(Bangkok) – The Vietnamese authorities should quash the conviction of the prominent human rights activist and blogger Pham Doan Trang and immediately release her, Human Rights Watch said today. In December 2021, a Hanoi court convicted Pham Doan Trang on spurious charges of “conducting propaganda against the state” and sentenced her to nine years in prison. An appeals court is scheduled to hear her appeal on August 25, 2022.
“Pham Doan Trang became a target for Vietnamese government repression by speaking out against injustice, exposing human rights violations, and supporting political prisoners and their families,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The Vietnamese authorities should end these abuses by quashing the conviction and ordering her release.”
Pham Doan Trang, 44, is among the most prolific human rights bloggers in Vietnam and an award-winning activist. She has published hundreds of commentary pieces on various cultural, social, and political issues. She co-authored a handful of books available online, including Politics of a Police State, Non-Violent Resistance, Politics for the Common People, and A Handbook for Families of Prisoners.
Police arrested Pham Doan Trang on October 6, 2020, in Ho Chi Minh City, just a few hours after the annual human rights dialogue between the United States and Vietnam, and transferred her to Hanoi. After charging her, the authorities held her for more than a year in pretrial detention without access to a lawyer. Her family said they have not been able to visit her since her arrest. The fabricated case against her and her mistreatment in custody violate the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Vietnam ratified in 1982.
In its indictment, the People’s Procuracy of Hanoi alleges that Pham Doan Trang’s writing between November 2017 and December 2018 violated article 88 of the 1999 Penal Code. The government accused her of unlawfully storing the following writings in English: 1) “Brief Report on the Marine Life Disaster in Vietnam”; 2) “General Assessments on the Human Rights Situation in Vietnam”; 3) “Report Assessment of the 2016 Law on Belief and Religion in Relation to the Exercise of the Right to Freedom of Religion and Belief in Vietnam”; and 4) the Vietnamese version of the report on the 2016 Law on Belief and Religion.
The indictment states that “these documents have the content of propagandizing a psychological warfare, spreading fake information that sows confusion for the people; propagandizing information that distorts the guidelines and policies of the State of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, [and] defaming the people’s administration.” The authorities also charged Pham Doan Trang for participating in a roundtable discussion on the BBC Vietnamese service and giving an interview to Radio Free Asia’s Vietnamese service.
Pham Doan Trang prepared a statement that was published during her trial in December. She stated that “the longer the prison sentence, the more demonstrable the authoritarian, undemocratic, and antidemocratic nature of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.” She released the full statement in English and Vietnamese.
“Vietnam’s outrageous prosecution of an activist for possession of documents about environmental disasters, human rights, and religious freedom show the depth of its oppression,” Robertson said. “International donors and trade partners should pay attention to Vietnam’s heightened crackdown on dissidents and loudly call for their release.”
Prior to Pham Doan Trang’s most recent arrest and imprisonment, government security forces frequently harassed and physically assaulted her. In 2009, the police detained her for nine days for baseless “national security” reasons. On many occasions, security agents detained and interrogated her, and placed her under house arrest to stop her from joining protests or meet foreign diplomats. She walks with a pronounced limp from an injury when security forces assaulted her as they forcibly broke up an environmental protest in Hanoi in April 2015.
Pham Doan Trang is the recipient of numerous, prestigious international human rights awards such as the 2022 Martin Ennals Award and the US State Department’s International Women of Courage Award. In November 2022, she is scheduled to receive the Committee to Protect Journalists’ International Press Freedom Award.
In June, Pham Doan Trang’s 81-year-old mother, Bui Thien Can, traveled from Vietnam to Geneva to receive the Martin Ennals Award on her daughter’s behalf. Upon her return to Vietnam, the authorities detained Bui Thien Can at Noi Bai airport and interrogated her for more than four hours.
“The Pham Doan Trang case reveals how frightened the authorities are of people who dare to criticize the government,” Robertson said. “The Vietnamese government should start listening to the views of activists instead of imprisoning them.”