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Tran Thi Nga protests against the arrest of blogger “Mother Mushroom” in October 2016. © 2016 Private

(New York) – Vietnam should immediately release rights activist Tran Thi Nga and the appeals court should drop charges against her when it reviews her case on December 22, 2017, Human Rights Watch said today. Tran Thi Nga, also known as Thuy Nga, was sentenced in July to nine years in prison followed by five years of house arrest for “conducting propaganda against the state.”

“Tran Thi Nga is one of the latest targets of Vietnam’s escalating crackdown on activists and critics,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “Instead of engaging in discussions with critics, the government is increasingly using harsh sentences and abusive treatment to stifle dissent.”

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Tran Thi Nga, 40, was arrested on January 21 under article 88 of the penal code, one of Vietnam’s draconian national security provisions regularly used to arbitrarily punish critics. According to state media, she was indicted for “defaming the administration” and “spreading reactionary ideas.” At her trial, authorities alleged she had shared videos and articles online that criticized the government by highlighting ongoing rights abuses tied to environmental crises and political corruption.

Tran Thi Nga was sentenced on July 25 in a one-day trial, a swift verdict her lawyer called predetermined. Security officers barred supporters and independent journalists from the court, along with Tran Thi Nga’s husband and children, who have reportedly not been allowed to meet with her since her arrest. Her appeal hearing comes less than one month after the appeal of fellow rights activist Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, or “Mother Mushroom,” was rejected for her 10-year sentence for the same offense.

Tran Thi Nga is a longtime labor rights activist who has challenged abuses including human trafficking, police brutality, and land confiscation. Vietnamese authorities have responded by subjecting her to years of intimidation, harassment, and physical assault. In May 2014, she was attacked on the street in Hanoi by a group of five men in civilian clothes who beat her with iron rods, breaking her arm and leg. The assault was filmed, yet police declined to investigate. In August 2015, she was dragged from a bus and beaten by plainclothes police after visiting a recently released political prisoner.

These attacks are part of a broader pattern of violent assaults against rights campaigners across Vietnam. In a June 2017 report, Human Rights Watch documented 36 cases of bloggers and activists being beaten, threatened, and intimidated, often in the presence of police officers who did nothing to intervene.

Despite government intimidation and assault, Tran Thi Nga has continued to speak out against political injustices and broader state violence. She is part of a growing community of Vietnamese bloggers using Facebook and YouTube to foster political activism and solidarity, many of whom have been detained under vague national security laws as part of the government’s ongoing crackdown on free speech.

More than 100 activists are currently imprisoned for exercising their basic freedoms of expression, assembly, association, and religion. Vietnam should unconditionally release them and repeal all laws that criminalize peaceful expression.

“Tran Thi Nga and other Vietnamese activists put themselves at grave risk to speak out against rights violations happening in their country,” Adams said. “Vietnam’s friends and donors need to honor their fight by pushing for their unconditional release.”

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