Jailed Vietnamese journalist allowed first family visit since her 2020 arrest

Pham Doan Trang has been moved to a prison in the south, where she is said to be in poor health.
By RFA Vietnamese
2022.10.18
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Jailed Vietnamese journalist allowed first family visit since her 2020 arrest Journalist Pham Doan Trang, who is now serving a nine-year prison sentence.
CPJ/Paul Moone

UPDATED at 8:40 am EDT on 10-18-2022

The mother and brother of human rights activist and journalist Pham Doan Trang have been allowed to visit her for the first time since she was transferred to An Phuoc prison in the southern province of Binh Duong on Oct. 1.

The meeting comes nearly two months after the high court in Hanoi upheld her nine-year prison sentence for "conducting propaganda against the State.”

Trang was arrested in October 2020 but the charges were not made public for more than a year and her family was denied permission to visit her. They were also refused permission to attend her appeal hearing in August this year.

Pham Thi Lan was also allowed to visit An Phuoc prison on Oct.1. She is the wife of journalist Nguyen Tuong Thuy, Vice President of the Association of Independent Journalists of Vietnam. He is serving an 11-year prison sentence for the same “propaganda” charge as Trang.

RFA tried to contact Trang’s mother Bui Thien Can on Monday but was unable to reach her. However, a reporter was able to get comments about the visit from Pham Thi Lan.

“After the visit, I saw that Doan Trang's family was also excited as they were allowed to bring a lot of items for her,” she said. “We also talked about Doan Trang. They said her health did not seem to be good. Her feet were swollen. The family bought slippers but she couldn't walk. However, she was brought out by the guards to meet the family and then they took her back in."

Trang has been suffering from a variety of health issues including sinusitis as a result of contracting COVID-19, a knee injury from when she was beaten by security forces during a 2015 protest, arthritis and gynecological problems.

Lan said Trang’s family was kept in the dark about her move to a prison in Bin Duong province.

"The family said that Doan Trang was moved to An Phuoc Prison camp from Oct. 1, 2022. Her family was not informed. Her relatives went to Hoa Lo detention center [in Hanoi] and they were told she had been transferred on that day.”

Lan also spoke about Nguyen Tuong Thuy, telling RFA she could see that her husband’s health had not improved.

"He said that his joint disease now hurts a lot, especially the left wrist because police officers pushed on his hands during his arrest in order to open his electronic devices with his fingerprint. He also has high blood pressure, which increases if he stops taking medicine regularly. But what I am most worried about is the stroke. Mr. Thuy had a stroke in 2015 but, now he is in prison, if he gets upset about a problem the strokes could come back.”

Lan also said although An Phuoc prison staff did not make it difficult for her family on each visit, most of the letters Thuy sent to her were confiscated by the prison

"My husband sent many letters to me but they didn't give them to me. They said these letters can't be delivered but I want to read them. I said ‘if you don't give them to me, let me read the content, I won't publicize it,’ but they wouldn’t even let me read them."

Nguyen Tuong Thuy, 70, was a blogger for Radio Free Asia. He was arrested in mid-2020 along with the President of the Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam, Pham Chi Dung, and Vietnam Times website editor Le Huu Minh Tuan. 

In early 2021, in a trial that lasted less than a day, the People's Court of Ho Chi Minh City sentenced Dung to 15 years in prison. Thuy and Tuan were both sentenced to 11 years. All three of them have to spend three years’ probation after serving their prison terms.

Pham Doan Trang, 40, used to work as a reporter for Vietnamese state newspapers. She is also the author of many books such as “Popular Politics,” “The Prison Visiting Manual,” “Nonviolent Resistance” and several bilingual reports.

Trang also founded two independent newspapers, Luat Khoa Magazine and The Vietnamese, an English-language human rights magazine.

Trang has been awarded many international awards for her human rights activities and writing, including the U.S. Department of State's 2022 Woman of Courage Award, the British and Canadian governments’ Media Freedom Award 2022, the 2017 Homo Homini Prize from the Czech Republic’s People in Need NGO, the 2019 Press Freedom Prize from Reporters Without Borders, the Martin Ennals Award 2022, and the Committee to Protect Journalists' International Press Freedom Award 2022.

Many international human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the Committee to Protect Journalists and PEN America have called on Vietnam to release her immediately and unconditionally.

This story has been updated to correct the byline.

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