Nguyen Bac Truyen

Name: Nguyen Bac Truyen

Background: Prominent religious freedom advocate, two-time prisoner of conscience

Age: 50

Country/Area of Origin: Vietnam

Reason for Arrest:

Mr. Nguyen Bac Truyen is a Hoa Hao Buddhist, who has been imprisoned twice for his peaceful advocacy for religious freedom and basic human rights. On July 30, 2017 he was abducted near his workplace at the Catholic Redemptorist Church in Ho Chi Minh City. Later in the day, the website of the Ministry of Public Security announced that he was arrested along with three other activists on charges of “carrying out activities aiming to overthrow the people’s government”. Mr. Truyen was held incommunicado and without access to legal defense for several months. On April 5, 2018, in a one-day trial, closed to the public, he was sentenced to 11 years imprisonment and 3 years probation. On June 4, 2018, the Appeal Court upheld his sentence. Mr. Nguyen Bac Truyen is currently being held at An Diem Prison, Dai Hung commune, Dai Loc district, Quang Nam province.

Mr. Nguyen Bac Truyen is a peaceful religious freedom advocate and the recipient of the 2011 Hellman Hammett Award of Human Rights Watch. He was arbitrarily arrested in 2006 and sentenced to 3.5 years in prison and 2 years of probation due to his pro-democracy activism. After his release from prison in 2010, Truyen took the leading role of the Vietnamese Political and Religious Prisoners Friendship Association, a mutual assistance association that provide poverty-stricken prisoners of conscience and their families with prison visitation, medical checkups, legal consultation, and scholarships for their children who otherwise cannot afford to go to school.

As a legal scholar, Nguyen Bac Truyen also provided pro-bono legal assistance and training on basic human and civil rights to families of political prisoners, victims of illegal land appropriation, Catholics, Hoa Hao Buddhists, Hmong and Montagnard Christians, Cao Dai followers, and members of other persecuted religious communities.

At the time of his arrest in 2017, Truyen has been working as the coordinator of the assistance program for war invalids operated by the Bureau for Justice and Peace of the Catholic Redemptorist Church. With a yearly budget of over 800,000 USD (as of 2016), the program has helped more than 5,000 veterans of the former Republic of South Vietnam, who are considered by the Vietnamese government as the enemies who fought against them in the war. These war invalids have been cruelly discriminated against and living in extreme hardship.

Nguyen Bac Truyen is an effective religious freedom advocate, who authored several incident reports on human rights violations against Hoa Hao Buddhists and other persecuted religious communities to the United Nations Special Rapporteurs on Freedom of Religion or Belief. He often served as the liaison between human rights activists, civil society organizations and persecuted religious groups with diplomatic missions and international human rights organizations. In some occasions he also participated in dialog and briefing via the internet with members of the US Congress and Canadian Parliament.

Nguyen Bac Truyen was the first entrepreneur in Vietnam who voluntary introduced social compliance and gender equality standards in his two companies beginning in 2004. His two companies had been arbitrary closed during his first prison term. He could not find any stable job without being harassed. He and his wife were under heavy surveillance and frequently attacked by state security agents and their henchmen. The couple was evicted from their home in Dong Thap province and prohibited from returning to the place where they had been supporting the heavily persecuted independent Hoa-Hao Buddhists in the Mekong Delta. Prior to his arrest Mr. Truyen could not find a safe shelter in Ho Chi Minh City and often had to relocate.

Sentence: 11 years imprisonment, followed by 3 years of probation.

Latest Updates:

  • In August 2021, Jubilee Campaign signed on to a letter to US Vice President Kamala Harris to raise the case of Bac Truyen upon her visit to Vietnam:
    • “Truyen’s case has drawn international attention and support. He has been adopted as a prisoner of conscience by Gyde Jensen, Chair of the Human Rights and Humanitarian Aid Committee of Germany’s Bundestag, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) under its Religious Prisoners of Conscience Project, and Representative Zoe Lofgren under the Defending Freedoms Project of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission. On August 13, 2020, 65 current and former parliamentarians from 28 countries sent a joint letter to Vietnam’s Prime Minister calling for Nguyen Bac Truyen’s immediate and unconditional release.”
    • “We respectfully ask that you highlight the case of Nguyen Bac Truyen and call for his release, and the release of all people imprisoned or detained for exercising their basic civil and political rights, at meetings with the Vietnamese leadership, in keeping with the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to championing human rights in foreign policies.”
  • In March 2021, Truyen’s wife Bui Kim Phuong was permitted to visit with her husband; she reported that while he is physically healthy, he has been suffering psychologically as prison guards have enlisted other detainees to harass Truyen and “isolate and demean him”. She also reported that his requests for supplies are not met, his gout is not being medically treated, and the letters she has sent to him are not being delivered.
  • In November 2020, it was reported that Nguyen, along with fellow prisoners, had started a hunger strike to “protest mistreatment, unresolved grievances, and violations of Vietnam’s 2019 Law on Execution of Criminal Judgments by the prison supervisors and by the Police Department of Management of Prison, Compulsory Re-education Center and Reformatory (C10) under the Ministry of Public Security.” As a result of the hunger strike, Nguyen has suffered severe joint pains, yet he has not received a comprehensive medical checkup.
  • In April 2021, the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission tweeted to call on the Vietnamese government to immediately and unconditionally release Nguyen.
  • In March 2020, US Representative Zoe Lofgren (CA-19) announced her decision to advocate for Nguyen’s release via the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission’s Defending Freedoms Project:
    • “I’m proud to represent San Jose, home to the largest Vietnamese population outside of Vietnam itself. Mr. Truyen’s sad abuse is all too common a plight. I won’t sit back, so I contacted the Tom Lantos Commission to make it crystal clear that I stand behind Mr. Truyen and strongly urge the Vietnamese government to immediately release the religious-freedom fighter back to his family. The continued reports that the government in Hanoi does not respect religious freedom are concerning. Americans must assist courageous people, like Mr. Truyen, in their difficult struggle for the basic human rights that we, as Americans, enjoy.”
  • Nguyen Bac Truyen is serving his 11 years prison sentence at An Diem Prison, Dai Hung commune, Dai Loc district, Quang Nam province. The prison camp is more than 800 km (500 miles) away from his family. It is located in a remote area where roads can become treacherous and even impassable during rainy season.