One Year After Arrest, Demand for Release of Vietnamese Human Rights Defender Me Nam – Civil Rights Defenders

Public Statement

On 10 October 2016, Vietnamese authorities arrested blogger Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, known by her pen name Me Nam (Mother Mushroom), on charges of spreading propaganda against the State. On 29 June, Me Nam was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Known since 2006 for her active social media advocacy against the Vietnamese government’s rampant corruption, human rights abuses, and foreign policy, her arrest and later sentence should be seen as politically motivated. Civil Rights Defenders calls on the government of Vietnam to immediately and unconditionally release Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh and to end its wider persecution of bloggers and journalists under Article 88 of the Penal Code.

On the morning of 10 October 2016, Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh (Me Nam) was arrested while on her way to visit another rights defender in prison. Her arrest and ongoing detention should be seen as nothing more than persecution against her courageous defence of human rights.

Since 2006, Me Nam has been blogging about human rights abuses and corruption in Vietnam. In 2013, she co-founded the independent Vietnamese Bloggers Network, which is now blocked in Vietnam. She has investigated and published widely on environmental protection, public health, correctional reform and anti-torture efforts, and has been critical of Vietnam’s foreign policy toward China over disputed islands in the South China Sea. Me Nam has posted information about over 30 people who have died in police custody and has been active both online and offline in documenting and demanding redress for the 2016 Formosa environmental disaster, when the Taiwanese-Vietnamese Formosa Ha Tinh Steel Corporation leaked toxic waste into the ocean having a devastating impact on tens of thousands of Vietnamese in four coastal provinces. Because of her tireless defence of human rights, Me Nam has been frequently targeted for harassment by the state, previously detained, interrogated, and beaten.

Following her arrest on 10 October 2016, Me Nam was held in incommunicado pre-trial detention until 20 June 2017, when she was first allowed to meet with one of her lawyers. The government also targeted her family in the month preceding her trial, the worst on 20 May 2017 when over 50 security officials surrounded the family’s house.

On 29 June 2017, following a speedy trial that failed to meet international fair trial standards, the People’s Court of Khanh Hoa province sentenced Me Nam to 10 years in prison under Article 88 of the Penal Code, for “conducting propaganda against the state.” The outrageousness of the sentence is compounded by serious grounds for concern over her deteriorating health.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Vietnam is a State Party, holds that anyone arrested or detained is entitled to a prompt trial without unreasonable delays and discourages pre-trial detention. Anyone who is arrested or detained is entitled to a lawyer of their choosing and to a court proceeding to decide without delay the lawfulness of their detention. The United Nations Human Rights Committee, which monitors the implementation of the ICCPR, holds that incommunicado detention denies the right to a fair trial, and raises the risks of torture. In April 2017, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found Me Nam’s detention to be arbitrary and called for her release. Instead, Vietnam proceeded with its persecution of Me Nam under the Penal Code. In contravention of Vietnam’s obligations under international law, Article 88 is often used to silence and imprison peaceful government critics and human rights defenders for exercising their right to the freedom of expression and opinion.

On the one-year anniversary of her arbitrary arrest and detention, Civil Rights Defenders urges the government of Vietnam to immediately and unconditionally release Me Nam, and to immediately end its wider persecution of bloggers and journalists under Article 88 of the Penal Code. As a prisoner of conscience, Me Nam has the right to remedy, including necessary medical attention, which Vietnam should ensure without conditions. Vietnam should amend or abolish those sections of the Penal Code that do not comply with its obligations under international law. Meanwhile, Vietnam’s donors, trade partners, and especially those seeking to expand relations with Vietnam, should likewise pressure the government to release Me Nam and all others arbitrarily detained for the peaceful exercise of their right to free expression.

Download as pdf: Public Statement.

Một năm sau ngày bị bắt Civil Rights Defender yêu cầu thả tự do cho Mẹ Nấm Nguyễn Ngọc Như Quỳnh - VietnamVOICE
On 10 October 2016, Vietnamese authorities arrested blogger Me Nam (Mother Mushroom), on charges of spreading propaganda against the State

Source from: Civil Rights Defenders – One Year After Arrest, Demand for Release of Vietnamese Human Rights Defender Me Nam

Mùa hè không yên ả – Cuộc đàn áp người bất đồng chính kiến lớn nhất trong nhiều năm qua – The Guardian

At least 11 activists have been arrested, charged or convicted over the past few months, while another was stripped of his citizenship and deported to France

Ho Thi Chau, 25, was left alone and blacklisted after her husband was returned to jail for “attempting to overthrow the [Vietnamese] government” last week.

An activist from the north central province of Nghe An, Nguyen Van Oai was arrested on 18 September on charges of violating the conditions of his 2015 release from prison.

Oai, an anti-government dissident, is a citizen journalist and co-founder of the Association of Catholic Former Prisoners of Conscience.

Following his conviction, he will serve a five-year prison sentence plus four years of house arrest.

Chau, a former garment factory worker, does not know how to support their newborn daughter. As she is the wife of a man branded a “reactionary” by Vietnam’s single party communist state, employers are reluctant to hire her.

“When we were preparing for our wedding I was sacked because of our engagement and they didn’t hire me any more,” she said.

Vietnam’s summer has been particularly harsh for dissidents, with at least 11 having been arrested, charged or convicted, while another was stripped of his citizenship and deported to France.

Human Rights Watch has described it as an “all-out effort” to clamp down on criticism, while Amnesty International has expressed fears that imprisoned dissidents are being tortured. The US embassy and EU delegation in Hanoi have repeatedly expressed their alarm.

‘I have my way of living in a difficult situation’

Those who remain out of prison ponder if they will be the next detained.

Mai Khoi, a former pop star who was banished from the Vietnamese music industry when she began expressing pro-democracy views in 2016, was surprised on 22 July when dozens of police arrived at her private show in Hanoi’s Tay Ho district.

Ca Si Mai Khoi - Mùa hè không yên ả – Cuộc đàn áp người bất đồng chính kiến lớn nhất trong nhiều năm qua - Musician Mai Khoi at a Hanoi cafe on 19 August
 Musician Mai Khoi at a Hanoi cafe on 19 August Photograph: Sasha Arefieva

The authorities had a complaint: the studio hosting Khoi did not have a permit for the show and it must be stopped.

While no one was arrested, Khoi, whose band Mai Khoi and the Dissidents have lyrics peppered with criticisms of the government, was evicted the next day by her landlord, who told her he was breaking the lease due to police pressure.

Since the raid Khoi has been forced to stop playing her shows, which fuse traditional Vietnamese music with American-style blues.

She is now living in a secret location in Hanoi in a flat leased under a friend’s name as she tries to work out her next move.

“It doesn’t really scare me, because I have my way of living in a difficult situation,” said Khoi.

“Ai Weiwei was in jail and he’s still doing his thing,” she added, referring to the Chinese visual artist turned dissident who spent 81 days in jail in 2011 for alleged economic crimes.

While Khoi remains free, members of the Brotherhood for Democracy, a loose association of anti-government activists that exists primarily in cyberspace, have born the brunt of the crackdown.

Nguyen Thi Kim Thanh said she was with her husband, Truong Minh Duc, when he was abruptly snatched off the street the morning of 30 July. He is accused of being a member of the Brotherhood, though his wife said she has no knowledge of his participation.

While driving to a pharmacy to buy heart medication, Duc, vice-president of the unregistered Free Viet Labour Federation – which advocates for workers’ rights in the absence of independent unions in Vietnam – was pulled over along with Thanh.

He was thrown into a car and transported to Hanoi, where he is being detained on charges of attempting to overthrow the government. Thanh denies her husband is guilty, adding he merely criticised government policy.

“He was just helping workers who were experiencing unjust behaviour,” she said, adding she worried that Duc, who has a history of heart attacks, won’t survive his incarceration.

