  • Trinh Ba Tu, a prominent Vietnamese land rights activist currently serving eight years in prison at Nghe An Province No.6 Prison, was allegedly beaten and shackled by the prison guards for many days while being held in solitary confinement. Trinh Ba Khiem, Tu’s father, told RFA that he learned about the maltreatment during a visit to his son on September 20.
  • According to Khiem, the prison guards interrupted their conversation, which lasted for 40 minutes, and forcefully pushed Trinh Ba Tu out of the visitation room after claiming he was beaten in custody. One prison official later informed Khiem that Tu was being disciplined for “writing defamatory letters” and that he will only be allowed family visitation every two months from now on instead of the usual monthly allowance.
  • Tu, 33, was known for his activism opposing illegal land confiscations and promoting freedom of expression in Vietnam. He was imprisoned for eight years in May 2021 for “distributing anti-State propaganda” under Article 117 of Vietnam’s Penal Code. Trinh Ba Phuong and Can Thi Theu, Tu’s brother and mother, are also serving 10 and eight years in jail, respectively, under the same “anti-State” charges.
  • Trinh Ba Tu’s family, on September 21, sent an urgent letter to Vietnamese government officials requesting an investigation into his alleged torture in prison. The letter noted that Tu had decided to carry out a hunger strike for 14 days since his last visitation to protest maltreatment by prison guards.
  • Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, on September 22, requested “an urgent, transparent, and impartial investigation of Trinh Ba Tu’s serious accusations that prison guards shackled and beat him,” while adding that “[h]arassment, retaliation, and abuses are sadly a regular part of Vietnam’s treatment of political dissidents held in detention.”
  • “That kind of treatment is outrageous and unacceptable, and the perpetrators should be held accountable for maltreating prisoners. Foreign diplomats and UN officials should request the Vietnam authorities allow them to visit Trinh Ba Tu, and conduct interviews with him to get to the bottom of this matter,” Robertson said.

Vietnamese blogger appeals his five-year sentence

  • Le Anh Hung, a Vietnamese blogger jailed for five years on charges of “abusing democratic freedom” under Article 331, has filed an appeal against his sentence, RFA reported, quoting the announcement from Nguyen Vu Binh, a fellow activist, and journalist who was previously informed about the appeal by Hung’s mother, Tran Thi Niem.
  • Hung, 39, was a blogger covering Vietnamese politics for Voice of America. He is also a member of the Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam (IJAVN), a local journalism group that operates independently from state-owned media. The blogger was arrested in July 2018 and was sentenced to five years in jail last August after a trial without a defense lawyer.
  • Niem only learned about her son’s sentence after she contacted the police officer investigating his case one week after the trial was held. According to the police investigator, he “will probably be released next year” after spending around four years in a detention center and a psychiatric hospital.
  • The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) on September 16 issued a statement calling on the Vietnamese authorities to “immediately and unconditionally release imprisoned blogger Le Anh Hung and stop harassing journalists on spurious anti-state charges.”
  • “Blogger Le Anh Hung’s outrageous sentencing shows Vietnam will go to any length to stifle critical reporting of its policies, personalities, and rule,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative. “Hung and all other journalists wrongfully held behind bars in Vietnam must be released.”

Long An provincial police forcefully take DNA samples from Tinh That Bong Lai practitioners

  • In a Facebook update on September 24, Dang Dinh Manh, one of the defense lawyers of Tinh That Bong Lai, an independent Buddhist temple, wrote that the Long An Provincial police had illegally searched the temple and forcefully taken DNA samples from its practitioners without any legal warrant or approval from the temple’s owners. The temple’s lawyers were informed about the incident when they met to discuss the coming appellate hearing of Tinh That Bong Lai.
  • According to Tinh That Bong Lai practitioners, around 50 policemen appeared at the temple on the morning of September 24 and proceeded to search the premises and collect saliva and hair samples from temple members, including its young orphans. The police even set up roadblocks on the surrounding area of Tinh That Bong Lai and prevented the lawyers from going inside the temple, according to Manh.
  • Last July, six members of Tinh That Bong Lai, including head monk Le Tung Van, were sentenced to a combined 23 and a half years in prions on the charge of “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe on State and individuals’ legitimate rights and interests,” under Article 331 of the Penal Code. State-owned media frequently accused the temple’s members of “committing fraud,” “seeking personal gain,” and “incest,” but had not provided any evidence to support their accusations.
  • In an interview with RFA, Manh said that it was the third time the Long An police had illegally collected DNA samples from the people living in Tinh That Bong Lai to verify their biological relations. The police previously took the samples in August 2021 and January 2022. Manh added that the forceful collection of the DNA samples of Tinh That Bong Lai’s members was “a serious violation of prosecuting procedures,” since they had not officially prosecuted the temple for “incest.”

Vietnamese Facebook user arrested on “anti-State” charges

  • Vo Thanh Thoi, a local Facebook user in Vietnam’s Quang Ngai Province, was arrested on September 22 for allegedly posting and sharing on his personal social network account content containing “anti-State propaganda,” RFA reported. Thoi, 33, was charged under the contentious Article 331 of Vietnam’s Penal Code, which forbids the activity of “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the State and individuals’ legitimate interests.”
  • The Investigation Security Agency of Quang Ngai provincial police stated that Vo Thanh Thoi regularly used his Facebook account to post many “distorted and defamatory” articles that slander the reputation of Vietnam’s Communist Party, the prestige of the Communist leader Ho Chi Minh, and the Vietnamese government.
  • The Vietnamese government has increasingly used Article 117 and Article 331 of the Penal Code to arrest opposition voices and further assert its influence on social media. According to the database from The 88 Project, an advocate for freedom of expression, a total of 77 people are currently imprisoned under Article 117 and Article 331 in Vietnam.

