A well-known rights activist and journalist in Vietnam has decided to quit her job at an unregistered publishing house for the safety of staff at the business who have been suffering from police harassment. Journalist Pham Doan Trang said security forces have been violently cracking down on herself and those who work for the independent Liberal Publishing House which publishes books banned by the government. In one incident, a shipper was brutally attacked in May and remains in poor health. Trang, who won last year’s Reporters Without Borders’ Prize for Impact, an award granted to journalists whose work contributes to journalistic freedom, independence and pluralism, said the staff and those who are suspected of working for the online-only publisher have been followed and even kidnapped by security officers “They have all had to leave their homes since Tet festival [Lunar New Year] to ensure that their work is not interrupted,” she said, adding that many of the staff have been questioned and are being monitored. “Because of this desperate plight, as the publisher’s public representative and main author, I must be responsible for our staff and readers’ severe suffering and risk of being arrested at any time,” said Trang, who has had to change her address many times due to harassment and has been unable to visit her elderly mother.
Trang, who claims to be exhausted by the situation, accused security forces of attempting to divide the local democracy movement by spreading fake news on social saying that she had defamed jailed activist Tran Huynh Duy Thuc and his family. The rights activist said she has no reason to hate or be jealous of other local democracy and rights activists. “I decided to withdraw from the publisher on July 10. I am no longer its representative or member, and do not take part in any of its activities,” she announced. Trang said she alone was in charge of four publications that have come under state scrutiny: A Handbook for Freedom Fighters, Politics for the Masses, A Handbook for Families of Prisoners, Politics of a Police State, and a report on a deadly attack on farmers at Dong Tam Commune by police early this year. She asked police not to pursue any other members of staff over these works and reiterated her desire to continue to fight against oppression by the government. In a statement, Liberal Publishing House said it respected Trang’s decision and thanked her for her contribution. It said its staff, who are upset by the police harassment and Trang’s withdrawal, need time to recover and come up with a way to safely move forward with the business. “Under the circumstances, we are determined not to give up our mission to secure freedom of expression, publication and reading,” the publisher, who won the 2020 Prix Voltaire in June, said in the statement. Ahead of the police crackdown, democracy activist Nguyen Tien Trung said that Trang and the publisher should temporarily stop their work and look for other ways of operating effectively. “Fighting for democracy is a process, and you may have to move backward as well as forward, but ultimately you will succeed,” he said.
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