Three other activists who were arrested separately across the country on the same day also received the same charge along with human rights lawyer and Brotherhood for Democracy founder Nguyen Van Dai, who has been in prison since 2015 awaiting trial, and his colleague Le Thu Ha.

ông Nguyễn Tường Thụy và bà Nguyễn Thúy Hạnh - Mùa hè không yên ả – Cuộc đàn áp người bất đồng chính kiến lớn nhất trong nhiều năm qua
Nguyen Tuong Thuy (right) and Nguyen Thuy Hanh, members of the Brotherhood for Democracy, in a Hanoi flat. Photograph: Bennett Murray

If found guilty they could face the death penalty.

“We prepare inside our minds for arrest, and talk to our family members, and I ask for advice from former prisoners of conscience about the life inside the prison,” said Nguyen Tuong Thuy, the 65-year-old vice-chairman of the Independent Journalist Association and a Brotherhood member.

Nguyen Thuy Hanh, a 54-year-old member who works as a public relations manger for an Indian company, said most of the group’s key functionaries were arrested in July.

“It’s the biggest challenge we’ve had since the birth of the Brotherhood for Democracy in 2013 until now,” she said.

While the Brotherhood for Democracy has no formal membership roll, it boasts almost 37,000 followers on Facebook. Causes represented by its members range from environmental activism to anti-China nationalism.

But while the Brotherhood has been hit the hardest by the crackdown, targets have included activists from across the spectrum of Vietnamese dissidence.

Some, such as Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, the activist also known as Mother Mushroom who was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment in June, were prominent bloggers, while others, including Oai, were members of the Viet Tan, a banned self-described political party based in California.

Khoi, who avoids formal associations and public concerts, said the police will have a hard time building a legal case against her.

She added, however, that it would not take much for her to be imprisoned.

“If I want to be in jail for two days or three days, I’d just go into the street and sing my songs,” she said.


Source from:  The Guardian: Vietnam’s harsh summer: state launches largest crackdown on dissidents in years

VOICE Launches Mid-term UPR Advocacy Campaign 2017

13/9/2017 – Following VOICE’s Universal Periodic Review Advocacy Campaign in 2014, a delegation advocating for human rights in Vietnam will go to Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, Norway, Belgium, and the Czech Republic to update United Nations bodies and relevant organizations on the progress (or lack of) the Vietnamese government has made on promoting and protecting human rights since the last review cycle in 2014, as well as to raise awareness about the human rights situation and prisoners of conscience in Vietnam.

The campaign will be launched on the birthday of imprisoned blogger, Mr. Nguyen Huu Vinh (pen name Anh Ba Sam), on September 15th and will last until October 10th, 2017. The delegation consists of Ms. Le Thi Minh Ha, the wife of Mr. Nguyen Huu Vinh, as well as VOICE representatives and Vietnamese human rights defenders, Ms. Anna Nguyen and Ms. Thao Dinh.

In particular, Ms. Thao Dinh will speak before the United Nations Human Rights Council (inter-governmental body within the United Nations system made up of 47 States responsible for the promotion and protection of all human rights around the globe) in Geneva, Switzerland, on September 19th in order to raise further attention to Vietnam’s severe human rights violations. This event will be televised live.

With assistance from the relevant international organizations, this delegation aims to provide full and accurate information on the current human rights situation in Vietnam. It is hoped that our advocacy will inspire further changes to encourage the Vietnamese government to better respect and protect human rights as a state party to multiple UN human rights treaties.

For more information regarding the delegation and its activities, please contact:

The New York Times: “It’s Very Easy to Die There”: How Prisoners Fare in Vietnam

Do Thi Mai, the mother of a 17-year-old boy who died after falling into a coma while in police custody, at home in Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam. “How did he turn out like this?” she asked. Credit Amanda Mustard for The New York Times

HANOI, Vietnam — Do Thi Mai said she was shocked to learn that her 17-year-old son, Do Dang Du, had fallen into a coma in prison a few weeks after he was arrested, accused by the police of stealing about $90.

The police initially said that Mr. Du’s severe head and leg wounds had been caused by falls in the bathroom, according to a family lawyer. “He was unconscious, so I couldn’t ask him,” Ms. Mai said.

Mr. Du died in the hospital a few days later, in October 2015, and members of his family told an interviewer that they believed he had been tortured in custody. The next month, two of their lawyers were assaulted outside the family home by what the lawyers said were eight masked men.

Nearly two years later, Ms. Mai is still searching for closure. “Two months before he died, he was healthy,” she said during an emotional interview at home on the rural fringe of Vietnam’s capital, Hanoi. “How did he turn out like this?”

Vietnam has been slowly updating its criminal justice system for years, under pressure from Western governments, and additional changes approved by the National Assembly in June are scheduled to take effect in January. But diplomats and rights groups have long suspected, based on interviews with former inmates and reports in Vietnam’s state-run news media, that prisons in the country have high rates of executions, forced labor and deaths in custody.

A recent government report on Vietnam’s prison system — which was posted on an official website a few months ago, possibly by accident, according to rights activists — appears to confirm many of the activists’ worst fears.

In one section, the report said 429 prisoners had been executed from August 2013 to June 2016, a rare admission from a one-party government that has long kept its execution process opaque. According to Amnesty International, that means Vietnam had the world’s third-highest execution rate over that period, after China and Iran.

Another section, referring to the period from 2011 to 2016, said 261,840 inmates had received vocational training, a term that rights activists say essentially means forced labor. In addition, the report said, the remains or ashes of 2,812 prisoners were approved for collection by family members, suggesting a high rate of deaths in custody for a prison population that the government says numbers less than 150,000.

The statistics “give us reason to doubt that governance is becoming less authoritarian and violent as Vietnam transitions to a market economy,” said Benjamin Swanton, a longtime social justice advocate and development consultant in Vietnam.

vietnam-prison-abuses - Đỗ Đăng Dư - Trong đó rất dễ chết – Tình trạng của những người bị giam ở Việt Nam 2
Official paperwork related to Do Dang Du’s death that his family said it received from the Vietnamese authorities. Credit Amanda Mustard for The New York Times

Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry did not respond to emailed questions about conditions in Vietnamese prisons.

Many officials in Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party support changes to the criminal justice system, said Pip Nicholson, a professor at Melbourne Law School in Australia who specializes in Vietnamese law. But party officials who advocate for Western-style rules, such as truly independent courts or the presumption of innocence until proved guilty, she added, are in the minority.

The result, policy experts and rights advocates say, is a court system where arrests almost always lead to convictions and a prison system where human rights are an afterthought. Corruption, impunity and violence in prisons are mostly tolerated, these advocates say, because the system serves the party’s interests by silencing dissidents and enriching prison guards.

“It’s very easy to die there,” said Doan Trang, an independent journalist in Hanoi who has written extensively about state-led repression in the country.

The recent government report presented prison statistics as part of a long-term process of changes in line with global trends. It noted, for example, that the number of crimes punishable by death in Vietnam had fallen to 22 in 2009 from 45 in 1993.

The report also said, however, that the number of people on death row in Vietnam had climbed to 681 last year from 336 in 2011, and that the government planned to build five new execution centers to accommodate demand.

The global trend is a reduction in the use of the death penalty, said Janice Beanland, a campaigner at Amnesty International. “This is why it’s a bit shocking to us to learn that, in actual fact, Vietnam has been executing people more regularly than we believed,” she said.

The government report said that Vietnam had improved vocational education in prisons and that inmates received training in tasks like sewing, construction, carpentry, mechanics, farming and the processing of agricultural products.

But former prisoners and human rights groups say that such labor is usually not voluntary, and that the cashews, garments and other products are exported from prison workshops for a profit.

