NOTICE OF ACTIVIST NGUYEN NGOC NHU QUYNH’S RELEASE FROM PRISON
This afternoon October 17, 2018; activist Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh (aka “Mother Mushroom”) was granted freedom from the Vietnamese government after almost two years of imprisonment. Today she was reunited with her family and they are on their way to the United States.
She is a strenuous human rights defender and environmental activist. Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh was awarded many prizes, including “Defender of the Year” by Civil Rights Defenders in 2015, and “International Women of Courage Award” by the U.S. State Department two years later.
Unfortunately, it was Quynh’s activism that triggered the Vietnamese government to detain her since October 10, 2016. She was consequently sentenced to 10 years imprisonment under the charge of “conducting propaganda against the State.”
The fight for Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh’s freedom has been continuously campaigned for the past two years by the Vietnamese communities inside Vietnam and abroad. They were supported by international governments and human rights organizations around the world. This pressure has forced the Vietnamese government to grant Quynh her freedom after two years of imprisonment. This result has indirectly proven that the 10 year sentence handed down to Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh was not only unlawful but also immoral.
We would like to acknowledge and show gratitude to all who have supported this campaign. Moreover, we strongly believe that not only Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, but all the prisoners of conscience detained in Vietnam deserve a life of freedom and dignity.
There is more to be done ahead. At present, VOICE is working towards building a strong and robust civil society in Vietnam. Our objectives are to demand the Vietnamese government to respect and adhere to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and to campaign for the release of all prisoners of conscience.
To achieve our common goals, we ask for your continuous support in this journey.
PRESS RELEASE: FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE SCREENING: WHEN MOTHER’S AWAY
VOICE Presents Documentary on Imprisoned Vietnamese Blogger Mother Mushroom
Bangkok, 27 June 2018 – Noting the one-year anniversary of her first trial, VOICE reiterates its call for the Vietnamese government to immediately and unconditionally release citizen journalist, Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, popularly known as Mother Mushroom, with a screening of When Mother’s Away, a moving portrait of Mother Mushroom and her family. Screening from 7:00PM at the FCCT.
When Mother’s Away is a personal portrait that follows the life of Mother Mushroom’s mother, Nguyen Thi Tuyet Lan, solely taking care of her two young grandchildren, while they struggle to continue on their lives and support Mother Mushroom, after she is sent to prison. In its depiction of an ordinary family facing an extraordinary circumstance, the film explores the themes of family and motherhood. Following the screening, VOICE will lead a panel discussion on the film and situation in Vietnam.
On 29 June 2017, Mother Mushroom, 38, was handed a ten-year prison sentence under Article 88 of Vietnam’s Penal Code, often wielded against those whose only crime has been to speak out for human rights. A blogger, known for her writing about police brutality, freedom of expression, land confiscation, and the Formosa environmental disaster, Mother Mushroom was held in detention following her arrest in October 2016 until hours before her June trial. At her appeal, November 30, family and friends assembled outside the courthouse and were attacked by thugs.
Since February 2018, Mother Mushroom has been held in a remote prison over 1000 kilometers from her home. Family visits are difficult and expensive. At her last visit, Mother Mushroom’s mother revealed her poor health. In May, Mother Mushroom underwent a 6-day hunger strike to protest against prison treatment. Her family’s request to send her basic medicine and the Holy Bible was denied by the prison authorities.
VOICE reiterates its calls for the Vietnamese authorities to comply with their international human rights obligations, and to immediately and unconditionally release Mother Mushroom, and urges the international community to intervene at the highest possible levels to support her immediate release.
VOICE continues to stand by Mother Mushroom’s call for all Vietnamese to continue fighting for their rights for a better and greater nation.
We each only have one life to live but if given the choice, I would still do it exactly the same… I hope everyone will soon raise their own voice and fight for their rights so that they can overcome their own fears, and build a better and greater nation – Mother Mushroom.
VOICE is a non-profit, non-governmental organization working in the field of promoting civil society development, advocacy for human rights, including refugee protection, and rule of law in Vietnam. Founded in 2007, VOICE’s mission is to empower individuals in order to envision a strong, independent, and vibrant civil society.
