(New York) – Vietnam should immediately release rights activist Tran Thi Nga and drop politically motivated charges against her, Human Rights Watch said today. Vietnam’s donors should issue public statements calling on the government to end harassment and prosecution of critics and rights campaigners.

Tran Thi Nga (also known as Thuy Nga), 40, was arrested on January 21, 2017, and charged with conducting propaganda against the state under article 88 of the penal code. State media said that Tran Thi Nga “accessed the Internet to post a number of video clips and articles to propagandize against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.”

Tran Thi Nga, rights activist, protests against the arrest of blogger "Mother Mushroom" in October 2016.

“It is ridiculous for the Vietnamese government to make accessing the internet and posting critical views a crime,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “Vietnam’s international donors and trade partners should tell the government loud and clear that they will reassess their relationships if it keeps throwing peaceful critics in prison.”

Officials have arrested at least a dozen bloggers and activists during the past five months and charged them with vaguely-defined national security violations.

Tran Thi Nga has long suffered intimidation, harassment, detention, interrogation, and physical assault because of her labor and other activism. She has also participated in anti-China and pro-environment protests, attended trials of bloggers and rights activists, and visited the houses of political prisoners to show solidarity. She once served as an executive board member for Vietnamese Women for Human Rights (VNWHR), founded in November 2013.

In May 2013, Tran Thi Nga and her sons, ages 3 years and 5 months at the time, went from Ha Nam to Hanoi to attend a human rights picnic at Nghia Do Park the next day. Police pressured a motel owner to kick them out at midnight, in the rain, where they slept on the sidewalk until her friends could come to help them.

Vietnam has a long history of persecuting anyone the ruling Communist Party deems threatening to its monopoly of power.

Brad Adams

Asia Director

In May 2014, a group of five men assaulted her with iron rods, breaking her arm and leg. In March 2015, security agents in Hanoi detained her, and took her back to her hometown in Ha Nam province. During the trip, one man twisted her neck and gagged her so she could not call for help. Two other men restrained her hands and legs while the fourth man slapped her and punched her. In February 2016, men in civilian clothes threw shrimp paste at Tran Thi Nga and her sons as the three were heading home from a supermarket in the city of Phu Ly, Ha Nam province. Her eye was injured and her older son Phu had an allergic reaction.

Other recent arrests include:

  • On January 19, 2017, the police of Nghe An province arrested a former political prisoner, Nguyen Van Oai, for allegedly violating his probation. He had been arrested in August 2011, for alleged involvement with the outlawed overseas political party Viet Tan and sentenced to four years in prison. After completing his sentence in August 2015, he was placed on probation for another four years. He remains in detention.
     
  • On January 11, the police of Ha Tinh province arrested a human rights activist, Nguyen Van Hoa, who had campaigned against the Formosa Steel Company for causing an environmental disaster in April 2016. He was charged with “abusing the rights to freedom and democracy to infringe upon the interests of the State,” under article 258 of the penal code.
     
  • In December 2016, the police of Thanh Hoa province arrested Nguyen Danh Dung for his alleged involvement with Thien An TV, a YouTube channel critical of the government, and charged him with “abusing the rights to freedom and democracy to infringe upon the interests of the State,” under article 258 of the penal code.
     
  • In November, the police of Ho Chi Minh City arrested a blogger, Ho Hai, also known as “Dr. Ho Hai,” for online criticisms of the government, under article 88 of the penal code. Two other activists, Luu Van Vinh and Nguyen Van Duc Do, were also arrested in Ho Chi Minh City in November for trying to form a pro-democratic group called the Vietnam National Alliance (Lien minh Dan toc Viet Nam) and charged with “carrying out activities that aim to overthrow the people’s administration,” under article 79 of the penal code.
     
  • In October, the police of Khanh Hoa province arrested a prominent blogger, Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, also known as “Mother Mushroom,” for her online posts and charged her with conducting propaganda against the state, under article 88 of the penal code.
     
  • In September, the police of Gia Lai province arrested four indigenous Degar (Montagnards) – Puih Bop (also known as Ama Phun), Ksor Kam (also known as Ama H’Trưm), Dinh Nong (also known as Ba Pol), and Ro Lan Kly (also known as Ama Blan) – for involvement with a Degar Protestant independent church and charged them with undermining national unity, under article 87 of the penal code.

Vietnam has at least 112 bloggers and activists who are serving prison sentences simply for exercising their rights to basic freedoms such as freedom of expression, assembly, association, and religion. Human Rights Watch has long called for the repeal of all laws in Vietnam that criminalize peaceful expression.

“Vietnam has a long history of persecuting anyone the ruling Communist Party deems threatening to its monopoly of power,” Adams said. “Vietnam should join the 21st century and repeal these draconian laws from another era.”