Doan Huy Chuong, a labor rights activist who was released in February after a seven-year prison term, said it was common for prisoners to rise at 6 a.m. and do manual labor, without pay, until anywhere from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.

vietnam-prison-abuses - Đỗ Đăng Dư - Trong đó rất dễ chết – Tình trạng của những người bị giam ở Việt Nam
Do Dang Du’s father, Do Dang Ung, adjusting a photo on a memorial altar for his son. Credit Amanda Mustard for The New York Times

Prisoners with money can bribe their way into hospitals if they fall ill, he said. “Without money, if they have a fever, they still have to work,” he added.

Rights advocates said they were especially worried about the government report’s claim that the remains and ashes of 2,812 prisoners were approved for collection by family members.

In a 2014 report, Human Rights Watch said that prisoners who died in custody were often being held for minor infractions and that the official explanations for their deaths “strained credulity and gave the appearance of systematic cover-ups.” It quoted survivors as saying that police officers had sometimes beaten them to extract confessions for crimes that they denied committing.

“Do I think they start out with the idea of beating someone to death? No,” said Phil Robertson, the deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “But do I think that there’s no accountability or controls in the system? Yes. And that’s the fundamental problem.”

In the case of Mr. Du, the teenager who died in custody in 2015, police investigators said for months afterward that his head injury — an inchwide gash — had been caused when his cellmate kicked him on the top of his head, not by a fall in the shower as they initially said, according to Le Luan, one of the family’s lawyers.

The cellmate, Vu Van Binh, was later sentenced to 10 years in jail for “deliberately inflicting injuries.” But Mr. Luan said in an interview that he believed the police explanation of Mr. Du’s death was littered with forensic inconsistencies.

For example, he said, citing an X-ray he provided to The New York Times, the wound was on Mr. Du’s forehead, not the top of his head. It was also hard to imagine, he said, how Mr. Du’s severe leg injuries could have been caused by falling onto a toilet in the bathroom, as the authorities claimed.

The causes that the police described “could not have created such serious wounds,” Mr. Luan said. “There must have been another incident.”

Members of Mr. Du’s extended family said in a separate interview that they were still not sure how he had died.

The only certainty, they said, is that something about the official explanation does not add up.

“He did something wrong,” Mr. Du’s grandfather Do Dinh Van said as he stood beside a makeshift altar that the family had created for the boy in their bare living room. “But he didn’t deserve to die.”

Source from “It’s Very Easy to Die There”: How Prisoners Fare in VietnamThe New York Times : 

The Washington Post: Apparent crackdown in Vietnam on social media, but many users undeterred

Vietnamese activist Anh Chi searches the Internet at Tu Do (Freedom) cafe in Hanoi. REUTERS/Kham (Kham/Reuters)

By Vincent Bevins

HANOI — The police in ­communist-led Vietnam have been cracking down especially hard on free expression over social media for the past few months.

Or, at least as far as experts, regular users and dissident bloggers can tell, that seems to be the case.

“Even activists in Vietnam struggle to say how many people are actually caught and arrested” for online activity, said Janice Beanland, a campaigner at Amnesty International. “But one striking thing is that Vietnamese activists seem not to be deterred.”

Vietnam doesn’t have the resources of its big neighbor to the north to maintain a “great firewall” or its own social media platforms. So Facebook and other global social networks are popular here. They are filled daily with all kinds of political speech, including quite direct attacks on the government. Vocal users wonder whether their output is being watched, and rumors swirl about shutdowns or hacking.

It’s not clear to anyone on the Web here exactly what the rules are, leading some to question whether Vietnamese censorship is haphazard and counterproductive or part of a more considered strategy to create an efficient chilling effect.

Those who take free speech too far risk harassment or arrest. But how far is too far?

“It’s getting more difficult for us. Why? Some people say that Donald Trump doesn’t care about human rights, and so the [Vietnamese] Communist Party feels more free. I don’t think that is the full answer,” said Nguyen Chi Tuyen, known as “Anh Chi” online, one of the country’s most prominent dissidents now that two of his peers have been handed long prison sentences. “They also want to threaten a younger group which is thinking of following us.”

He was sitting in downtown Hanoi, at a self-declared ­“hipster” cafe decorated with tongue-in-cheek celebrations of the North Vietnamese communist forces that defeated the United States 40-some years ago. Downstairs, well-dressed Vietnamese youth clacked away on Apple products.

“I am safe at this cafe now,” he said, looking around. “But I have been arrested more times than I can count and could go to jail anytime.”

There are many users, nonetheless, who have not been slowed by the uncertainty.

“I used to be a little afraid [of getting in trouble], but not anymore,” said Luke Nguyen, a real estate investor, sitting in an upscale Ho Chi Minh City cafe. He showed a piece of sexually explicit satire he recently posted publicly about the case of Trinh Xuan Thanh, a former Vietnamese oil executive Germany said was abducted by his own country in Berlin. “Because I’m just a little guy, not even an activist, just a citizen exchanging ideas.”

This sentiment — you can probably say what you want, as long as you aren’t famous – can be heard often in Vietnam. But Beanland said that even if most of the arrests that get attention are of high-profile dissidents, there may be much more going on that does not make headlines.

“It appears that there have been more arrests recently. But what we hear about may just be the tip of the iceberg,” she said.

This year so far, Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, known as “Mother Mushroom,” and Tran Thi Nga, often called Thuy Nga, were given long sentences. Mother Mushroom got 10 years, while Thuy Nga got nine.

Facebook is the social network most often used to express political opinions here, and for many other daily activities as well. New SIM cards in Vietnam often come bundled with free Facebook usage, and many citizens use its Messenger app in lieu of text messages. But it wasn’t always clear that Mark Zuckerberg’s company would play such an important role in the world’s 14th-largest country.

In 2013, then-Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung announced the goal of building a homegrown social network for young Vietnamese people. But in early 2015, he acknowledged that it would be impossible to ban social media platforms such as Facebook. “You here have all joined social networks, you’ve all got Facebook up on your phones to read information. We cannot ban it,” Dung told his cabinet members. “We must publish accurate information online immediately.”

Instead, the government has set up its own Facebook page, to keep the public in the loop on new policies or to live-stream monthly cabinet meetings.

“The Communist Party of Vietnam is in a bind,” said Zachary Abuza, a professor researching Southeast Asian politics at the National War College in Washington. “It is committed to maintaining its monopoly of power and, as such, feels threatened by unfettered social media. Yet its Internet is relatively open, and they have nothing like the Great Firewall of China.”

Vietnam’s intermittent censorship doesn’t exist only online; it often appears that the state acts in cyberspace the same way it operates elsewhere. In the capital, it’s quite easy to come across almost clumsy or comical surveillance. At the recent opening night of an art exhibition in Hanoi, a slightly overweight man in casual clothes walked in. “Oh, that’s the spy, he comes to every opening,” said the artists to a group of visitors. “He just eats all our snacks and drinks all the wine and then leaves.”

He proceeded to do exactly that. But censorship is not always a joke for Vietnam’s artists, who say they can have exhibitions shut down for reasons that are never explained to them.

The surveillance extends to sports, as well. The dissident soccer team No-U FC plans the location of its weekly games — on Facebook — just before kickoff to avoid having cops show up to disrupt them. The team’s name is a rejection of the U-shaped delineation of China’s claim in the South China Sea. For dissidents, nationalist opposition to Chinese aggression is their biggest issue.

“I’d like to see electoral democracy, but not everyone I know agrees. But almost everyone I know opposes China. China is less popular than communism,” said Pham Anh Cuong, a member of No-U FC. As he was talking over lunch, he got a Facebook message and burst out laughing. “A friend just saw something I posted criticizing a local official and is asking me to take it down.”

Would he? He laughed louder. “Of course not! Why would I?”