2018 Recommendations for US – Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue
Vietnam implements a number of vaguely-worded and restrictive laws to punish individuals for exercising fundamental rights including:
a. Freedom of Religion
Since the new Government of Vietnam came into power in May 2016, at least 59 human rights defenders have been arrested and imprisoned, many of whom are Christian fighting for religious freedom. The authorities have instigated state-sponsored assaults against those who dare to speak up, especially Catholic villagers in Central Vietnam whose lives have been adversely affected by the Formosa environmental disaster.
‘Hoi Co Do’ (The Red Flag Groups) have been formed and sponsored by the authorities in many parts of Vietnam to incite violence and hatred against parishes critical of the government’s policy concerning the Formosa incident. For example, on 17 December 2017, Parish Ke Gai of Diocese Vinh in Nghe An Province was attacked by hundreds of members of a Red Flag Group due to their activism in protecting the environment resulting in scores of parishioners being injured. See video clip below produced by the Redemptorist Church (with English subtitle):
This marks the first time a new tactic has been used by the authorities to set non-Catholics against Catholics. It is a deliberate state attempt to create tension and sow distrust between faith-based groups.
The independent Hoa Hao Buddhist Church has also suffered much throughout this past year. Buddhist ceremonies organized by the Church were shut down by the authorities and at least, fifteen (15) members of the Church were arrested last year. One of their leaders, Mr Vuong Van Tha, was sentenced to 12 years’ imprisonment while his son was sentenced to 7 years on 23 January 2018.
Further, the authorities continue to harass and persecute religious leaders of unregistered religious groups by either demolishing their temple and confiscating the property (Lien Tri Temple in Saigon) or attempting to confiscate it (Thien An Monastery in Hue) or engineering direct attacks (including physical assaults) against many Protestant church leaders in the Highlands. Many of them are, to date, banned from traveling within and outside of Vietnam despite guarantees made in the new Law on Religion and Belief concerning freedom of religion and under Vietnam’s own Constitution.
b. Freedom of Expression
Freedom of Expression continues to be severely restricted by Article 258 (343), 79 (109), and 88 (117) of the Penal Code despite the latest amendments in early 2018.
Article 258, also known as ‘Abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the State, the legitimate rights and interests of organizations and/or citizens.’ (now revised as Article 343 in Vietnam’s Penal Code, which came into effect on 1 January 2018). Those who are convicted under this article face up to seven years’ imprisonment. Article 258 has been used to prosecute a wide variety of people for allegedly ‘abusing’ their freedom of speech.
Article 88, also known as ‘conducting propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam’ (now revised as Article 117) has been widely used to imprison those who raise their voice in whatsoever forms to criticize the government and the Communist Party. The range of penalties is between three and twenty years imprisonment.
Article 79, also known as ‘carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the people’s administration’ (now revised as Article 109) is designed to prevent dissidents from organizing themselves to compete politically. This law can be used against anyone who peacefully organizes to oppose the party’s dominance or its policies. Organizers, instigators and active participants can face between twelve years to life imprisonment or capital punishment, while other accomplices can face between five to fifteen years imprisonment.
c. Freedom of Assembly
The Law on Association has not been adopted though at least 16 draft bills had been brought before the National Assembly in the past decade. The delay indicates the constant vigilance and reluctance of the authorities in enacting a law they consider to be ‘politically sensitive’. The latest bill itself, however, failed to be passed after many civil society organizations raised their concern about its repressiveness. Article 8, inter alia, bans every association from cooperating with foreign organizations or receiving foreign funds.
Association in the form of political organization or party is strictly banned. Members shall be charged with ‘carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the people’s administration’ and given lengthy prison terms, including life imprisonment or capital punishment under Article 79/109 of the Penal Code.
The Law on Demonstration was scheduled to be discussed and passed by the National Assembly in 2015, however, it was removed from the agenda in 2016, 2017 and 2018. The National Assembly itself does not plan on bringing the law back to the table for discussions, while at the same time, the Ministry of Public Security – the government agency responsible for drafting this law – keeps delaying the submission of the draft law.
Independent labour unions are banned. Strikes must be registered under harsh requirements, and labour activists are subject to continuous surveillance and harassment.
