Yet again, Vietnam received disappointing marks on human rights and freedom issues from Amnesty International for the year 2021.  The Communist Party initiated a severe crackdown on online and offline dissent that saw government critics arrested and charged under repressive laws.



A severe crackdown on both online and offline dissent occurred during the Communist Party of Viet Nam (CPV) National Conference and national elections. Independent journalists, publishers and other government critics were arrested and charged under repressive laws. Human rights defenders were subjected to widespread harassment, unlawful digital surveillance, arbitrary arrest and politically motivated prosecution. Torture and other ill-treatment continued to be reported. Harsh lockdown measures to curb the spread of Covid-19 disproportionately impacted the most vulnerable and authorities meted out harsh penalties against those who violated Covid-19 regulations. Informal workers faced acute pandemic-related hardship due to inadequate social assistance, and young LGBTI people were at heighted risk of discrimination.

Human rights defenders

In February, an investigation by Amnesty International revealed a campaign of unlawful surveillance targeting human rights defenders conducted between February 2018 and November 2020. The spyware attacks were attributed to a group known as Ocean Lotus, and targeted Vietnamese activists both inside and outside the country. Among them was Bùi Thanh Hiếu, a blogger and pro-democracy activist residing in Germany. The Vietnamese Overseas Initiative for Conscience Empowerment (VOICE), a non-profit organization supporting Vietnamese refugees and promoting human rights in Viet Nam with offices in the USA and the Philippines, was also targeted.2

Prominent journalist, author and human rights defender Phạm Đoan Trang, who was arrested in October 2020, was sentenced to nine years’ imprisonment by The People’s Court of Hanoi on 14 December 2021. She was charged under Article 88 of the 1999 Penal Code for “storing, distributing or disseminating information, documents and items against the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam”, in relation to articles she had written about the environment and human rights, and interviews she gave to foreign media outlets. Prior to her trial, Phạm Đoan Trang had been held in incommunicado detention for over a year.