Source from The Washington Post

Amnesty International: Missing Human Rights Defender At Risk Of Torture: Nguyễn Bắc Truyển



Former prisoner of conscience, Nguyễn Bắc Truyển was last seen on 30 July 2017 after dropping off his wife outside her place of work in Ho Chi Minh City, Viet Nam. Although State media reported that he was arrested by authorities, more than three weeks later his wife has received no official confirmation from police as to the accusations against him or his place of detention. He is at risk of torture or other ill-treatment and has preexisting medical conditions that require treatment.

The whereabouts of Nguyễn Bắc Truyển remain unknown since he was forcibly disappeared on 30 July 2017. According to State media reports, he was arrested for “carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the People’s Administration” under Article 79 of the 1999 Penal Code. The offence, which falls under the vaguely worded “national security” section of the Penal Code, provides for a sentence of up to life imprisonment or capital punishment. On the same day that Nguyễn Bắc Truyển was forcibly disappeared, three other activists were formally arrested in the presence of one or more family members. The families of those activists have since been informed either verbally or in writing that the men are being held at

On the same day that Nguyễn Bắc Truyển was forcibly disappeared, three other activists were formally arrested in the presence of one or more family members. The families of those activists have since been informed either verbally or in writing that the men are being held at B14 prison in Ha Noi. Despite requesting information from police, the family of Nguyễn Bắc Truyển have received no similar confirmation as to his whereabouts and they fear for his safety. Nguyễn Bắc Truyển suffers from heart and bowel conditions that could deteriorate if he does not have access to the medication he requires.

A former prisoner of conscience, Nguyễn Bắc Truyển is a follower of Hòa Hảo Buddhism, a minority religious tradition centred primarily in the south of Viet Nam. He was arrested in 2006 and imprisoned for three and a half years after being convicted of “conducting propaganda” against the State for providing legal advice to land grab victims. On 24 February 2014, Nguyễn Bắc Truyển and his wife were pulled from a taxi in Ha Noi by men in plain clothes and severely beaten while on the way to the Australian embassy to discuss the harassment they had faced from police in Đồng Tháp province in the lead up to their wedding. His wife has recalled four other specific incidents in 2015 and 2016 when one or both of them were beaten or attacked by men in plain clothes.
Please write immediately in Vietnamese, English, or your own language urging Vietnamese authorities to:

+ Immediately disclose the whereabouts of Nguyễn Bắc Truyển;

+ Release Nguyễn Bắc Truyển immediately and unconditionally if he is in State custody, as it appears he has been deprived of his liberty solely for peacefully exercising his rights to freedom of expression and association;

+ Pending his release, ensure that Nguyễn Bắc Truyển is protected from torture and other ill-treatment and is allowed access to his family, a lawyer of his choice, and adequate medical care.


Prime Minister
Nguyễn Xuân Phúc
Prime Minister’s Office
Hà Nội, Việt Nam
Salutation: Your Excellency

Minister of Public Security
To Lam
44 Yết Kiêu St. Hoàn Kiếm District Hà
Nội, Việt Nam
Fax: + 844 3823 1872
c/o Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Salutation: Dear Minister

And copies to: Minister of Foreign Affairs and Deputy Prime Minister
Phạm Bình Minh
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
1 Ton That Dam Street, Ba Dinh district
Hà Nội, Việt Nam
Fax: + 844 3823 1872

Also send copies to diplomatic representatives accredited to your country. Please insert local diplomatic addresses below:
Name Address 1 Address 2 Address 3 Fax Fax number Email Email address Salutation Salutation


Before his arrest, Nguyễn Bắc Truyển was working for a Christian church in Ho Chi Minh City, contributing to a charitable program that supports war veterans. He has monitored and reported on the harassment of religious minorities in Viet Nam and in 2014 he met with the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief during a country visit to Viet Nam. He has also provided legal advice to victims of land grabs and police harassment, and helped to facilitate charitable support to the families of prisoners of conscience.

The three other activists that were arrested the same day as Nguyễn Bắc Truyển are Phạm Văn Trội, 45, from Ha Noi; Trương Minh Đức, 57, from Ho Chi Minh City; and Nguyễn Trung Tôn, 45, from Thanh Hoa province. Each of them has previously been imprisoned for their peaceful activities (see A fifth individual, Nguyen Trung Truc, was arrested on 4 August 2017. According to State media, all five men are alleged to have connections to human rights lawyer Nguyễn Văn Đài who was himself arrested in Ha Noi on 16 December 2015 and, along with his colleague Le Thu Ha, is also accused of committing an offence under Article 79 of the Penal Code (see ASA 41/3098/2015 ).

Although Hòa Hảo Buddhism is an officially recognized religion in Viet Nam, historically there has been tension between its adherents and the Communist Party of Viet Nam. Individuals and families who choose to practice the religion independently of State-sanctioned religious authorities often face harassment from authorities.

Nguyễn Bắc Truyển is a former prisoner of conscience. He was arrested in November 2006 and imprisoned for three and a half years after being convicted of “conducting propaganda” against the State. According to his wife, Bui Thi Kim Phuong, he was accused of giving incorrect information to victims of land grabs, thereby turning them against the government. Nguyễn Bắc Truyển was released from prison in May 2010 but was briefly detained again on 9 February 2014 when police raided the home of Bui Thi Kim Phuong, his fiancée at the time, in Đồng Tháp province days before their planned wedding. He was accused of stealing money and property but was released after twenty-four hours. The accusations and investigation were later dropped due to lack of evidence, however uniformed and plain-clothed police continued to threaten and harass the couple and their family for the rest of the month, including by following them, throwing waste at the house and allegedly cutting the water supply.

Viet Nam is in the midst of a sustained crackdown on human rights which has resulted in the arbitrary detention of at least fifteen activists and government critics since January 2017. Prisoners of conscience are routinely held for long periods of pretrial, incommunicado detention. Incommunicado detention can facilitate torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and when prolonged can itself amount to such practices. In addition, the right to promptly communicate with a lawyer and prepare a defence, an essential part of the right to a fair trial, is denied. Both the prohibition against torture and other illtreatment and the right to a fair trial are provided in treaties that Viet Nam, as a state party, is legally obliged to abide by, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

Prison conditions in Viet Nam are harsh, with inadequate food and health care, falling far short of the minimum requirements set out in the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (Nelson Mandela Rules) and other international standards. Prisoners of conscience have been held in solitary confinement as a punishment for prolonged periods. For more information see the Amnesty International report, issued in July 2016: “Prisons Within Prisons: Torture and Ill-treatment of Prisoners of Conscience in Viet Nam”,

Name: Nguyễn Bắc Truyển
Gender: male
UA: 197/17 Index: ASA 41/6964/2017 Issue Date: 22 August 2017

TIME: Facing Jail, Democracy Activist Joshua Wong Says ‘Hong Kong Is Under Threat’

Feliz Solomon and Aria Hangyu Chen / Hong Kong
Aug 17, 2017

Joshua Wong is a free man, and a very young one, when he arrives Wednesday afternoon in front of a plaza in Hong Kong that he calls Citizen’s Square. But he may not be free for much longer. On Thursday, the 20-year-old faces a prison sentence for kicking off massive pro-democracy protests here three years ago. “I am not really ready for it,” he told TIME in an exclusive interview.

On Sept. 26, 2014, Wong and a small crowd of fellow student activists stormed the forecourt of Hong Kong’s government headquarters to oppose what they viewed as political and social encroachment by China. Originally an open plaza, the forecourt was fenced off in 2014 to prevent protesters, from democracy activists to land rights campaigners, from assembling there.

That night, Wong and others were pepper-sprayed amid scuffles with police, and at least a dozen students were arrested. Two days later , partly in response to clashes at the forecourt — which protesters began calling “Civic Square” or “Citizens’ Square” — tens of thousands of mostly young people flooded the Central and Admiralty neighborhoods, Hong Kong’s seats of power. There, they vastly swelled already-planned protests against Chinese interference in Hong Kong elections, and stayed on the streets for 79 days of mostly peaceful occupation. Wong’s remarkable role in the protests is the subject of the Netflix documentary Joshua: Teenager vs. Superpower.