GONGOs (government-organized non-governmental organizations) are given space for their activities on the condition that they work to further the government’s interests. While dozens of human rights activists are banned from traveling outside of the country, there have been many cases where GONGO staff enjoy the freedom to travel abroad and attend international conferences, in some cases, as police informers in disguise. Security officers are also said to put in a great deal of effort to cause splits between registered NGOs and independent ones. For example, human rights activists are often blocked from attending events held by registered NGOs.
d. Harassment of Human Rights Defenders (HRDs)
There are hundreds of bloggers (including Facebook users) and HRDs who frequently write about political and human rights issues in Vietnam. Since the most recent Party Congress early 2016, the Vietnamese government has arrested 59 activists, almost half of the total number of the current prisoners of conscience in detention. The fact that the arrested vary from human rights lawyers to anti-corruption students, from land-lost farmers to labor rights activists, from environmentalists to unregistered religious groups’ followers proves that the government is systematically applying a zero tolerance policy towards dissent.
In addition, travel ban is one of the tactics used by the authorities to further isolate Vietnamese activists from the regional and international civil society communities. Statistically, over 100 human rights defenders, including bloggers, are banned from traveling outside and within Vietnam. Human rights defenders travelling abroad have had their passports confiscated by police upon their return to Vietnam and many of them are placed on a blacklist forbidding them to travel again. As a result, these activists lose their chance to meaningfully participate in regional and international forums to raise public awareness of Vietnam’s human rights situation as well as to learn from fellow activists in the region.
1. Follow Germany’s lead by actively engaging with and calling on the authorities, particularly the Ministry of Public Security (MPS), to lift the travel ban against all HRDs, and refrain from imposing restrictions on their right to freedom of movement in the future.
2. Raise the cases of the following imprisoned human rights defenders and offer them asylum in the US even if some of them may not take up the offer:
• Tran Huynh Duy Thuc, ICT entrepreneur and blogger, sentenced to sixteen years under Article 79 in January 2010.
• Faith-based Bia Son group sentenced to ten to seventeen years (for followers) and life imprisonment (for the leader) under Article 79 in February 2012.
• Nguyen Huu Quoc Duy sentenced to three years for ‘anti-state propaganda’ postings on Facebook under Article 88.
• Nguyen Huu Vinh (aka Anh Ba Sam), blogger, sentenced to five years for blogging.
• Nguyen Van Dai and Le Thu Ha, sentenced to 15 years and 9 years imprisonment respectively after being found guilty under Article 79 on 5 April 2018.
• Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh (aka Mother Mushroom), blogger, convicted under Article 88 on 29 June 2017 and sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment leaving two young children behind without parental guidance and support.
• Hoang Duc Binh, environmental and labour rights activist, convicted of ‘resisting officers in the performance of their official duties’ under Article 257; and ‘abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the State’ under Article 258 and sentenced to 14 years imprisonment.
3. Call for the grant of access to visit prisoners of conscience and to do so periodically. This will send a strong message to the authorities that cases of concern are being monitored.
4. Call for the elimination and/or amendment of vaguely-worded articles in the Penal Code, such as Articles 258, 88, 79 and Article 19 – holding lawyers criminally responsible for not reporting clients to the authorities for a number of crimes.
5. The US Mission in Hanoi to organize seminars (such as one on the upcoming UPR of Vietnam in early 2019) and invite independent civil society organizations to participate. This will counter the authorities’ policy in using all means to deny unregistered CSOs the physical space needed for their meetings and to encourage and legitimize their work.
6. Consider designating Vietnam as a Country of Particular Concern as the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has recommended.
7. Use the Magnitsky Act as leverage for negotiation of the above.
VOICE holds Vietnam accountable to human rights agreements on mid-term campaign
VOICE delegation at the UN office in Geneva. From left to right: Anna Nguyen, Le Thi Minh Ha, and Dinh Thao. Source: VietnamUPR Facebook page
Haiy Le, October 9, 2017: When the human rights group, Vietnamese Overseas Initiative for Conscience Empowerment (VOICE), sent a delegation to the United Nations Human Rights Council in 2014, the delegation was made up of three men and all were citizens of Vietnam. This year, the trio is all female.
“We did not purposely want to have a female delegation,” said Anna Nguyen, Director of Programs at VOICE. A more interesting point, she explained, are the different backgrounds — and continents — the three women come from. Anna is a lawyer born and raised in Australia. Joining her is Le Thi Minh Ha, the wife of blogger Nguyen Huu Vinh who was sentenced in March 2016 to five years in prison by the Vietnamese government for founding and operating a successful independent news blog. The third member is Dinh Thao, a Vietnamese citizen who left her career as a medical doctor to become an activist working out of VOICE’s headquarters in the Philippines and is now stationed in Belgium as the European Union Program Coordinator.
