Since October 2021, several activists, journalists and human rights defenders including Pham Doan Trang have been harassed, arrested and convicted by the authorities simply for exercising their freedom of expression.  CIVICUS examines how Vietnam's civic space has been continuously repressive, even putting pressure on Facebook to remove “anti-state” posts and silence anti-government critics in Vietnam.


Vietnam’s civic space rating remains ‘closed’ in ratings published by the CIVICUS Monitor in December 2021. Among concerns raised by civil society through the year were the use of restrictive laws to criminalise activists, the targeting of journalists, surveillance and allegations of torture and ill-treatment.

In January 2022, Human Rights Watch (HRW) published its annual report which found that the Vietnamese government hid behind the COVID-19 pandemic to carry out a severe crackdown on peaceful activism. HRW said that people who publicly criticise the government or Communist Party leaders on social media routinely face harassment, intimidation, intrusive surveillance, restrictions on freedom of movement, physical assault and arrest. After being detained for exercising their rights, people face abusive interrogation, long detention periods without access to legal counsel or their families, and trial by politically controlled courts meting out increasingly lengthy prison sentences.

Since October 2021, the authorities have convicted sentenced human rights defender and journalist Pham Doan Trang to nine years’ imprisonment as well as five journalists of the now-shuttered Báo Sạch (Clean Newspaper). A number of individuals have been arrested and convicted for exercising their freedom of expression online while Facebook was accused of removing “anti-state” posts. Others arrested or jailed include political and land rights activists.


Prominent human rights defender and journalist jailed
🇻🇳#Vietnam: The decision to sentence #humanrightsdefender Pham Doan Trang to 9 years in jail sends a further chilling message for media freedom and freedom of expression in the country.

✊We stand with her and other convicted activists and will keep demanding their release. December 21, 2021

Human rights defender and independent journalist Pham Doan Trang was sentenced to nine years in prison by The People’s Court of Hanoi on 14th December 2021. She was arrested in Ho Chi Minh City on 7th October 2020 and charged under Article 88 of the 1999 Criminal Code which criminalises “making, storing, distributing or disseminating information, documents and items against the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam.”

The indictment in Pham Doan Trang’s case includes as evidence several of her published works on environmental and human rights issues, as well as two interviews she gave to Radio Free Asia and the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).

In a statement released ahead of her trial, Pham Doan Trang wrote, “The longer the prison sentence, the more demonstrable the authoritarian, undemocratic and anti-democratic nature of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.”

According to Amnesty International, Pham Doan Trang was held incommunicado from the time of her arrest until 19th October 2021, when she was finally allowed to meet with one of her lawyers after having been denied access to her family and legal representation for over a year.

On 25th October 2021, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) issued Opinion No. 40/2021 concerning Pham Doan Trang. The WGAD found her detention to be arbitrary and called for her immediate release.

Pham Doan Trang is among the leading voices and best-known independent writers in Vietnamese civil society and recognised internationally for her human rights advocacy. She is the author of thousands of articles, blog entries, Facebook posts and numerous books about politics, social justice and human rights.

In 2019, Reporters Without Borders awarded her a Press Freedom Prize in recognition of her impact. Her work at the Liberal Publishing House helped it receive the prestigious Prix Voltaire award in 2020 for its continued coverage in spite of risks and dangers of reprisals. On 20th January she was named this week as a recipient of the 2022 Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders, the first rights activist from Vietnam to be given the award.