Facing Jail, Democracy Activist Joshua Wong Says 'Hong Kong Is Under Threat'
Joshua Wong, then 17 and leader of the pro-democracy group Scholarism, sits on steps alongside metal security barriers outside the Central Government Offices in the Admiralty district of Hong Kong, China, on Wednesday, Dec. 10, 2014. Lam Yik Fei/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Of all the events that made the movement that was later dubbed the Umbrella Revolution, it was this first act that may haunt Wong. On Aug. 19, 2015, he and two of his peers, with whom he founded the political party Demosistō, were charged with unlawful assembly and inciting unrest for their role in storming the government forecourt. They were convicted on July 20, 2016 and sentenced to 80 hours of community service. On Thursday , Wong, along with Nathan Law, 23, and Alex Chow, 26, face a judicial panel that has been asked by prosecutors to imprison them on the grounds that their sentence was too lenient and sent the wrong message to other activists.

In September last year, Law became, at 23, the youngest lawmaker ever elected to Hong Kong’s legislature, but he was ousted by pro-Beijing colleagues over claims that he disrespected China during his oath-taking ceremony. If he is imprisoned for more than three months, he will be legally disqualified from running for political office for five years — as will Wong and Chow. That the courts have even agreed to reassess the trio’s sentences after they have already been dealt and served has sounded alarm bells that China, of which Hong Kong is a semi-autonomous territory, may be putting pressure on what has long been cherished as an independent judiciary.

On Wednesday, an anxious but resolute Wong met with TIME outside the very same plaza he stormed three years ago. With less than 24 hours before the judges’ decision, he spoke candidly about his belief that he has become a target of political prosecution, his goal of a democratic and self-ruling Hong Kong, and his hopes that his hometown will stand its ground to remain what he calls the freest territory of China.

His interview has been edited for length and clarity.

The court is about to revisit its punishment for your role in the events of Sept. 26, 2014, when you and other student activists stormed the forecourt at government headquarters. Could you also revisit those events for us?

Three years ago, we organized an action to reclaim Citizens’ Square and to ask for free elections and democracy in Hong Kong. We were against the interference of the Communist Party of China. Today we’re facing a verdict that comes from the Chinese government. They will probably send me to prison for more than half a year. What I want the international community to realize is that Hong Kong is already under authoritarian rule. This is a long-term battle, and we ask for long-term support. Hong Kong is now under threat.

Looking back on that action, is there anything you would have done differently if you could do it over?

I have no regrets at all. We were against patriotic education [an attempt by local authorities to impose a pro-Beijing curriculum on local schools], which is why we took the square. Three years ago, the government set up a barrier to block our freedom of assembly. So we organized an action to reclaim the square to remind people that it’s time to take back their rights. This was the first place I was arrested, and it’s the reason I will be sent to prison, but I do not regret it at all and I will still keep fighting for democracy.

Given that you’ve already served a sentence for this case, and given that revising the sentence would legally derail your stated aim of running for political office, do you view the appeal on your sentencing as a political act?

Last summer I was sentenced to 80 hours of community service — tomorrow [Thursday] I will face nearly a year-long sentence with immediate imprisonment. It just proves that the Hong Kong courts just obey China. This is meant to be a threat.

If imprisoned, many will view you and your colleagues as Hong Kong’s first political prisoners. What does this say about the independence of Hong Kong’s judiciary, which you have referred to as one of the “core values” of the territory?

Judicial independence is under threat because of the Department of Justice’s loyalty to China. I hope people will realize that. One decade ago, people described Hong Kong as a place without democracy but with rule of law. Now Hong Kong has already transformed into an authoritarian regime.

We won’t be the first political prisoners in Hong Kong [on Tuesday, the courts sentenced 13 activists to jail terms of 8 and 13 months for storming the legislature on a protest over rural development projects]. We’re just the first from the Umbrella Movement. The government reviewed this case against us because they hope to send us to prison and block our chances of running in elections. I believe the Department of Justice is reviewing my sentence because they hope I don’t run in an election.

Do you view Hong Kong as a barometer of freedom elsewhere in Asia, and do you view the way you’re being treated as an omen for democratic norms and rule of law in the broader region?

Hong Kong is the city with the highest degree of freedom of all the Chinese territories. In the Asia Pacific, I think Hong Kong should be in the spotlight to make people realize that [China] is still violating human rights. I hope the experience of Hong Kong will urge global solidarity and make people care about Hong Kong. Now it’s a place where youngsters — like her or him or me [gestures at passersby] — are sent to prison.

What impact do you think your experience with the courts will have on the many young people in Hong Kong and elsewhere that have become more politically active in recent years?

In the past few years there has been an uprising, a new political awareness among my generation. However, political prosecutions and sentences are increasing. We are in a time of darkness for my hometown. But in a dark era like this, with the repression of the Beijing regime, youngsters must fight on the front line to ask for democracy. I just want to say that if Nathan, Alex and I are in prison, and we cannot stand on the front line, there’s no reason for anyone else to take a step backwards.

It’s safe to say that most observers predict that you are going to prison. You’re only 20 years old. Are you afraid?

I am not really ready for it. And when, after I have been sent to prison, I can only meet my parents twice per month for half an hour. I will miss them, and I will miss my home. No one wants to be sent to prison, including me. I’m tired, and I’m scared, but I will still keep on fighting.

Amnesty International: Four peaceful activists arbitrarily arrested in connection with long-detained human rights lawyer



1 August 2017

Index: ASA 41/6855/2017

Viet Nam: Four peaceful activists arbitrarily arrested in connection with long-detained human rights lawyer

On 30 July 2017, Vietnamese authorities arrested four activists in Ha Noi, Ho Chi Minh City, and Thanh Hoa province. They are Nguyễn Trung Tôn, 45, a Protestant pastor from Thanh Hoa province; Phạm Văn Trội, 45, from Hanoi; Trương Minh Đức, 57, from Ho Chi Minh City; and Nguyễn Bắc Truyển, 49, from Ho Chi Minh City. Each of the four, all men, has previously been imprisoned for his peaceful activities. The four are prisoners of conscience, having been deprived of their liberty solely for peacefully exercising their human rights to freedom of expression and association. Amnesty International calls on the Vietnamese authorities to release all four immediately and unconditionally, release all other prisoners of conscience and end its policy of intimidating, arresting and punishing peaceful activists.

The four activists have been accused of “carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the People’s Administration” under Article 79 of the 1999 Penal Code. The offence, which falls under the vaguely worded “national security” section of the Code, provides for a sentence of up to life imprisonment or capital punishment.

The arrests are part of an intensifying crackdown on the peaceful exercise of the rights to freedom of expression, assembly, and association in Viet Nam that has seen lengthy prison sentences handed down to two prominent human rights defenders in the last five weeks. Prior to the most recent arrests, at least seven other activists had been arrested in the last six months.

The four men arrested on Sunday are alleged to have connections to human rights lawyer Nguyễn Văn Đài who was himself arrested in Ha Noi on 16 December 2015 and has, along with his colleague Le Thu Ha, been detained without trial for more than 18 months. Both Nguyễn Văn Đài and Le Thu Ha were initially accused of “conducting propaganda” against the state under Article 88 of the 1999 Penal Code. However, according to Vietnamese police and state-controlled media, Nguyễn Văn Đài and Le Thu Ha are now accused of committing an offence under Article 79 along with those recently arrested.

Nguyễn Văn Đài is a well-known human rights lawyer. In 2006 he founded the Committee for Human Rights in Viet Nam – now called the Vietnam Human Rights Centre – and was one of the original signatories to an online petition calling for freedom and democracy in Viet Nam, which garnered the support of thousands. Between 2007 and 2011, Nguyễn Văn Đài served four years in prison after being convicted of “conducting propaganda” against the state. In April 2013, he founded the Brotherhood for Democracy, envisioned as a coordinated and collective movement for achieving democracy in Viet Nam.