As activists waging a long war against Vietnam’s authoritarian government, they are unbothered by the comments littered on the VOICE Facebook page calling them “dogs” and “liars” who should “die.” The group suspects the comments come from hacks paid by the Vietnamese government. In the spirit of free expression though, the malicious comments are free to stay. It’s the opposite of what Hanoi is doing.
In 2017 alone, Vietnam’s one-party Communist government has detained or sentenced 16 activists under the country’s draconian penal code, and specifically Article 88, which makes it a crime to “propagate” against the government. Human Rights Watch has reported on the country’s long history limiting freedom of expression, which has sent more than 100 activists to prisons. The country’s repression has led to thousands of refugees seeking political freedoms and economic opportunities to live and work elsewhere under more democratic and transparent governance.
VOICE was founded in 1997 as a legal aid office in the Philippines to help stateless Vietnamese refugees resettle in countries, including Australia, the U.S. and Canada. Since then, the nonprofit’s mission has branched out to include advocacy for human rights and the rule of law in Vietnam.
Anna’s career has evolved somewhat similarly. She began her career as a refugee lawyer in Australia where for three years she worked with asylum seekers from Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam. “That’s when I started to learn about the human rights situation in Vietnam. Instead of helping people leave the country, I wanted to explore why people were leaving in the first place. The war ended in 1975 but why are people still leaving?”
Since joining VOICE in 2014, Anna’s work includes communicating with foreign governments and multilateral organizations, and persuading them to use their influence to put pressure on Vietnam. She also makes sure these foreign bodies hear from independent activists and civil society groups in Vietnam. “Many of these activists are banned from traveling and don’t have a platform, so it’s great that we can give them a voice,” she said.
In 2014, a 23-member delegation from Hanoi met with the U.N. Human Rights Council for the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), a review process on the human rights records of all UN Member States. The Vietnamese government agreed to the implementation of some UPR recommendations and rejected others, notably the release of prisoners and the revision of vague national security laws that are used to suppress human rights.
The goals of this year’s Mid-term UPR Advocacy Campaign are to follow up on the recommendations and to advocate for the prisoners, particularly Tran Huynh Duy Thuc, a technology entrepreneur and blogger who was sentenced to 16 years for “conducting activities aimed at overthrowing the people’s administration” on January 2010; Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, better known by her pen name, Mother Mushroom, is a blogger convicted of “anti state propaganda” on June 2017 and sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment; and Tran Thi Nga, a blogger sentenced to nine years’ imprisonment on July 2017 for “anti state propaganda” in her sharing of articles and videos highlighting abuses tied to environmental crises and political corruption. In the past couple of months, there has been a rise in the number of female activists targeted by the government. Mother Mushroom wrote that she was motivated to create a better future for her two children.
The mid-term campaign, which runs from September 15 through October 10, has been in the planning stages since the last UPR. The delegation has organized a marathon of meetings with foreign bodies in Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, Norway, Belgium and the Czech Republic to give suggestions on how these groups can exert pressure on Hanoi.
On top of the meetings with Germany and other foreign governments, the delegates have communicated with UN Special Rapporteur on human rights defender, Michel Forst, and CIVICUS, a group working to strengthen civil society. VOICE’s collaboration with CIVICUS, which has consultative status with the UN, gave VOICE the opportunity to present in front of the UN Human Rights Council on September 19.
“We call on the Vietnamese government to implement in good faith the UPR recommendations it accepted in 2014,” Thao read in her statement. “We call on the UN Member States to urge Vietnam to free all prisoners of conscience.”
Thao said the presentation alone has made the 25-day campaign a successful one for her, in spite of the stressful logistics, the back-to-back meetings and the harassment from the Vietnamese government that she, her colleagues and family in Vietnam have received due to her activism.
After the campaign ends, the delegates plan to follow up on the meetings and maintain the contacts they met. “It’s really easy to meet people but if there’s nothing done after that, there’s no point in meeting them,” Anna acknowledged. They will also start making plans for the 3rd UPR in January 2019, which will involve more people, workshops and a UN session dedicated to addressing Vietnam’s human rights situation.
Being a human rights defender is like running in a marathon, Anna described. “You cannot expect to see the finish line straight away. It’s hard and arduous, and you will need to eventually pass on the baton to your comrades and colleagues. But like all marathons, you will eventually see the finish line.”
