(New York) – The Vietnamese government should immediately release and drop all charges against the blogger Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, popularly known as “Mother Mushroom,” Human Rights Watch said today. On November 30, 2017, an appeals court rejected her appeal of a 10-year prison sentence for “conducting propaganda against the state.”
Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, 38, blogs under the pen name “Mother Mushroom” (Me Nam). She writes on social and political issues including land confiscation, police brutality, and freedom of expression. She has participated in numerous public protests that advocated human rights and a cleaner environment. As a result, the police have repeatedly harassed, intimidated, and interrogated her and have put her under house arrest on numerous occasions to prevent her from attending important events.
“Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh’s only crime is to speak her mind and fight for human rights,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “The Vietnamese government should address her concerns, including freedom of speech, a clean environment, and the end of police brutality, instead of punishing her for trying to improve her country.”
In October 2016, she was arrested and charged with “conducting propaganda against the state” under article 88 of the penal code, which has been regularly used to arbitrarily punish critics of the government and peaceful activists. In June 2017, the People’s Court of Khanh Hoa province convicted her and sentenced her to 10 years in prison. Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh said at the end of the appeals trial that if she were to start anew, she would still take the same path.
During the appeals hearing on November 30, many fellow activists and friends went to the court in Khanh Hoa province to show support for her, including the lawyer Vo An Don, who was disbarred four days before the trial. As soon as they learned that the court had upheld the verdict, Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh’s mother, Nguyen Thi Tuyet Lan, and rights activists staged a protest outside the court, shouting “Mother Mushroom is innocent,” “My daughter is innocent,” “To defend the environment is not a crime,” “Down with the unjust trial,” and “[We] oppose a trial that silenced justice seekers.”
Within minutes, men in civilian clothes attacked the protesters and beat them in front of uniformed police, who did not intervene. Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh’s mother said that the men had hit her hard on her face and head. Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh’s uncle Nguyen Minh Hung was beaten while trying to defend Nguyen Thi Tuyet Lan. The men also attacked Trinh Kim Tien, a blogger, and fellow activists Nguyen Dang Vu, also known as Nguyen Peng, Nguyen Cong Thanh, and Tran Thi Thu Nguyet. Tran Thi Thu Nguyet said that the men punched her on her temple, breaking her glasses. The men snatched the cell phone from Vo An Don, the disbarred lawyer, as he tried to take photos of the assault. Police took several activists including Trinh Kim Tien and Tran Thi Thu Nguyet to police stations and detained them for a few hours.
Physical assaults against rights bloggers and activists occur frequently in Vietnam. In June, Human Rights Watch published a report highlighting 36 incidents in which unidentified men in civilian clothes beat rights campaigners and bloggers between January 2015 and April 2017.
Trinh Kim Tien, one of the women attacked outside the court, is the daughter of Trinh Xuan Tung, who died from a police beating in January 2011 after a minor traffic violation. Evidence used against Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh to prove her “crime” was a file named “Stop police killing civilians.” The file included data on 31 cases regarding people who died in police custody, which she and others had collected from state media accounts.
“It’s bad enough to sentence a peaceful critic to prison for 10 years, but to then send thugs out to beat up her family and friends is a new low for the Vietnamese government in its attempt to repress popular dissent,” Adams said. “Vietnam’s trade partners and donors should insist that Vietnam needs to fundamentally reform its laws, justice system, and police so that they uphold human rights instead of violating them.”