Pastor Nguyễn Trung Tôn has written about freedom of religion and corruption in Viet Nam. He was arrested in January 2011 and convicted of “conducting propaganda” against the state, serving a sentence of two years’ imprisonment.

Phạm Văn Trội was arrested in September 2008 for unfurling banners, distributing leaflets, posting information on the internet criticizing government policies, and calling for democracy in Viet Nam. In October 2010 he was convicted of “conducting propaganda” against the state and served a sentence of four years’ imprisonment.

Journalist and labour rights activist Trương Minh Đức has written about corruption and abuse of authority in Viet Nam. He was arrested in May 2007 and in March 2008 was convicted of “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the state” under Article 258 of the Penal Code, serving a sentence of five years’ imprisonment.

Nguyễn Bắc Truyển is a human rights lawyer who in 2007 was convicted of “conducting propaganda” against the state and sentenced to three and a half years’ imprisonment. Since his release in May 2010, he has been a vocal member of an association of former prisoners of conscience.

A sustained crackdown on human rights

Viet Nam is in the midst of a sustained crackdown on human rights. In the last five weeks, two prominent human rights defenders were convicted of “conducting propaganda” against the state and sentenced to lengthy prison sentences.

On 29 June 2017, Nguyễn Ngọc Như Quỳnh, also known by her blogging pseudonym, Mẹ Nấm (Mother Mushroom), was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment for her activities on Facebook and other social media, including writing, uploading and sharing articles and video content critical of the ruling Communist Party of Viet Nam and the state. On 25 July 2017, Trần Thị Nga was sentenced to nine years’ imprisonment for “posting video clips and documents containing anti-state propaganda on the internet”. The videos related to issues such as pollution of the environment and corruption. Both decisions have received widespread international coverage and been condemned by local and international human rights groups, United Nations human rights experts, and diplomatic representatives of the United States and the European Union in Vietnam.

Both Trần Thị Nga and Nguyễn Ngọc Như Quỳnh had raised concerns about the authorities’ response to the 2016 Formosa environmental disaster, which severely affected fish stocks in several Vietnamese provinces. The incident has impacted the livelihoods of up to 270,000 people and led to sustained activism and protests across the country on a scale rarely seen.

Others who have recently been arrested include Trần Hoàng Phúc, a 23-year-old activist arrested on 3 July under Article 88 of the Penal Code for allegedly posting material critical of the government on social media and Lê Đình Lượng, a political dissident who was arrested on 24 July under Article 79 of the Penal Code. At least five other activists arrested since November 2016 are currently held in incommunicado pre-trial detention. Incommunicado detention can facilitate torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and when prolonged can itself amount to such practices. In addition, the right to promptly communicate with a lawyer and prepare a defence is an essential part of the right to a fair trial. Both the prohibition against torture and other ill-treatment and the right to a fair trial are provided in treaties that Viet Nam, as a state party, is legally obliged to abide by, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

The ICCPR also protects the right to freedom of opinion and expression (Article 19), peaceful assembly (Article 21), and association (Article 22). It also protects the right to liberty and security of a person, which includes the right to not be subjected to arbitrary arrest and detention (Article 9).

Amnesty International urges the Vietnamese authorities to comply with Viet Nam’s human rights obligations, and drop all charges against those who have been peacefully carrying out activities to promote and protect human rights and/or peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression, opinion or belief, assembly, and/or association. The international community must condemn, in the strongest possible terms, the current crackdown on human rights in Viet Nam, and advocate for the immediate release of all prisoners of conscience.

BACKGROUND Amnesty International has documented information on at least 90 persons currently deprived of liberty whom the organization considers prisoners of conscience, including bloggers, labour and land rights activists, political activists, ethnic and religious minorities, and advocates for human rights and social justice who have been convicted solely for peacefully exercising their human rights. In many of these cases there have been concerns about unfair trials, incommunicado detention, and torture and ill-treatment of those detained. Prison conditions in Viet Nam are harsh, with inadequate food and health care that falls short of the minimum requirements set out in the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (Nelson Mandela Rules) and other international standards. Treatment of prisoners of conscience has been documented by Amnesty International in a report, Prisons within prisons: Torture and ill-treatment of prisoners of conscience in Viet Nam , July 2016, available at


Public Document****************

The Diplomat: What’s Behind Vietnam’s Rising Violence?

The rise of physical violence committed against activists is a troubling trend.

A recent report by Human Rights Watch, “No Country for Human Rights Activists: Assaults on Bloggers and Democracy Campaigners in Vietnam”, documents the rise of physical violence committed against activists, mainly by plain-clothed “thugs,” some of whom may be police or soldiers, and most of whom target their victims in very public place.

Nguyen Trung Ton, a pastor and blogger, and a friend, were set upon by a group of men after exiting a bus in February:

[They] took our belongings, stripped our clothes off, covered our heads with our jackets and beat us repeatedly with iron tubes. They did not tell us any reason. The van moved and they continued to beat us [in the van]. There was a driver and at least six other men.

And this happened to the pro-environment activist Nguyen Thi Thai Lai when she was leaving a restaurant with a friend:

Four young men, like four water buffalo, blocked our motorbike. They grabbed me by my neck and threw me on the ground. They beat me until I fainted. They kicked me in the face – look at my [bruised] face. They kicked me in the face. They kicked me and beat me until I fainted.

While “physical attacks against human rights activists and bloggers in Vietnam are not a new phenomenon,” as the Human Rights Report notes, there does appear to be a trend away from detention and towards public violence. The report states:

In 2014, during an especially contentious phase of negotiations over the Trans-Pacific Partnership between Vietnam and the United States, the number of people convicted for political crimes in Vietnam decreased to 31. However, according to the Association of Former Prisoners of Conscience, the number of physical attacks increased to at least 31 incidents targeting 135 rights bloggers and activists.

In 2015, the number of reported convictions continued to decrease, with only seven activists convicted throughout the year. On the other hand, according to research by Human Rights Watch, roughly 50 bloggers and activists reported that they were assaulted in 20 separate incidents. In 2016, at least 21 rights campaigners were convicted while at least 20 physical assaults were carried out against more than 50 people.

“Marxism needs a dictator,” according to the late Russian-American literary giant Vladimir Nabokov, “and a dictator needs a secret police”. The secret police in Vietnam, however, is hardly that secret. In 2013, Carl Thayer, then of the Australian Defense Forces Academy, estimated as many as 6.7 million Vietnamese work in some fashion for the country’s numerous security agencies – so about one in six people.

In 2015, when I met Pham Chi Dung, an activist who founded the Independent Journalistic Association of Vietnam, and who worked for the Ho Chi Minh City’s security bureau for sixteen years before becoming disillusioned, he knew that two security agents had followed him from his house to our café rendezvous. And he knew they would follow him home again. (He was arrested once again a few months after we met).

The use of paid (one assumes) bullies to attack activists, however, is different from the use of security agents to spy on or arrest dissidents. When an activist is threatened by the police or military, at least he recognizes his attacker. The uniform reveals all. People know who is his attacker and for whom his attacker works. As a result, he understands the message that comes from up-high; we want to cripple all activism. In a sense, then, some credit must go to a government that sends its police or military to do its dirty work; at least it’s being honest about its motives.

The use of plain-clothed attackers is different. It’s dishonest. It’s cowardly. The removal of a police or military uniform (if that is the case) before an attack is an effort to distance the boss from the violence. Not only that, it is an attempt to say: the regime isn’t against activists, fellow citizens are.

Because of this, a corollary is necessary to the view of Human Rights Watch; the use of plain-clothed thugs isn’t just an effort to “sow fear and uncertainty among activists” but, as well, to sow fear and uncertainty among those who might become activists.

