Vietnamese journalist loses appeal against nine-year sentence

Pham Doan Trang’s family and foreign diplomats were barred from the courtroom.
By RFA Vietnamese
2022.08.25
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Vietnamese journalist loses appeal against nine-year sentence Pham Doan Trang speaks during her unsuccessful appeal of her nine-year jail sentence at Hanoi High People’s Court, in Hanoi, Aug 25, 2022.
Photo: RFA

Updated at 06:37 a.m. EDT on 8-25-2022

Award-winning Vietnamese journalist Pham Doan Trang has lost her appeal against a nine-year jail sentence. She was sent to prison in December 2021 for “conducting anti-state propaganda.”

Trang refused to plead guilty during Thursday’s appeal at Hanoi High People’s Court even though her lawyers had advised her that a guilty plea would be the only way for her to persuade the court to reduce or dismiss her sentence.

Trang has not been allowed to see her family since she was arrested in October 2020, and her mother, Bui Thi Thien Can’s request to attend the appeal was ignored by authorities.

Can went to the High People’s Court on Thursday with her son but they were barred from entering the courtroom, along with diplomats from the E.U., the U.S., the Czech Republic, Switzerland and Germany.

"Our family expected her sentence to be upheld and we are not surprised with the final outcome because we know the appeal is a show hearing and that the outcome had been decided in advance by senior officials, not by the judge after the defense lawyers presented their defenses," Trang's mother said after hearing the appeal court's decision.

One of Trang's lawyers, Trinh Vinh Phuc said: “As for the defense, it was not as exciting as the first-instance trial. Part of the reason is because Ms. Pham Thi Doan Trang was not eager to speak up. When asked by the judge, she said she had no need for questions and answers so the court panel could soon announce its final decision. She said her sentencing had already been arranged so that no matter what she said, it would not go anywhere. She refused many questions from the judge and the representative of the Procuracy.”

Another of Trang’s lawyers, Dang Dinh Manh, told RFA this week she is very ill, suffering from sinusitis after catching COVID-19 and still nursing a knee injury sustained when she was beaten by security forces during a 2015 protest in the Vietnamese capital. Her other health issues include arthritis and gynecological problems.

International groups called for Trang’s release ahead of the appeal. PEN America, an NGO which campaigns for writers’ freedom of expression, issued a statement on Monday calling on the Vietnamese government to repeal Trang’s sentence and release her immediately.

Earlier this month U.S.-based NGO the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) also called on authorities not to contest her appeal. The organization had been hoping to present her with its 2022 International Press Freedom Award in New York in November.

Pham Doan Trang displays the books she wrote that were banned by the Vietnamese government, in an undated photo from her Facebook page.
Pham Doan Trang displays the books she wrote that were banned by the Vietnamese government, in an undated photo from her Facebook page.
Trang has been presented with many prestigious international awards, including the U.S. State Department’s International Women of Courage Award and the Reporters Without Borders’ Press Freedom Prize.

Trang was arrested in Oct., 2020 but the charges were not made public for more than a year after her arrest.

Along with the “anti-state propaganda” charge, she was accused of speaking with foreign media: Radio Free Asia and the BBC, allegedly to defame the government with “fake news.”

Hanoi authorities were also angry over books Trang wrote, such as “Politics for Ordinary Citizens,” and “Handbook for Prisoners’ Families.”

The CPJ’s 2021 prison census ranked Vietnam the world’s fourth-worst jailer of journalists, with at least 23 imprisoned for their work.

Vietnamese activists’ appeals are highly unlikely to succeed with another four failing this month.

On Aug. 16 the Provincial People’s Court in Dak Lak rejected the appeal of Y Wo Nie while the Higher People’s Court in Hanoi dismissed the appeal of Le Van Dung.

Y Wo Nie was sentenced to four years by Cu Kuin district court on May 20, charged with “abusing democratic freedom,” for telling international groups about religious persecution in his region.

Dung was arrested in June last year and convicted this March for “conducting anti-state propaganda.” He was sentenced to five years in prison and five years of probation.

On Aug. 17 the appeals of Trinh Ba Phuong and Nguyen Thi Tam were also rejected. They were both arrested on June 24, 2020 and charged with "conducting anti-state propaganda.”

Phuong is serving 10 years in prison and five years' probation, Tam was jailed for six years with three years’ probation.

Trang's lawyer Phuc told RFA he was not optimistic about the appeals process in spite of Vietnam's commitment to freedom of expression.

“The judge stopped lawyer Nguyen Van Mieng when he talked about the gap between Vietnam’s law and the international conventions that Vietnam has signed. The judge said the court uses the Vietnamese law,” Phuc said.

This story has been updated in the final paragraph to include comments from one of Trang's lawyers.

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