Former Vietnamese prisoner of conscience Tran Thi Nga is set to receive ACAT-France’s Engel Prize for Human Rights on Saturday in Paris after being freed early in January from a nine-year prison term imposed in Vietnam for “spreading propaganda against the state.
Released on Jan. 10 following diplomatic pressure after serving three years of her sentence, Tran and her two sons and husband were put on a plane and sent to Atlanta, Georgia, where she now lives in exile from Vietnam.
Unable to travel to France due to poor health following her prison ordeal, she will receive the award from ACAT-France—Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture—in Paris on Feb. 1 in absentia, Tran told RFA’s Vietnamese Service on Thursday.
“Because my health is not good, I will not be able to travel to France to take part in the award ceremony. However, a friend will attend the ceremony on my behalf,” she said, speaking by phone from Atlanta.
Speaking to RFA, Tran expressed her appreciation for ACAT’s recognition of her work promoting human rights in Vietnam.
“For many years, I just thought I was doing everything I could to help myself, my children, and the many people who are now victims in Vietnam’s prisons. I never imagined that my work in fighting for human rights would be appreciated by international organizations,” she said.
Writing in a Jan. 13 statement, the Paris-based rights group welcomed Tran’s early release from prison, saying she had been “unjustly punished by the Vietnamese government for her commitment to the rights of the weakest.”
“We regret, however, that she is unable to continue her work in her country, where she is prohibited from traveling,” the rights group said.
“We call on the international community not to confuse [her] early release with a relaxation of the repression carried out on civil society in Vietnam,” ACAT-France said.
“On the contrary, it is more necessary than ever for Hanoi’s trading partners to bring the issue of human rights to the table.”
Noted in Vietnam for her online activism, Tran was sentenced in July 2017 to nine years in prison for spreading "propaganda against the state" under Article 88 of Vietnam’s penal code, a provision frequently used to silence dissident bloggers and other activists. Her appeal was rejected in December that year.
She was later beaten and threatened with death by a cellmate assigned to her by prison authorities, and was repeatedly denied family visits for “refusal to follow the rules,” Tran’s husband Phan Van Phong told RFA in earlier reports.
Last year saw a surge in the number of prisoners of conscience in Vietnam, along with a continuing crackdown on the rights to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly, according to a report released this week by rights group Amnesty International.
“The authorities arrested and/or prosecuted at least 23 people over the course of the year on speech related grounds,” AI said in its report, “Human Rights in Asia-Pacific: Review of 2019.”
“Most of those targeted had expressed views on issues such as corruption, the environment, politics, and human rights, using Facebook as a platform. Those convicted received prison sentences of up to 11 years.”
Prisoners of conscience were frequently sent to facilities far from their homes and were subjected to “various forms of ill-treatment, including solitary confinement, poor quality food, lack of access to medical care, and mental and physical abuse,” including assaults by prisoners held for common crimes, the rights group said.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Huynh Le. Written in English by Richard Finney.