For the secret police to arrest an activist is to silence that critic. For the police or military to beat an activist is to demonstrate that the regime won’t put up with criticism. But for a plain-clothed thug to attack an activist is to publicly humiliate that activist.

Indeed, an imprisoned activist is removed from society; a beaten activist is forced to show his scars to all, perhaps a more effective deterrent. A detained activist, also, often inspires more activism; his or her release becomes a motivating reason for protest.

The fact that friends and family are often targeted in the attacks, as the Human Rights Watch report makes clear, also changes the game. Every committed activist has considered their own imprisonment. But violence against one’s family compels a different response. Self-sacrifice is one thing but having to also sacrifice your family makes a person think again about continuing.

The changing tactics of the Vietnamese regime no doubt reflect changes in the pro-democracy, human rights movement. Social media, the modern-day samizdat, has become almost impossible for the regime to censor as it would like. Activists have also become more emboldened, willing to protest and demonstrate publicly. And with closer ties to the United States and the European Union (which agreed to an important free-trade agreement that will probably take effect next year) the risk of irking these partners is potentially too important economically. Plain-clothed thugs, therefore, provide some distance between the regime and the violence.

Moreover, the rights-movement is simply much stronger than it once was. As I have written before, the growth in environmental activism has coalesced disjointed parties: middle-class urbanites and poor rural farmers, democrats and nationalists, have been united under the banner of they all have a stake in. (The fact that some of the attacks were committed while activists were visiting one another was most likely intended to show the dangers of solidarity.) This is unprecedented in modern Vietnamese history, and the regime knows it.

The Guardian: How Vietnam locked up its most famous blogger – Mother Mushroom

One of Vietnam’s most influential political bloggers, given a courage award by Melania Trump, faces a decade behind bars for her ‘reactionary’ work.

Vietnamese blogger Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, known as Mother Mushroom, on trial in the city of Nha Trang. Photograph: Vietnam News Agency/EPA

“Each person only has a life, but if I had the chance to choose again I would still choose my way.”

They are the words of one of Vietnam’s most influential bloggers — known by her online pseudonym, Mother Mushroom — minutes before she was handed the shock sentence of a decade in prison. Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh directed her defiant comments at her 61-year-old mother, who was watching a live feed in a room next door as she was not allow into the courtroom.

The 37-year-old was accused of defaming Vietnam’s communist regime in her blogs and interviews with foreign media.

“I clapped my hands in the room, where 20 security officials looked at me with very angry eyes, but I was not afraid; I was OK, very proud of her,” said Nguyen Thi Tuyet Lan.

Arrested in October while attempting to visit another dissident in prison, Quynh, 37, has already spent nine months behind bars, in what her lawyer said were desperate conditions.

She subsisted only on a diet of anchovies and spinach soup for the first seven months, and was denied both sanitary pads and underwear, Vo An Don said.

After Quynh was arrested on 10 October, her mother heard nothing about her whereabouts or wellbeing until a brief reunion in prison hours before her 29 June trial for crimes against the state.

The months had taken their toll on her daughter, Lan told the Guardian in a phone interview from her home in the southern coastal city of Nha Trang. Quynh appeared sickly during their meeting, she said.

“I said: ‘My dear daughter, now I believe you are still alive.’ But she looked weak with very pale skin,” she added.

Vietnam is infamous for its limits on freedom of expression, yet Mother Mushroom’s detention and unusually lengthy sentence raised fresh alarm among the country’s blogging community, which avoids the censorship of state-control print media. The US state department quickly called for all prisoners of conscience to be released immediately.

While Quynh has been branded a “reactionary” by the state for her anti-government blogging, her friends and family defend her as a champion of free expression in a country where dissent against single-party rule is outlawed.

“My daughter has done a normal thing in an abnormal society, so she has to pay the price of prison and being denounced,” Lan said.

Quynh rose to fame in Vietnam’s blogosphere in the late 2000s for her doggedly independent citizen journalism. A founding member of the underground Vietnamese Bloggers Network, she is especially passionate about environmentalism, police brutality and Vietnam’s dispute with China over control of the South China Sea.

Lan said her daughter’s political awakening began after studying foreign languages in university.

Upon discovering the pluralistic online world, Quynh came to her mother with difficult questions.

“She asked me: ‘Mum, do you know this or that [about the government]?’ I said I did, she questioned me, ‘Why didn’t you tell me?’” recalled Lan.

“I told her I knew, but in this society we are living in, it is not the society where you can speak out, and they will denounce you.”

Quynh has since become a prominent figure outside Vietnam, and has championed efforts in Vietnamese civil society to hold political discussions on Facebook. The government has become so angered by the movement that it has called on all companies in Vietnam to stop advertising on YouTube and Facebook.

The Guardian: How Vietnam locked up its most famous blogger – Mother Mushroom
Quynh championed efforts in Vietnamese civil society to hold political discussions on Facebook. Photograph: Tracey Nearmy/AAP

In March the US first lady, Melania Trump, awarded Quynh the International Women of Courage Award, which Vietnam said “was not appropriate and of no benefit to the development of the relations between the two countries”.

Quynh’s friends described her as frank and hot-tempered but true to her word.

“She always spoke out what she was thinking, so that’s why it’s not good for her when she caused trouble with such a personality, but she was a person who always does what she says she will,” said Trinh Kim Tien, a 27-year-old Ho Chi Minh City-based activist.

Quynh’s last posts on Facebook, her favoured blogging medium before her detention, were a combination of repostings of articles by other activists and brief, poetic, biting attacks on the state.

“What kind of a society is it where people responsible for their [high] positions, where the officials consider the citizens more stupid than pigs?” she wrote on 29 September.

Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for the New York-based Human Rights Watch, said her involvement in protests against the Taiwanese-owned Formosa Ha Tinh Steel plant in north-central Vietnam, which was linked to a catastrophic fish die-off in 2016, was the last straw for the authorities.

“Mother Mushroom’s prominent ties to the anti-Formosa movement, which the government is increasingly viewing as a security challenge to its authority, means she became the ideal candidate for a heavy sentence designed to sideline her and intimidate others,” Robertson said.

The Guardian: How Vietnam locked up its most famous blogger – Mother Mushroom
Environmentalist protesters demand that the Taiwanese conglomerate Formosa leave Vietnam. Photograph: Bennett Murray for the Guardian


Human Rights Watch says there are about 110 known political prisoners in Vietnam, although the country denies holding any. Speaking at a press conference on the day of the trial, foreign affairs ministry spokesperson Le Thi Thu Hang said “all violations of laws must be extremely punished in accordance with the laws of Vietnam”.

Pham Than Nghien, a friend of Quynh whose own blogging led to her being imprisoned from 2008 to 2012, said she cried when the verdict was delivered.

“While I wasn’t astonished because she had committed many crimes according to the regime … I could feel my hands and legs shiver,” she said.

“We’re friends, we’re also both women, and I feel sympathy for her children, her family.”

Quynh’s mother, Lan, is now tasked with raising her two grandchildren while their mother remains in prison. Unless the state grants Quynh clemency the children will grow up parentless.

“I feel empty now,” Lan said.

Cease Reprisals Against Mother Mushroom’s Family

Civil Rights Defenders has been informed that the family of detained blogger Nguyễn Ngọc Như Quỳnh (also known as Me Nam or “Mother Mushroom”) has been surrounded and confined by security police. Vietnam’s authorities should immediately lift this brazenly illegal measure and cease reprisals against Mother Mushroom’s family, which add to the injustice already made to the prominent blogger and her loved ones.

On 20 May 2017, according to her mother Nguyễn Thị Tuyết Lan, the family’s house in Nha Trang was surrounded by over 50 security policemen in both plain clothes and uniforms, effectively placing it and Mother Mushroom’s family members under siege. Nguyễn Thị Tuyết Lan posted a message on Facebook reporting the events.

