The mother of a popular Vietnamese blogger and government critic died Monday in a rare self-immolation protest, concerned over the plight of her daughter who is to stand trial for criticizing the state, according to a family member.
Dang Thi Kim Lieng, 64, set herself ablaze at dawn in front of a municipal building in her home province of Bac Lieu in southern Vietnam and succumbed to serious burn injuries on the way to the hospital.
Lieng was very concerned over the trial of her 43-year-old daughter Ta Phong Tan, a Catholic former policewoman who has been held in detention since September last year along with two other bloggers after she slammed corruption within the government, Tan’s younger sister said.
“[M]y sister's detention and charges affected her deeply,” Ta Minh Tu told RFA in an interview, saying Tan’s case had also led to constant state surveillance over the family.
“[The authorities] followed us all the time. Whenever I would go to [Ho Chi Minh city], someone would immediately begin tailing me.”
Tu said her mother was also troubled by a threatened eviction from her town over a personal land dispute which the government had not resolved, despite numerous petitions sent to officials.
“The family has been threatened that they will be evicted out of town—to an island to live,” Tan’s close friend Duong Thi Tan said.
Tu said she was shocked to learn of her mother’s self-immolation.
“This morning, my mother went out of the house as usual,” Tu said. “I thought that she would do her routine of drinking coffee.”
“I wasn’t aware of her self-immolation in front of the Bac Lieu People's Committee. I was informed by some acquaintances and later by the police,” she said.
“On receiving the news, my brother rushed to the hospital. When he got there he phoned me and said that her body had been burned black.”
Agence France-Presse quoted a priest named Dinh Huu Thoai, who is close to Tu’s family, as saying that Lieng died before she could receive medical treatment.
“Her wounds were very serious and she died on the way to the hospital,” the priest said.
Self immolations are rare in Vietnam. At the height of the Vietnam War, Vietnamese Buddhist monks burned themselves in protest over the fighting and alleged persecution of Buddhists by South Vietnam's Roman Catholic-led government.
Tan, and bloggers Phan Thanh Hai and Nguyen Van Hai, are due to stand trial on Aug. 7 facing charges of "distorting the truth, denigrating the party and state" for politically critical blogging and for posting hundreds of articles on a banned website known as the "Free Journalists Club" of Vietnam.
Tan, who was a member of Vietnam’s ruling communist party before she became a freelance journalist, frequently blogged about abuses in Vietnam’s legal system.
Phan Thanh Hai, 43, blogged under the pen name Anh Ba Saigon on various issues including territorial disputes with China, environmentally sensitive bauxite-mining projects, a corruption scandal surrounding the state-owned shipbuilder Vinashin, and state harassment of dissidents.
Nguyen Van Hai, also known by his online handle Dieu Cay, was first detained in October 2008, after participating in anti-China protests ahead of the Beijing Olympics, and later sentenced to 30 months in jail on allegedly trumped-up tax evasion charges. He was originally scheduled to be released in October 2010.
Hai’s case was raised by U.S. President Barack Obama in a statement marking World Press Freedom in May this year.
The three bloggers face a maximum of 20 years in prison, based on the charges under Article 88 of Vietnam’s criminal code, a draconian provision that prohibits “conducting propaganda against the state.”
In the last three years, Vietnam authorities have imprisoned more than a dozen prominent bloggers and activists for using the Internet to express their opinions and advance their causes.
Human Rights Watch has accused the government of mounting a sophisticated and sustained attack on online dissent, including by detaining and intimidating anti-government bloggers.
France-based Reporters Without Borders lists one-party Vietnam as an “Enemy of the Internet.”
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese service. Translated by An Nguyen. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.