Well-known anti-China activist and government critic Le Thi Phuong Anh was released from a prison in Vietnam on Friday after serving a 12-month sentence for anti-state activity, she said, calling her experience in jail “the most horrible year of my life.”
Speaking to RFA’s Vietnamese Service on Friday, the mother of three and member of Vietnamese Women for Human Rights expressed thanks to her supporters who greeted her on her release.
“It was the most horrible year of my life—I don’t know how to describe it, other than truly horrible,” she said of her time in jail.
“I am touched by everybody’s warm welcome and I am happy now. Thank you so much to everyone.”
Phuong Anh was arrested in May 2014 along with two other activists and accused of disrupting traffic in southern Vietnam’s Dong Nai province after stopping to take pictures of anti-China protests sparked by Beijing’s deployment of an oil rig into contested waters in the South China Sea.
The trio was subsequently charged under Article 258 of the penal code for “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe on the interests of the state” and Phuong Anh was sentenced in early February to 12 months in prison, which included her time in detention awaiting trial.
The Vietnamese government has sought to silence criticism of how it has dealt with the issue of anti-China protests in Vietnam and arresting their organizers.
Scores of bloggers and dissidents have been charged under Article 258 in recent years, which rights groups say is deliberately vague and used to prosecute critics of Vietnam’s one-party communist government.
Prior to her arrest, Phuong Anh and her husband, Le Anh Hung, had repeatedly sent letters to members of the National Assembly accusing Deputy Prime Minister Hoang Trung Hai of operating a drug smuggling ring.
Both Phuong Anh and her husband say they have been subjected to repeated harassment at the hands of undercover police, including beatings.
The U.S. has long criticized Vietnam for its abysmal human rights record, marked by the suppression of basic freedoms, media censorship, and repression of workers’ rights as well as its worsening record of arresting and imprisoning dissidents, bloggers and religious leaders.
According to New York-based Human Rights Watch, approximately 150 to 200 activists and bloggers are serving prison time in Vietnam simply for exercising their basic rights.
Reported by Mac Lam for RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Ninh Pham. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.