A court in Vietnam sentenced prominent activist and blogger Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, known as Mother Mushroom, to 10 years in prison on Thursday for “spreading propaganda against the state” through her Facebook posts and interviews with U.S. news services, her lawyers and mother said.
Quynh writes blogs under the pen name Mother Mushroom (Me Nam), taken from the nickname of her 11-year-old daughter whom she calls “Mushroom.”
She was arrested on Oct. 10, 2016, for openly voicing her opinions on the deaths of people in police custody, Vietnam’s sovereignty over the disputed Paracel and Spratly islands in the South China Sea, and the government’s handling of a toxic waste spill off the country’s central coast in April of last year.
The charges against Quynh were based on her social media posts and interviews she did with U.S. government-funded Radio Free Asia and Voice of America.
Attorney Nguyen Kha Thanh said Quynh, 38, was sentenced at 5 p.m. by a court in the city of Nha Trang in south-central Vietnam's Khanh Hoa province for violating Article 88 of Vietnam’s Penal Code.
“Quynh’s health is good … She is stressed out because she is innocent,” he told RFA’s Vietnamese Service.
Before she left the court, Quynh apologized to her mother and children for being separated from them because of her work, Thanh said.
Quynh also said she was not ashamed of what she had done and that she believed that her mother and children were not ashamed of her either, he said.
Vo An Don, another attorney representing Quynh, said: “Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh has maintained that she is innocent throughout the trial. She said what she did was her personal work.”
Quynh would appeal the conviction, he said.
Quynh’s mother, Nguyen Thi Tuyet Lan, called the trial unfair. She said she sent complaints to authorities but never received a response, so she has had to rely on Facebook to express her concerns and opinions.
Rights groups and Western governments say Vietnamese authorities frequently use Article 88 along with Articles 79 and 258 of the 1999 criminal code to arrest and imprison those who support democracy and human rights and denounce abuses.
Article 79 pertains to “carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the people’s administration,” while Article 258 refers to “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the state, the legitimate rights and interests of organizations and/or citizens.”
They all carry lengthy jail sentences or even life imprisonment in some cases.
‘Outrageous to put her on trial’
New York-based Human Rights Watch on Wednesday called for the government to immediately release Quynh and drop the charges against her.
“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 Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, in a statement.
“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,” he said.
Quynh, who was honored this year with the U.S. State Department’s International Woman of Courage Award for her work highlighting rights abuses and promoting peaceful dissent in the one-party state, had been held incommunicado since her arrest by Vietnamese authorities last October.
Though Vietnamese authorities tightly control state media in the communist country, a flourishing social media scene has allowed activists and dissidents to publicly voice their grievances.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Viet Ha. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.