Vietnam releases activist 18 months early
Phan Loi was freed just ahead of US President Joe Biden’s visit to Hanoi.
RFA | 2023.09.13
Vietnamese authorities have released independent journalist Mai Phan Loi 18
months before the end of his 45-month sentence, a family friend told Radio Free
Asia this week.
Loi was freed on Sunday, the day U.S. President Joe Biden arrived in Hanoi for
two days of meetings with Vietnamese leaders.
Loi, the chairman of the Scientific Council of the Community Education and
Communication Center, was arrested in June 2021 on charges of “tax evasion.”
Prosecutors alleged he instructed his subordinates not to declare funds received
from abroad, worth nearly US$83,000.
In the trial in early 2022, he was sentenced to 48 months in prison but the
sentence was reduced after an appeal.
His release was a surprise to Loi and his family, a friend and social activist
who wished to remain anonymous for safety reasons told RFA Vietnamese.
“He was told by the prison to undergo procedures and leave the prison early on
Sunday morning and his family was completely uninformed about his return,” the
The friend said he believed the U.S. president’s visit brought about Loi’s
release because the U.S. Embassy had campaigned on his behalf.
The U.S. State Department’s 2022 human rights report mentioned Loi and three
other civil society leaders detained by the Vietnamese government for tax
evasion. It cited human rights organizations that said the charges were
trumped-up as a means of suppressing freedom of speech.
RFA emailed the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi and the U.S. Department of State with a
request for comment on Loi’s release but did not immediately receive a response.
Loi, 52, is one of five leaders of legally registered civil society groups
arrested recently on charges of “tax evasion” under Article 200 of the Criminal
The others are Nguy
Thi Khanh, who won the 2018 Goldman environmental award; lawyer Dang
Dinh Bach; environmental campaigner Hoang
Thi Minh Hong; and Bach Hung Duong, director of the Center for Media
in Educating Community (MEC).
Loi established MEC in 2012 with two others after a career in newspapers.
He and lawyer Dang Dinh Bach were members of Vietnam’s Consulting group on the
Free Trade Agreement with the European Union (EVFTA).
Both were arrested in mid-2021 after applying to join the VNGO-EVFTA Network, a
group of seven community service organizations established to coordinate
After Loi was arrested, several Western governments and many international human
rights organizations called for his release.
The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention issued a document saying
his arrest and sentencing were arbitrary and urged Hanoi to release him.
While Loi is now free, the other activists have been less fortunate, in
particular Dang Dinh Bach.
Bach is serving a five-year prison sentence in Nghe An province and was
up by prison guards after telling his wife he had been threatened by
Translated by RFA Vietnamese. Edited by Mike Firn and Taejun Kang.