ARTICLE 19 calls for the immediate and unconditional release of human rights defender and blogger Tran Thi Nga who has been sentenced to nine years in prison and five years’ probation on charges of “spreading propaganda against the state” under Article 88 of the Penal Code. The verdict runs counter to international human rights standards on freedom of expression. We urge the government to repeal Article 88 and stop criminalizing political dissidents.
Tran Thi Nga, also known as Thuy Nga, was sentenced on 25 July 2017 in the People’s Court of Ha Nam Province after six months of incommunicado pre-trial detention for posting a number of videos and articles critical of the government. The verdict ruled that Nga produced and posted online videos on her personal blog, Facebook and Youtube accounts. The videos had highlighted state violations of human rights and called for pluralism in Vietnam. International monitors, fellow activists and her family were not allowed to attend the court proceedings, which has raised concerns about the fairness and transparency of the trial.
The harsh sentencing of Tran Thi Nga is the most recent attack targeting the mother of two. Before her arrest, she had been victimized for years by officials, and faced intimidation, harassment and physical assault. According to her lawyer, despite her deteriorating health one month prior to the trial, her requests to seek medical treatment at a hospital were rejected.
As a prominent human rights activist in Vietnam’s online space, as well as a member of the executive board of Vietnamese Women for Human Rights Group, Tran Thi Nga has been a vocal actor in exposing trafficking, police brutality and land confiscation. She has persistently exhibited her support for peer bloggers and activists, and visited the houses of political prisoners to show solidarity. Most recently, she actively participated in protests against the Chinese presence in the South China/East Vietnam Sea, the environmental catastrophe caused by the Taiwanese steel plant Formosa, as well as assisted the affected community in filing lawsuits.
The sentencing of Tran Thi Nga comes less than one month after the trial of another well-known female human rights activist and blogger Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, also known as “Mother Mushroom” (“Mẹ Nấm”). The detention and trial of Tran Thi Nga, Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, among other peaceful political dissidents run contrary to Vietnam’s international and domestic commitments. Vietnam ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in 1982, Article 19 of which guarantees the right to freedom of expression. This fundamental right has been echoed in Article 25 of Vietnam’s 2013 Constitution. However, Article 88 of the Penal code is often evoked to charge human rights bloggers for propaganda, defamation, and making or storing of materials against the state with up to 12 years imprisonment. This provision falls far outside the permitted limitations to freedom of expression established under Article 19 of the ICCPR. Worryingly, this article has not been changed in the revised Penal Code, which has been recently passed by the National Assembly and will come into effect in 2018.
ARTICLE 19 urges the Vietnamese government to quash the conviction of Tran Thi Nga and unconditionally free her from prison. Moreover, the government should take immediate steps to repeal all laws that criminalize voice of the opposition, and end its ongoing crackdown on political dissidents in all forms.