Haiy Le is a freelance journalist and previously worked at the San Francisco Chronicle and Newsela. She grew up listening to her father’s stories from the the Vietnam War and became more interested in Vietnamese foreign affairs while studying International Relations and Communication at Stanford University. Follow her @HaiyLe
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.
Months of police action against Vietnamese dissidents has led to at least 12 people being locked up across the country. The crackdown comes ahead of a regional summit in Da Nang in November set to include leaders from throughout the Pacific region.
Hanoi (dpa) – Nguyen Viet Hung is unsure how to help his son. Police reportedly arrested Nguyen Viet Dung, 31, in his northern Vietnamese hometown on September 27 at lunchtime. Since then, neither his family nor a lawyer have been able to see him.
He was accused of “propagating” against the state, a charge that carries up to 20 years in prison.
“Dung has followed his way, so sooner or later he would have been arrested. When he was arrested, I was not surprised or shocked but I was very angry,” Hung said in a phone interview from his home in Nghe An province.
Dung’s story is not unique. At least 12 political dissidents have been arrested, charged or convicted of anti-state crimes since June in one of Vietnam’s most intense crackdowns on dissent in years.
Another dissident, who had been a dual French-Vietnamese national, had his citizenship revoked and was deported to Paris.
Vietnam, which is ruled by a single party communist state, bans dissent, criminalizes opposition parties and imprisons pro-democracy activists.
Pham Doan Trang, a former journalist for Vietnam’s state-controlled press who is now a rights activist, said the situation for the dissident movement appears bleak.
“The security forces will not stop and they won’t refrain from violence either. So these years will be very dark for Vietnam,” she said.
Anti-government activists, who primarily spread their messages via social media, take on causes ranging from environmentalism to Vietnamese sovereignty in the disputed South China Sea.
“It appears that the Vietnam government feels threatened by more concerted and organized campaigns … and the increasing influence of internet communications that enable people to organize in new ways,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for the New York-based Human Rights Watch.
Dung established an unrecognized Republican Party and a group called the Loyalist Association of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam, both references to the old US-allied Saigon regime that the communists defeated in the Vietnam War.
He posted pictures of himself dressed in military uniforms alongside the old South Vietnamese flag, a symbol considered taboo in modern Vietnam.
Dung’s father described him as a man who was active in his community by helping those in need.
“He assisted people to build schools and roads, and helped families who were having difficulties, but the government thinks he incited people,” his father said.
Dung’s father added that villagers have kept their mouths shut since the arrest to “avoid trouble.”
Quang A, a retired economist and businessman who is now one of Vietnam’s most prominent pro-democracy activists, says depending on what you show support for, you can be targeted for dissent.
“If you raise your voice to support the old system, then maybe they see that you are more dangerous than the others,” said Quang A.
Other political prisoners, such as Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, also known by her pen name Mother Mushroom, were arrested for their criticism of the Communist Party in the Vietnamese blogosphere.
According to Carl Thayer, Emeritus Professor at The University of New South Wales and a Vietnam expert, the government could be initiating crackdowns in anticipation of November’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in the coastal city of Da Nang. The meeting is set to include leaders from throughout the Pacific region as well as US President Donald Trump.
With all eyes focused on Vietnam, the government wants to ensure that activists do not use the occasion to draw attention to their causes.
“The timing of the arrests and trials indicates the [government] is taking pre-emptive action far in advance of the APEC summit to intimidate other would-be activists from making public protests on the internet or in street demonstrations,” Thayer said.
He also pointed out that activists tried to use the 2006 APEC conference in Hanoi to gain attention from world leaders and media.
Quang A says that while the current government’s crackdown has been dramatic, it has not deterred committed activists from carrying on their work.
“If you are to become a member for the struggle, for democracy, or human rights, you have to face all the consequences, and I think for those activists who have been detained, they aren’t scared of anything,” he said.
“Sure, with such tough measures, they can incite some fear in people, but you see that is a temporary sentiment,” he added.
Former journalist Pham Doan Trang believes “there will be light at the end of the tunnel” for Vietnam, despite the current rights challenges affecting the country for the foreseeable future.
“It’s just a matter of time, and we must try to live to tell the tale,” she said.
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.
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.”
Bà 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.
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.
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.