Jailed blogger Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh was honored in absentia by the U.S. government Wednesday with the International Women of Courage Award for her work highlighting rights abuses and providing a platform for peaceful dissent in Vietnam.
Quynh, 37, who writes under the pen name Mother Mushroom (Me Nam), was among 13 recipients of the award, with which the U.S. State Department “honors those who have demonstrated exceptional courage, strength, and leadership in acting to advance the lives of others across the globe.”
Held incommunicado since her arrest in October last year, she was the only recipient of the award who was not in attendance at Wednesday’s ceremony, presented by First Lady Melania Trump and Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas A. Shannon.
During the presentation, which the State Department said was meant to showcase women who risk their personal safety in order to help improve their communities, Shannon expressed admiration for Quynh’s “refusing to be silenced and her defense of freedom of expression.”
“Nguyen is being honored for her resoluteness to expose injustices and corruption, and using her voice to stand up for the protection of people’s rights and freedoms,” the Under Secretary said, prompting a standing ovation from attendees in recognition of the absent blogger.
Earlier on Wednesday, United States Ambassador to Vietnam Ted Osius had praised Quynh in a Facebook post announcing her award in both Vietnamese and English.
Osius said Quynh had been recognized for “her bravery for raising civil society issues, inspiring peaceful change, calling for greater government transparency and access to fundamental human rights, and for being a voice for the freedom of expression.”
He noted that the award, now in its 11th year, has regularly honored women who have been imprisoned, tortured, or threatened with death or serious harm for standing up for justice, human rights, and the rule of law.
Overcome with emotion
Quynh co-founded the Vietnamese Bloggers’ Network, one of the few independent writers’ associations in a country where the news media and publishing industry are tightly controlled by the governing Communist Party.
She had blogged extensively about the Formosa Plastics Group steel plant chemical spill in April last year that killed vast amounts of marine life and left fishermen and tourism industry workers jobless in four provinces along Vietnam’s central coast.
Quynh was arrested on Oct. 10, 2016 under Article 88 of Vietnam’s Penal Code for openly voicing her opinions on the deaths of people in police custody, sovereignty over the disputed Paracel and Spratly islands in the South China Sea, and the government’s handling of the Formosa spill.
On Wednesday, the blogger’s mother, Nguyen Thi Tuyet Lan, told RFA’s Vietnamese Service that she was overcome by emotion when she heard that her daughter had been recognized by the U.S. government for her work.
“After reading the news on Ted Osius’s Facebook account, I, like many others, could not suppress overwhelming feelings for my daughter, who has to suffer so much hardship … for the cause that she believes in,” she said.
There are at least 84 prisoners of conscience in Vietnam, including bloggers, labor and land rights activists, political activists, ethnic and religious minorities, and advocates for human rights and social justice who have been convicted after unfair trials or are held in pretrial detention, according to a July 2016 report on Vietnamese political prisoners issued by London-based Amnesty International.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Viet Ha. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.