The Vietnamese government continues to severely repress basic civil and political rights, including freedom of expression, association, assembly, and the right to freedom of religion and belief.  One of the many politically motivated convictions is that of prominent journalists and Luat Khoa's co-founder Pham Doan Trang who has been served with a 9 year sentence for "anti-state propaganda."


As the human rights dialogue approaches, Human Rights Watch recommends that the EU focuses on three priority areas regarding the dire human rights situation in Vietnam: 1) political prisoners and detainees; 2) restrictions on freedom of movement; and 3) repression of the right to freely practice freedom of religion and belief. We urge that the EU insist on clear, concrete, measurable benchmarks or deliverables for progress in these areas, laying out consequences for the bilateral relations should these violations continue to occur, taking into account the recently revised EU guidelines on human rights dialogues with partner/third countries.

1. Political Prisoners and Detainees

Vietnam frequently uses vaguely worded and loosely interpreted provisions in its penal code and other laws to prosecute and imprison political and religious activists. These include “carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the people’s administration” (article 109), “undermining the unity policy” (article 116), “making, storing, disseminating or propagandizing information, materials and products that aim to oppose the State of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam” (article 117)/or “conducting propaganda against the state” (article 88 of the 1999 penal code), and “disrupting security” (article 118). Vietnam also uses other articles in the penal code to target rights campaigners, including “abusing the rights to democracy and freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the State, the legitimate rights and interests of organizations, individuals” (article 331), and “disrupting public order” (article 318).

Vietnam currently holds at least 153 political prisoners. In 2021 alone, the courts convicted at least 38 people for voicing criticism of the government and sentenced them to long prison terms.

In January 2021, a Ho Chi Minh City court put prominent members of the Independent Journalists Association on trial. Pham Chi Dung, Nguyen Tuong Thuy, and Le Huu Minh Tuan were convicted and sentenced to between 11 and 15 years in prison. In May, a court in Hoa Binh province sentenced land rights activist Can Thi Theu and her son Trinh Ba Tu each to eight years in prison. In July, a Hanoi court convicted writer Pham Chi Thanh and sentenced him to five years and six months in prison. In October, a court in Can Tho convicted and sentenced five members of the Clean Newspaper – Truong Chau Huu Danh, Doan Kien Giang, Le The Thang, Nguyen Phuoc Trung Bao, and Nguyen Thanh Nha – to between two years and four and a half years in prison. In December, courts sentenced prominent blogger Pham Doan Trang to nine years, land rights activists Trinh Ba Phuong to 10 years and Nguyen Thi Tam to six years, democracy campaigner Do Nam Trung to 10 years, and independent political candidate Le Trong Hung to five years in prison. All were charged with propaganda against the state under article 117 (or article 88), or with abusing the rights to freedom and democracy to infringe upon the interests of the state under article 331, of the penal code.