Ho Chi Minh City Police accused of beating a local YouTuber and destroying his camera

  • RFA reported that Tran Dinh Son, a 29-year-old Vietnamese YouTuber from Ho Chi Minh City, accused the local police in the city’s Cu Chi District of beating him twice and destroying his camera. Son added that he had bled after the beating and also experienced nausea and vomiting the day after the beating.
  • Son, who owned a Youtube channel called “Doi Thuong TV” (Everyday Life Television), told RFA that communal police in the Tran Phu Trung District attacked him last Monday. Son said he was at a lake for fishing in the Tan Phu Trang Industrial Park, hoping he can capture some content that he could later use in his YouTube channel.
  • But Son said a security guard from the industrial park asked him to stop fishing. After the two men argued for a while, the guard called the local police, asking him to leave. When he refused, Son said one of the police officers and the security guard took turns beating him.
  • “A police officer slapped me two or three times and then held me so that the security guard could beat me. The three cops were very big while I was small. They hit me on the head and threatened me,” Son said, recounting the details of the incident. He added that the police then subdued and took him to the commune headquarters, where they confiscated his GoPro camera, two cellphones, and his motorcycle before leaving.
  • The police agreed to remove his handcuffs only after Son’s mother, Nguyen Thi Ty, arrived. The Youtuber added the police said that they would return all his belongings on condition that he deleted the videos of them beating him. When the police returned his belongings, they asked him to fill out a handover note, he said. However, Son said some parts of his GoPro camera, which cost 4 million dong (around USD $170), were destroyed.

Thanh Hoa Police conclude investigation into Vietnamese blogger Bui Van Thuan

  • The investigation agency of the Thanh Hoa Police Department concluded their investigation into Bui Van Thuan, a Vietnamese dissident blogger, and informed his family that the case had been consequently submitted to the provincial procuracy, according to Trinh Thi Nhung, Thuan’s wife. Bui Van Thuan, 41, was arrested on August 30, 2021, on the charge of “distributing anti-State propaganda” under Article 117 of Vietnam’s Penal Code.
  • Nhung wrote on her personal Facebook account that the investigation into her husband’s case concluded on September 10, but she only learned about the decision on September 20. In an interview with RFA, Nhung said that she’s hiring attorney Dang Dinh Manh as a defense lawyer for her husband while adding that Thuan’s family was still not allowed to visit him in detention.
  • During the investigation process, the Thanh Hoa Police Department had summoned Nhung several times to their working sessions, demanding she limit the updates on social media regarding her husband’s case. The police also threatened to arrest Nhung if she refused to verify the authenticity of her and Thuan’s personal Facebook accounts.

Vietnam Insight: Learn more about Vietnam

Data localization is the wrong fight for Big Tech in Vietnam

Nikkei Asia/ Dien Luong/ September 25

“Simply put, Facebook and YouTube are too important to Hanoi to be shut down. Thus it is time Big Tech resisted Vietnam's pressure to indiscriminately stifle online discourse under the banner of national security and public order.

In 2020, Facebook set up an independent body staffed by experts on free speech and constitutional law from different countries to review user complaints about decisions to scrub online content. The platform should set up a similar third-party oversight board for Vietnam to review content removal controversies, a step YouTube could then follow.”

Vietnam is emerging as a winner from the era of deglobalization

The Economist/ September 22

“The government has its own part to play. Workers are plentiful in Vietnam but talented managers are rare. So are skilled technicians. Although Vietnam already punches well above its income level for schooling, its university and vocational-training programmes need a boost. Michael Nguyen, the country head of Boeing, an aerospace giant that sources some parts in Vietnam, suggests firms such as his could work closely with universities to tailor training to what they need. If Vietnam is to grow as rich as China, let alone Japan, South Korea or Taiwan, it will have to invest not just in infrastructure, but also in its people.”

After 40 Years, UNCLOS Remains Significant to Vietnam

Fulcrum/ Thu Nguyen Hoang Anh/ September 20

“Since becoming a signatory to UNCLOS, Vietnam has remained a responsible member and has made significant efforts to endorse and implement its provisions. Furthermore, Vietnam has called upon other states in Southeast Asia to respect and comply with UNCLOS. In particular, during its chairmanship of ASEAN in 2020, Vietnam repeatedly stressed the relevance of UNCLOS in maintaining regional peace and resolving maritime disputes. Most recently, together with Germany, Vietnam initiated the establishment of the UNCLOS Group of Friends to accelerate cooperation between like-minded countries on common maritime goals.

The importance of UNCLOS to Vietnam has been proven over the past 40 years, especially in terms of legitimizing the country’s maritime claims, enhancing its domestic law and management system, accelerating cooperation with other states, and settling maritime disputes.”

How Is Southeast Asia’s Balancing Strategy on Ukraine Faring?

The Diplomat/ Xirui Li/ September 19

“Vietnam, one of the largest buyers of Russian arms in the region, has also been reluctant to continue its military ties with Russia since the beginning of the war. It has been ambiguous as to whether a joint military exercise will be held with Russia later this year, and it has reduced its purchases of military equipment from Russia. Although Vietnam is distancing itself militarily from Russia, it is strengthening diplomatic and economic relationships with the country. For instance, Vietnam invited the Russian foreign minister to visit the country in July. It has also worked with Russia to facilitate trade and investment.”

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