Global Freedom of Expression

The Case of Songwriter Vu Minh Tri (Vietnam)

Closed Contracts Expression

Key Details

  • Mode of Expression
    Electronic / Internet-based Communication
  • Date of Decision
    October 30, 2012
  • Outcome
  • Case Number
  • Region & Country
    Vietnam, Asia and Asia Pacific
  • Judicial Body
    First Instance Court
  • Type of Law
    Criminal Law
  • Themes
    National Security, Artistic Expression, Political Expression

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Case Analysis

Case Summary and Outcome

On October 30, 2012, Vietnam’s prominent musician Vu Minh Tri was sentenced to four years in prison on charges of “propaganda against the state” for writing politically sensitive songs. Tri, also known as Viet Khang, has written lyrics condemning income inequality in Vietnam and the government’s crackdowns on activists who protest China’s territorial claims over the South China Sea.

Tri was released on December 13, 2015 upon completing his jail term.

Columbia Global Freedom of Expression could not identify the official legal and government records on the case and that the information contained in this report was derived from secondary sources. It must be noted that media outlets may not provide complete information about this case. Additional information regarding this legal matter will be updated as an official source becomes available.


Prominent musician Vo Minh Tri who is better known as Viet Khang was sentenced to four years imprisonment with an additional of two-year house arrest on October 30, 2012 by a court in Ho Chi Minh City. He was accused of composing songs called “Anh La Ai” (Who are you?) and “NuocToi Dau” (Where is my country?), which went viral after he uploaded them on YouTube. It was also reported that he also posted the songs on a Vietnamese opposition website managed by a group of expatriate activists called “Patriotic Youth.”

The songs reportedly criticized the Vietnamese government for being submissive towards China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea. Part of the “NuocToi Dau” song reads:

“Where is your nationalism?

Why consciously takes orders from China?

You will leave a mark to last a thousand years

Your hands will be stained with the blood of our people.”

Tri was arrested in December 2011 and charged with “propaganda against the state” under Article 88 of the Penal Code. He was released on December 13, 2015 after finishing his full four-year prison term. According to Voice of America,  Vietnamese law obligates musicians “to seek permission from censors before they broadcast their work to a public audience.” It also reports that Tri along with another jailed musician, Tran Vu Anh Binh, “became the first musicians in recent memory to be given jail terms for their music.”

Decision Overview

Due to the lack of access to the deciding court’s decision, the specific grounds for finding Tri guilty of propaganda against the state are not clear. However, human rights observers note that the Vietnamese government has been sensitive over public protests concerning the territorial disputes with China. Tri wrote his two songs that led to his arrest in the wake of government crackdowns on anti-China demonstrations across Vietnam.



Decision Direction

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Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.

Contracts Expression

Global Perspective

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Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.

Table of Authorities

Related International and/or regional laws

National standards, law or jurisprudence

  • Viet., Penal Code No. 15/1999/QH10, art. 88

Other national standards, law or jurisprudence

Case Significance

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Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.

This case did not set a binding or persuasive precedent either within or outside its jurisdiction. The significance of this case is undetermined at this point in time.

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