More than two dozen Vietnamese civil society organizations and nearly 850 individuals signed a petition on Tuesday demanding that authorities immediately release activist Tran Thi Nga, who was arrested just before the Tet holiday last month.
According to the petition, Tran Thi Nga was harassed, attacked, and monitored before her arrest.
Signed by 31 civil society organizations and 847 individuals, the petition claims that Nga was innocent when she carried out her peaceful activities advocating for human rights and democracy, blogger Nguyen Tuong Thuy, one of the petitioners, told RFA’s Vietnamese service.
“Tran Thi Nga’s activities are all compatible with Vietnamese law and prove that she is a responsible citizen, not a guilty one,” the petition says.
Nga, also called Thuy Nga, was arrested at her home on Jan. 21 and charged with propagandizing against the administration under Article 88 of the country’s penal code.
Article 88 violations are considered “national security offenses” and carry a jail sentence of between three and 20 years. It also allows the incommunicado detention of Tran Thi Nga during the whole period of the investigation.
The article is one of the broadly worded, elastic provisions of the Vietnamese penal code that is often used to silence government critics.
The petition also warns Hanoi that to expect more protests if Nga isn’t released.
“We warn that the arrest of Tran Thi Nga will cause a wave of strong protests inside and outside Vietnam, worsening the human right situation in Vietnam,” the petition says.
The activists added: “The arrest of Nga will not intimidate people with conscience and bravery. Moreover, this will make the democratic and human rights movement stronger.”
‘An illegal and immoral act’
The Tet marks the lunar New Year in Vietnam and is the country’s most important celebration. Like many in Vietnam, Nga had family coming for the holiday that began on Jan. 26.
Her arrest just before the holiday was described by the petition's signers as an affront to common decency, especially as Nga has small children.
“The arrest of Tran Thi Nga just right before the traditional Tet holiday while she still has to take care of her two little children is an illegal and immoral act,” the petition says.
According to the Dublin, Ireland-based CSO Front Line Defenders, Tran Thi Nga is a member of Vietnamese Women For Human Rights, a group that includes overseas Vietnamese wishing to lend support, training, and encouragement to those who stand up to defend human rights in Vietnam.
She is well known for defending the rights of Vietnamese migrant workers and the victims of government land grabs, and has been targeted a number of times because of her human rights work.
In 2015 she was beaten by policemen for celebrating the release of another human rights defender from jail, according to Front Line Defenders.
Vietnam has at least 112 bloggers and activists who are serving prison sentences for exercising their rights to basic freedoms such as freedom of expression, assembly, association, and religion, according to New York-based Human Rights Watch.
Reported and translated by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.