US Citizen Sentenced to 14 Years in Prison in Vietnam For ‘Subversion’

Phan Thi Dao has been in jail since her arrest in April 2017.

American-Vietnamese citizen William Nguyen (C-back to camera) is escorted by policemen to a courtroom for his trial in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, July 20, 2018.

The son of a U.S. citizen of Vietnamese origin sentenced to 14 years in prison on Wednesday on subversion charges said he will file an appeal with authorities to request the release of his mother.

Phan Thị Dao, 62, and who goes by the name Phan Angel in the United States, was sentenced to 14 years in prison on charges of engaging in “activities to overthrow the people’s government.”

She has lived in San Diego, California, with her son since 2002 when he sponsored her to come to the U.S., and has made a living as a bridal gown seamstress.

Her son Tommy Le told RFA’s Vietnamese Service that his mother traveled to Vietnam in March 2017 to take care of her dying mother and buried her after she died. Then on April 27 of the same year, authorities arrested Phan on subversion charges.

“The family really doesn’t know how severe the situation is,” Le said. “My mother is elderly, and the sentence is unjustifiable.”

“I just want to request a lighter sentence so that she is expelled and sent back to the U.S.,” he said, adding that he will have lawyers file an appeal within 15 days of Wednesday’s ruling.

“She was so firm; even in court she was as firm as usual,” he said, adding that his mother would not admit to the false chanrge.

A representative from the U.S. consulate in Ho Chi Minh City has been visiting Phan twice a month since her arrest, while she has been imprisoned at Phan Dang Luu detention center, Le said.

“The lawyer from the U.S. consulate does not know what to do about her case,” he said.

Some of Phan’s relatives recently went to see her, but she had been abruptly transferred to Chi Hoa Prison, and authorities said Phan could have no more visitors.

Le said someone named Janet Nguyen sent emails about his mother’s arrest to a U.S. congressional representative from his district, but she did not receive a response.

Nguyen stopped sending the requests, however, because she thought that the representative could do nothing to help Pham, he said.

Le said that his mother’s case is not the same as that of William Nguyen, a 32-year-old graduate student of Vietnamese descent from Houston, Texas, found guilty in July of “disturbing public order” for taking part in rare, large-scale protests over government plans to grant long-term leases to foreign companies operating in special economic zones. A Vietnamese court ordered his deportation to the U.S.

“Will Nguyen’s case is different because he participated in the protests,” Le said. “His case is not ‘subversion’ as is my mother’s case, and so the manner of prosecution is also different.”

“U.S. intervention depends on the charges,” he said. “My mother’s case falls under ‘activities to overthrow the government,’ so the U.S. can only get assurances for her health and security, [but] the legal procedures must be according to Vietnamese law.”

Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Gia Minh. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.