She added that nobody notified her of the reasons behind such treatment, and that such behavior of the state and Khanh Hoa province police reflected a pattern of abuse of power and state oppression of the elderly, the weak and vulnerable children.

The confinement of Mother Mushroom’s family is believed to be related to the upcoming Vietnam-US Human Rights Dialogue, which is scheduled for 23 May 2017 in Hanoi. The arbitrary detention of bloggers such as Mother Mushroom is expected to be a topic for discussion between the two states. The act of confinement may be an attempt to prevent a US diplomatic delegation from meeting Mother Mushroom’s family ahead of the dialogue, a few weeks after she was awarded the prestigious 2017 International Women of Courage Award.

Prominent blogger Nguyễn Ngọc Như Quỳnh, who is known by her pen name “Mother Mushroom,” has been detained incommunicado since 10 October 2016. She has been denied the right to meet with her family, including two young children, and lawyer. She stands accused of conducting “anti-state propaganda” under Article 88 of Vietnam’s Penal Code, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years’ imprisonment.

Civil Rights Defenders reiterates its call on Vietnam to immediately and unconditionally release her and to repeal Article 88 and other “national security” provisions of the Penal Code which are used to silence human rights defenders, bloggers and other critical and independent voices.


Blogger Mẹ Nấm – người luôn vắng mặt khi được quốc tế vinh danh

Giải Phụ nữ Can đảm Quốc tế của Bộ Ngoại Giao Hoa Kỳ năm nay vừa vinh danh 13 người phụ nữ hoạt động vì quyền con người từ nhiều nước trên thế giới, trong đó có Blogger Mẹ Nấm hay Nguyễn Ngọc Như Quỳnh của Việt Nam.

Phụ nữ Can đảm Quốc tế

Từ năm 2007, cùng với Giải Phụ nữ Can đảm Quốc tế (International Women of Courage Award), Ngoại trưởng Mỹ đã tôn vinh nhiều phụ nữ trên toàn cầu, những người đã thể hiện lòng dũng cảm và khả năng lãnh đạo trong các nỗ lực vận động cho nhân quyền, bình đẳng giới và quyền phụ nữ. Giải này đặc biệt vinh danh những phụ nữ từng bị tống giam, tra tấn, bị đe dọa tới tính mạng hoặc chịu tổn thương nghiêm trọng vì đã đứng lên đấu tranh cho công lý, nhân quyền và pháp trị.

Trong thông báo của Đại sứ Hoa Kỳ tại Việt Nam có đoạn: “Vào ngày 29/3, Bộ Ngoại giao Hoa Kỳ sẽ vinh danh bà Nguyễn Ngọc Như Quỳnh với Giải Phụ nữ Can đảm Quốc tế của Bộ Ngoại giao Hoa Kỳ vì sự can trường của bà trong cuộc đấu tranh cho các vấn đề xã hội dân sự, vì đã truyền cảm hứng cho những thay đổi ôn hòa, kêu gọi một hệ thống chính quyền minh bạch hơn, cổ vũ cho hoà bình, công lý và quyền con người, và là tiếng nói đại diện cho quyền tự do ngôn luận.”

Tạ Phong Tần, một cựu tù nhân lương tâm nổi tiếng, từng được vinh danh trong Giải này năm 2013 khi bà đang chịu án tù 10 năm tại Việt Nam vì tội danh “tuyên truyền chống nhà nước”.

Người luôn vắng mặt

Blogger Mẹ Nấm gây chú ý trong giải thưởng năm nay, không chỉ bởi chị là người nhận giải duy nhất vắng mặt tại buổi lễ mà còn là người duy nhất đang bị giam cầm.

Blogger Mẹ Nấm – người luôn vắng mặt khi được quốc tế vinh danh
Blogger Mẹ Nấm bị bắt tháng 10 năm 2016

Tháng 10 năm 2016, Nguyễn Ngọc Như Quỳnh bị công an Khánh Hòa bắt với cáo buộc “tuyên truyền chống phá nhà nước” theo Điều 88, Bộ Luật Hình sự Việt Nam. Trong khi những ‘chứng cứ phạm tội’ thu giữ tại nhà chị chỉ là những biểu ngữ như “Cá cần nước sạch, Nước cần minh bạch”, “Khởi tố Formosa”, các khẩu hiệu chống Trung Quốc xâm lược, cùng tập hồ sơ với dữ liệu về 31 người chết trong khi bị công an giam giữ được tổng hợp từ báo chí nhà nước.

Năm 2015, chị Quỳnh là phụ nữ Châu Á đầu tiên được nhận giải thưởng Người bảo vệ Dân quyền của tổ chức Civil Rights Defenders có trụ sở tại Thụy Điển. Tuy nhiên do bị cấm xuất cảnh chị cũng chỉ có thể nhận giải thưởng “từ xa”.

Năm 2010, Mẹ Nấm được tổ chức Human Rights Watch trao giải thưởng Hellman/Hammett nhằm tôn vinh lòng can đảm trong các nỗ lực bảo vệ nhân quyền.

Mẹ của bé Nấm

Chị Nguyễn Ngọc Như Quỳnh, bút danh Mẹ Nấm, sinh năm 1979, quê ở Nha Trang – Khánh Hòa.

Chị Quỳnh dùng truyền thông xã hội để phản đối bất công, tham nhũng, và vi phạm nhân quyền tại Việt Nam, đấu tranh cho những người không có tiếng nói trong xã hội… qua những bài viết blog từ năm 2006. Chị bị bắt giữ nhiều lần từ 2009 – 2016 liên quan đến các hoạt động vừa nêu, lần gần đây nhất là từ tháng 10/2016 cho đến nay.

Từ ngày chị Quỳnh bị bắt đi, những người trong gia đình luôn phải sống trong một nỗi sợ hãi, thấp thỏm. Hai con của chị, bé Nấm trở nên lầm lũi ít nói, còn bé Gấu liên tục khóc đòi mẹ và giục bà gọi mẹ về. “Cuộc sống của chúng tôi thật sự khó khăn và bị đe dọa khi thiếu vắng Quỳnh,” bà Lan, mẹ của chị Quỳnh, chia sẻ.

Blogger Mẹ Nấm – người luôn vắng mặt khi được quốc tế vinh danh
Mẹ già và hai con nhỏ của chị Quỳnh

Bà Lan cho rằng con bà vô tội nếu sống trong một quốc gia tự do, nhân quyền được tôn trọng. Và đối với bà, đó cũng chính là ý nghĩa cốt lõi của Giải Phụ nữ Can đảm Quốc tế mà Bộ Ngoại giao Mỹ trao tặng con gái bà năm nay. Theo trao đổi của bà với Đài VOA.

Giám đốc điều hành tổ chức VOICE Luật sư Trịnh Hội cảm thấy vui khi hay tin Mẹ Nấm nhận được giải thưởng từ Bộ ngoại giao Hoa Kỳ tuy nhiên “điều đó chỉ nói lên một sự thật đó là còn quá nhiều sự bất công, đàn áp nhân quyền ở Việt Nam”. “Mỗi người trong chúng ta cần phải cố gắng nhiều hơn nữa trong công việc tranh đấu cho những tù nhân lương tâm của Việt Nam trong đó có Mẹ Nấm” ông nói thêm.

VOICE đã có dịp quen biết và làm việc với Blogger Mẹ Nấm trước khi chị bị bắt. Hiện nay, VOICE vẫn tiếp tục vận động với các giới chức và tổ chức quốc tế để nhiều người biết hơn về việc làm của chị. Cũng như giúp đỡ cho gia đình của chị, đặc biệt là hai bé Nấm và Gấu tuổi còn quá nhỏ mà đã phải sống xa mẹ, không được gặp mẹ từ lúc mẹ bị bắt.