What you need to know
Arrests and activist’s trial show Hanoi’s determination to silence critics.
Vietnam should immediately free Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh (also known as “Mother Mushroom”) and drop all charges against her. Police arrested her in October 2016 and pressed a charge of “conducting propaganda against the state” in accordance with article 88 of the penal code. The People’s Court of Khanh Hoa province plans to hear her case on June 29, 2017.
It’s outrageous to put Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh on trial simply for using her right to free expression to call for government reform and accountability. The scandal here is not what Mother Mushroom said, but Hanoi’s stubborn refusal to repeal draconian, rights-abusing laws that punish peaceful dissent and tarnish Vietnam’s international reputation.
Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, who is 38, blogs under the pen name Mother Mushroom (Me Nam). The pen name came from her 11-year-old daughter whom she calls “Mushroom.”
With the motto, “Who will speak if you don’t?” Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh wrote on social and political issues including land confiscation, police brutality, and freedom of expression. She voiced support for fellow dissidents and publicly campaigned for the release of many political prisoners including Tran Huynh Duy Thuc, Nguyen Ngoc Gia, Nguyen Hoang Quoc Hung, and Nguyen Huu Vinh (also known as Anh Ba Sam). Above all, she advocated for a social and political environment free from fear. The morning before she was arrested, Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh went with Nguyen Thi Nay, the mother of political prisoner Nguyen Huu Quoc Duy, to try to visit him in prison.
In September 2009, the police took Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh from her home in the middle of the night and questioned her about her blog posts that criticized government policies on China and its disputed claims to the Spratly and Paracel Islands. She was released after nine days but remained under intrusive surveillance by police, who continued to pressure her to shut down her blog.
Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh participated in numerous public protests that advocated for human rights and a cleaner environment. She was subject to constant police harassment, intimidation, interrogation, and put under house arrest on numerous occasions to prevent her from attending important events. Police detained her twice in 2014 to prevent her from flying to Hanoi to attend meetings at the Australian Embassy in July, and at the Canadian and Norwegian Embassies in November. In March 2015, police detained her again to prevent her from going to Hanoi to attend a meeting at the German Embassy. In July 2015, she reported being assaulted by men in civilian clothes in front of police officers for participating in a sit-down protest to campaign for the release of political prisoners.
State media reported that the police alleged that the evidence against Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh for anti-state blogging included a file named “Stop police killing civilians.” The file included data on 31 cases regarding people who died in police custody, which she and others had collected from state media. The police claimed that the file “bears a hostile viewpoint against the people’s police force. The document makes the readers misunderstand the nature of the problem, offends and lowers the prestige of the people’s police force, and harms the relationship between the people and the police force.”
Many cases summarized in “Stop police killing civilians” had been documented and published by Human Rights Watch, such as the violent deaths in police custody of Nguyen Quoc Bao, Nguyen Van Khuong, Trinh Xuan Tung, Tu Ngoc Thach, and Y Ket Bdap. According to Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security, reported by state media, from October 2011 to September 2014, there were 226 cases of death in detention facilities.
The police claimed that during the search of Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh’s house, they found many documents providing evidence of crimes. Among these documents were slogans such as “Fish Need Water,” “The Country Needs Transparency” (Ca can nuoc sach; Nuoc can minh bach), “Take Legal Action Against Formosa” (Khoi to Formosa), “No Formosa,” “Formosa Get Out,” and anti-China claims over the disputed Spratly and Paracel Islands such as “No to Chinese Expansionism.”
The police reportedly said that in addition to her Facebook and blog posts, other “crimes” she committed included giving interviews to CNN and Radio Free Asia.
Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh received a Hellman Hammett grant from Human Rights Watch in 2010 as a writer defending free expression. In 2015, Civil Rights Defenders gave her the 2015 Civil Rights Defender of the Year award. In March 2017, she received the International Women of Courage award from the State Department.
For the last 10 years, Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh has worked tirelessly to advance human rights and promote freedom and democracy in Vietnam. International donors and trade partners should publicly condemn her arrest and urge the Vietnamese government to immediately and unconditionally release her.
In addition to blogger Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, Human Rights Watch urges Vietnam to unconditionally release all those detained or imprisoned for their peaceful activities and speeches. Among those who are being held and pending investigation include prominent rights defenders Nguyen Van Dai and Tran Thi Nga. Since his detention in December 2015, it is reported that by early May 2017, Nguyen Van Dai has not been allowed access to legal counsel. According to defense lawyer Ha Huy Son, Tran Thi Nga (detained since January 2017) has been sick for the last three weeks and can only eat porridge. She asked the authorities to allow her to seek medical treatment at the hospital twice, but her requests were denied. Both Nguyen Van Dai and Tran Thi Nga were charged under article 88 of the penal code.