Nguyen Van Dai

Current Status: Sentenced

Photo of Nguyen Van Dai

Other Names: Nguyễn Văn Đài

Date of Birth: May 6, 1969

Gender: M

Religion: Christian (Protestant)

Ethnicity: Kinh

Occupation: Lawyer

Latest Prison: B14 Detention Center, Hanoi

Areas of Activism:

  • Democracy
  • Human rights

Known Affiliations:

  • Bloc 8406
  • Brotherhood for Democracy
  • Vietnam Human Rights Centre

Arrest History

Arrest 1

March 5, 2007
May 11, 2007
4 years in prison
  • Art. 88
March 5, 2011
Defense Counsels: Tran Lam

Arrest 2

December 16, 2015
April 5, 2018
15 years in prison
  • Art. 79
December 16, 2030
Defense Counsels: Doan Thai Duyen Hai; Nguyen Van Mieng


April 2018:

On April 5, in a one-day trial, six activists were sentenced to a combined 66 years in prison and 17 years of house arrest under Article 79 of the 1999 Criminal Code. Dai was sentenced to 15 years in prison and five years of house arrest.

Dai is from Hung Yen province, near Hanoi. He is a pro-democracy human rights lawyer who has advocated for the legal rights of vulnerable populations in Vietnam.

Dai founded the Committee for Human Rights in Viet Nam (now Vietnam Human Rights Centre) in 2006. He also co-founded the Brotherhood for Democracy in 2013 and is a signatory to Bloc 8406. Dai has been active in human rights promotion for more than a decade and was sentenced to four years in prison in 2007 for his activities.

In April 2017, Dai was awarded the 2017 Human Rights prize from the German Association of Judges. In 2018, The Vietnamese described Dai as "the type of lawyer who would defend those accused of the very same crime he is facing today: 'conducting activities to overthrow the people’s government'."

First arrest:

Dai was arrested in 2007 under Article 88 for "propaganda against the state," and was sentenced to five years in prison (reduced to four years on appeal) and four years probation.

Latest arrest:

Dai was arrested while attempting to meet with EU delegates for the annual EU-Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue in 2015. He was held in incommunicado for most of his time in pre-trial detention, and his pre-trial investigation period was extended several times, potentially prompting Dai to stage a hunger strike. On July 30, 2017, Dai was charged under Article 79 for subversion. Dissident journalist Pham Doan Trang shared on her page that Dai and Nguyen Huu Vinh (aka Anh Ba Sam) have refused to be exiled in order to be freed from prison. His detention has been deemed arbitrary by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.

March 2018:

After 842 days - over two years and three months - in pre-trial detention, Nguyen Van Dai, as well as his colleague, Le Thu Ha, had a trial date set. They were charged under Article 79 for alleged subversive activities and were to be tried along with Pham Van Troi, Nguyen Trung Ton, Nguyen Bac Truyen, and Truong Minh Duc by the People's Court of Hanoi on April 5. 

April 2018:

On April 5, in a one-day trial, six activists, whose backgrounds range from defending religious freedom, to environmental rights, to multi-party democracy, were sentenced to a combined 66 years in prison and 17 years of house arrest under Article 79 of the 1999 Criminal Code. Five of the activists are key members of the pro-democracy group, The Brotherhood for Democracy. All have been known to support political prisoners and their families and advocate for human rights. Human rights lawyer Nguyen Van Dai received the longest sentence: 15 years in prison and five years of house arrest, one of the longest sentences for an activist in recent years. 

Prior to arrest: Suffering from hepatistis B

December 2015:

Just days before his arrest, on December 6, 2015, Dai and several colleagues were attacked after delivering a human rights workshop. He still suffers from injuries sustained in that attack.

December 2017:

Nguyen Van Dai has spent almost two years in pre-trial detention and faces health issues from an injury sustained from an attack in December 2015 and from hepatitis B.

January 2018:
On January 29, Vu Minh Khanh, imprisoned human rights lawyer Nguyen Van Dai's wife, was able to briefly visit Dai in prison and speak with him through a glass screen. She reported back to Radio Free Asia that his resolve is strong, but his health is suffering in prison and he has not been allowed to secure his own lawyer. "The prison is designed in an evil way to torture the prisoners. It is very cold in the winter and very hot in the summer. He always has to suffer from such extremes. Besides that, the prison is very close to the highway, so that every night he has a hard time trying to sleep because the passing trucks make the whole building rumble and shake. They also do things like cut off the water to add additional indirect distress. My husband also suffers from constant intestinal pain, and I am worried because his skin seems to be getting darker and darker." 

May 2017:

Dai has only met with his wife twice since his arrest, and he has not been allowed to meet with his lawyer.

Dai is married. His wife, Vu Minh Khanh, travelled to the US in 2017 to advocate for her husband's release. She also testified on her husband's situation in front of a US government panel in 2016 ahead of then-President Obama's trip to Vietnam.

Contact us if you can assist. 

U.S. Rep. Alan Lowenthal has adopted Nguyen Van Dai under the Defending Freedoms Project of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission.

October 2016:

73 parliament members from 14 countries sent a letter to Vietnam's Prime Minister calling for Nguyen Van Dai and Le Thu Ha's release.

August 2017:

Activists honored Dai on his 600th day imprisoned on August 7 by staging protests of solidarity.

Dai's case has been taken on by several international human rights organizations and members of US and European governmental bodies.

April 2018:

Governments, advocacy groups, and individuals alike have condemned the harsh sentences against Dai and his co-defendants. “The Vietnamese government should thank them for their efforts to improve the country instead of arresting and putting them on trial," said Human Rights Watch's Asia Director, Brad Adams, in a statement ahead of the trial. The Spokesperson of the EU External Action division noted in their statement that the rights exercised by the defendants are "guaranteed by the Vietnamese Constitution, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights."  The United Kingdom's Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister, Harriett Baldwin, agreed that peaceful expression of one's opinions should not be considered a crime. Heather Nauert, US State Department Spokesperson, also supported other governments and organizations in calling for the release of the prisoners and for Vietnam to uphold international obligations. "Individuals have the right to the fundamental freedoms of expression, association, and peaceful assembly, both online and offline," she said in her statement. Nauert also noted the two-year detentions of Le Thu Ha and Nguyen Van Dai.

Following the trial of human rights lawyer Nguyen Van Dai and five other activists, in which they received sentences ranging from 7-15 years in prison, and the trial of Nguyen Van Tuc mere days later, a group of UN experts released a statement questioning the Vietnamese government's motives for jailing the activists, asking for clarifications regarding their detentions and trial, and urging the government to uphold international obligations to protect human rights and release political prisoners. “We are deeply concerned at the way these peaceful campaigners have been treated and in particular over the use of Article 79 of the 1999 penal code of Viet Nam to charge and convict dissenting voices, mainly human rights defenders, especially as Article 79 carries the possibility of the death sentence or life imprisonment," they said.

Profile last updated: 2018-04-15 23:08:24