Vietnam should “immediately and unconditionally” free a blogger sentenced to prison for “disseminating anti-state propaganda” and end the persecution of other activists targeted under the vaguely-worded criminal act, a rights group said on the one-year anniversary of her jailing.
Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh—also known by her blogger handle Me Nam, or Mother Mushroom—was arrested on Oct. 10, 2016 while on her way to visit a fellow rights campaigner in prison and sentenced to 10 years in jail on June 29 under Article 88 of Vietnam’s Penal Code.
In marking the year since she was taken into custody by police, Sweden-based Civil Rights Defenders (CRD) called 38-year-old Quynh’s sentence “politically motivated” and “nothing more than persecution against her courageous defence of human rights,” demanding that Vietnam’s government drop her conviction.
“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,” the group said in a statement issued Tuesday.
CRD urged Vietnam to abolish Article 88 and other sections of the country’s Penal Code that it said do not comply with the country’s human rights obligations under international law, and suggested that donor nations and trade partners pressure Hanoi to “release Me Nam and all others arbitrarily detained for the peaceful exercise of their right to free expression.”
Quynh has blogged about human rights abuses and corruption for more than a decade, and more recently voiced criticism over Vietnam’s policy towards China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea and the government’s response to a 2016 toxic waste spill by Taiwanese firm Formosa that destroyed the livelihoods of tens of thousands of Vietnamese living in four coastal provinces.
CRD noted that the online activist has been frequently targeted by authorities for her work, including through harassment, previous detentions, interrogations, and beatings.
Following her arrest, Quynh was held incommunicado until the end of June, when she was finally allowed to meet with one of her lawyers, the group said, and her family’s home was repeatedly targeted by security personnel in the month preceding her trial.
The “outrageousness” of Qunyh’s sentence “is compounded by serious grounds for concern over her deteriorating health,” CRD said, adding that as a prisoner of conscience, she is entitled to “the right to remedy, including necessary medical attention, which Vietnam should ensure without conditions.”
On Thursday, blogger Trinh Kim Tien, who has campaigned for redress for the death of her father in a police station in Hanoi in 2011, echoed concerns over Quynh’s health, citing reports by the jailed activist’s mother, Nguyen Thi Tuyet Lan.
“Every month, Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh’s mother goes to the prison to see her, and on each visit she is allowed to meet Mother Mushroom for 15 minutes,” Tien told RFA’s Vietnamese Service.
“Her mother disclosed that Mother Mushroom’s health is very weak—her arm and leg muscles have atrophied. But the prison is allowing her to receive medicines sent in from the family.”
Tien said that she and other supporters are working to get Quynh an appeal of her sentence, but that so far “the family hasn’t received any word from the court.”
She also called for international pressure on Vietnam’s government to free Quynh, saying “all voices are necessary, because they would be greatly supportive to her family.”
“International voices are also a good thing, even if it places only a small amount of pressure on the Vietnamese government over the imprisonment of a single mom,” she said.
“It shows that the case has not been forgotten.”
Tien's father died after being beaten by police in custody after he was stopped for not wearing a helmet while riding a motorbike, and later died in hospital.
While one policeman was found guilty of the crime and sentenced to four years in prison, Tien has called for the court to charge him with murder. New York-based Human Rights Watch has condemned the incident as an example of rampant police abuse in Vietnam.
Rights groups, the United Nations’ Human Rights Commission, and several governments have demanded Quynh’s release since her arrest, saying the blogger was convicted on vaguely worded charges.
Communist Vietnam, where all media are state-controlled, does not tolerate dissent, and rights groups identify Article 88 as among a set of vague provisions that authorities have used to detain dozens of writers and bloggers.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Emily Peyman. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.