A VIETNAMESE court on Thursday sentenced a prominent blogger and rights activist to 10 years in prison for criticising government policies and defaming the Communist regime on Facebook and in foreign media interviews.
Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, who is known by her pen name Me Nam or “Mother Mushroom”, was on Thursday charged under Article 88 of the Penal Code with “conducting propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam.”
“Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh did not admit that she committed any crime, saying she has a right to freedom of expression,” her lawyer was quoted as saying by the Associated Press, who added they would appeal the sentence which was “too harsh and unjust.”
— Anh Chí (@AnhChiVN) June 29, 2017
Critics of the government have said Article 88 has been regularly used to arbitrarily punish critics of the government and activists.
Quynh has frequently written on social and political issues including land confiscation, police brutality, and freedom of expression.
Despite repeated calls for Nguyen’s release, the government insists her trial was in accordance with Vietnamese law.
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Le Thi Thu Hang said: “Like other countries in the world, in Vietnam, all law-violating acts must be strictly dealt with in accordance with the regulations of Vietnamese law.”
Me Nam was arrested in October 2016 after attempting to visit a fellow activist in prison and has been incommunicado ever since.
According to VN Express, Me Nam allegedly published a document in 2014 entitled “Stop police killing civilians,” which documented 31 cases of deaths in custody or whilst under investigation by Vietnamese authorities.
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert was quoted as saying that the US was “deeply concerned” about her conviction as well as those of other peaceful protesters over the past year, according to the AP.
“The United States calls on Vietnam to release Mother Mushroom and all other prisoners of conscience immediately, and to allow all individuals in Vietnam to express their views freely and assemble peacefully without fear of retribution,” she said.
Rights groups including Human Rights Watch (HRW), the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and PEN International have lobbied for Me Nam’s release, claiming she is a prisoner of conscience.
“The harsh measures Vietnam has taken against journalists like Nguyen Ngnoc Nhu Quynh should be an embarrassment to the country’s rulers,” said CPJ Asia Program Director Steven Butler.
“Quynh never should have spent a day behind bars. Condemning her to 10 years in prison for her writing is an obscene injustice.”
— Ye Shiwei 葉詩蔚 (@swye105) June 29, 2017
Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, called for the immediate release of the blogger.
“The Vietnamese government uses vague national security laws to silence activists and throttle free speech,” he said in a statement.
“International donors should not watch silently as activists like Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh are jailed for a decade for defending the human rights of all Vietnamese.”
Robertson said Nguyen had received a Hellman Hammett grant from Human Rights Watch in 2010 as a writer defending free expression, and was named the 2015 Civil Rights Defender of the Year by Civil Rights Defenders.
“With the motto, ‘Who will speak if you don’t?’ Nguyen advocated above all for an environment free from fear.”
“It’s outrageous to put Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh on trial simply for using her right to free expression to call for government reform and accountability,” said Robertson said ahead of the trial.
“The scandal here is not what Mother Mushroom said, but Hanoi’s stubborn refusal to repeal draconian, rights-abusing laws that punish peaceful dissent and tarnish Vietnam’s international reputation.”
The European Union’s representative in Vietnam has also previously urged the government to release Me Nam, stating that “this arrest goes against the country’s international and domestic human rights obligations.”
HRW released a report earlier in June which documented 36 incidents between January 2015 and April 2017 in which bloggers and activists were beaten by unknown, plain clothed men. It says at least 110 people are known to be political prisoners in Vietnam.