A prominent online activist jailed in Vietnam for “anti-government propaganda” has mounted a hunger strike for at least three weeks to protest what she says is the mistreatment of political prisoners by authorities in her detention center, her sister said Monday.
Citizen journalist Ta Phong Tan—a former policewoman who has received international awards for her work—began fasting on May 13 at her prison in Thanh Hoa province, where she has been serving a 10-year sentence since her conviction in 2012, her sister Ta Minh Tu told RFA’s Vietnamese Service.
“She said she went on the hunger strike to protest the prison officers’ mistreatment of political prisoners,” said Tu, who visited Tan on June 3.
“While other prisoners have cells with windows, her cell does not. The other cells are surrounded by barbwire, but her cell is surrounded by a four-meter (13-foot) wall. No breeze can enter the cell during really hot temperatures.
According to Tu, the day she visited her sister, temperatures reached 102 degrees Fahrenheit (39 degrees Celsius).
“She said she could not sleep at all [because of the heat],” Tu said.
“They also confiscated her personal hygiene products without stating any reason.”
Tu said her family had tried to convince Tan to end her hunger strike, fearing for her health, but she refused.
She said prisoners are allowed to call home once every two weeks and that her family was anxiously awaiting news from Tan about whether she was continuing with the protest.
Tan, who is a member of the Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam (IJAVN) and runs a blog called Su That Va Cong Ly (Truth and Justice), has campaigned online in defense of Vietnam’s territorial integrity in the South China Sea as well as human rights and democracy.
She was arrested and tried along with IJAVN founder Nguyen Van Hai, who blogs under the name Dieu Cay, and blogger Phan Thanh Hai, who is known online as Anh Ba Saigon. Nguyen Van Hai was deported to the U.S. following his release from prison last year and Phan Thanh Hai has also since been freed.
In May last year, Tan’s relatives said her fellow inmates would “mentally terrorize” her and regularly curse her mother, Dang Thi Kim Lieng, who burned herself to death three years ago to protest the charges against her daughter.
The U.S. State Department honored Tan in March as one of the world’s 10 most courageous women on International Women’s Day, and last month marked Press Freedom Day by calling on Vietnam to immediately free her.
Police surveillance and harassment is a common experience for dissident bloggers in one-party communist Vietnam, which is listed by press freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders as an “Enemy of the Internet.”
Government critics and bloggers are usually charged under Article 258 of the country’s penal code, which critics say is vaguely worded and used to prosecute anyone who speaks out against the government.
Because the state controls the media, the Vietnamese have turned to blogs and social media for news that contains less propaganda.
As of the end of last year, Vietnam had detained 29 bloggers for “abusing democratic freedoms,” “subversion,” “antigovernment propaganda” or “trying to overthrow the government,” according to Reporters Without Borders.
London-based human rights group Amnesty International said in April that Vietnam had at least 60 prisoners of conscience, including bloggers—many of whom were convicted for peacefully expressing their views after unfair trials.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Ninh Pham. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.