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Vietnam jails its most famous human rights activist

A Hanoi court sentences Pham Doan Trang to nine years in prison for anti-state activities

Vietnam jails its most famous human rights activist

Pham Doan Trang (center) and her friends before her arrest in 2020. (Photo courtesy of Pham Thanh Nghien's Facebook)

Published: December 15, 2021 05:38 AM GMT

Updated: December 15, 2021 05:47 AM GMT

Well-known human rights activist and dissident journalist Pham Doan Trang has been sentenced to nine years in jail for “conducting propaganda against the State of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.”

The People’s Court of Hanoi City on Dec. 14 convicted her on charges that included giving interviews to foreign newspapers and publishing reports on marine pollution and religious violations in Vietnam.

Trang, who won the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Press Freedom Prize for Impact in 2019, was arrested in October 2020 in Ho Chi Minh City, just a few hours after the annual human rights dialogue between the United States and Vietnam.

The activist is the founder of Luatkhoa.org, an online magazine that specializes in providing legal information. Before her arrest, she was an editor of Thevietnamese.org, which assists Vietnamese citizens to defend their rights in the communist-run country.

Lawyer Dang Dinh Manh, one of five lawyers defending her in court, said Trang, 43, had lost 8 kilograms since her arrest but was relaxed and calm throughout the trial lasting from morning until 6pm.

The lawyer said the dissident writer consistently rejected the prosecution's views that she was guilty and refused to answer many questions from the jury and the prosecutor.

Those who have dared to commit themselves to freedom are always liberals even in prison. Pham Doan Trang is always a woman of freedom

He said the attorneys pointed out a breach of criminal procedure and assessed the evidence of the case file. They concluded that their client did not commit a crime and requested her immediate release but the jury denied it.

“It is sad that a verdict of guilty is given to the passionate patriot,” he said.

Lawyer Manh said the trial attracted the special attention of foreign diplomats and international human rights groups. Representatives from Canada, Germany, the US and the EU followed the case via TV in a room in the court building.

He said Trang’s 80-year-old mother Bui Thi Thien Can and brother Pham Chinh Truc were also present inside the courtroom. They met Trang for the first time since her arrest more than a year ago.

He said the trial was tightly guarded by public security forces who erected checkpoints on the streets leading to the court.

Another lawyer, Nguyen Van Mieng, said that after the jury passed the sentence on her, Trang turned to look at her mother and said loudly: "Mommy, I fear nothing. Please stay healthy!" Then two female officers took her away.

Lawyer Mieng said during a meeting with the lawyers at the No. 1 Prison before the trial, Trang told him that she always prays for the nation and all people to be in love, good health and peace although she does not follow any religion. She sent her warm regards to other activists and friends.

You can put me in jail and crow that you have erased a thorn in your eyes, but you will never be able to erase the bad reputation, dictatorship and anti-democracy

Pham Thanh Nghien, a rights activist and Trang's close friend, said she was sentenced to nine years in prison for daring to speak up for freedom and truth.

"Those who have dared to commit themselves to freedom are always liberals even in prison. Pham Doan Trang is always a woman of freedom," Nghien said.

Trang reportedly told the jury that the longer the sentence, the more they prove the dictatorial and anti-democratic nature of the Vietnam government.

"You can put me in jail and crow that you have erased a thorn in your eyes, but you will never be able to erase the bad reputation, dictatorship and anti-democracy. As beasts are forever animals, they can never become human," she said.

She said humans with right inside can be killed for their rights, but defending right is always a human vocation.

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