Vietnam’s conviction of Catholic blogger condemned

This was little short of a show trial, designed to intimidate other environmental activists, say international organizations
Vietnam’s conviction of Catholic blogger condemned

Vietnamese blogger Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, also known as "Mother Mushroom," stands trial in a courthouse in the central city of Nha Trang on June 29. (Photo by AFP) 

International groups including the United Nations have condemned the sentencing of a Catholic blogger and human rights advocate and called upon the Vietnamese government to release her.

"We are deeply concerned about the Vietnamese courts and its conviction of the 2017 International Woman of Courage awardee and peaceful blogger, Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh," U.S. Department of State spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a press statement on June 29.

The statement came after a court in the central city of Nha Trang sentenced Quynh, also known as "Mother Mushroom," to 10 years in prison for the vague charge of conducting propaganda against the state.

Five U.N. special rapporteurs on human rights, freedom of speech and arbitrary detention released a statement saying, "The trial did not meet international standards" and Quynh had "been denied her fundamental right to due process."

"This was little short of a show trial, designed to intimidate other environmental activists." The statement was written by a panel of U.N. experts including John Knox, David Kaye, Michel Forst, Baskut Tuncak and Jose Guevara.

"This sentence is the culmination of eight years of continuous harassment suffered by Quynh, including frequent travel bans, intimidation, physical assaults, threats and hindrance from joining peaceful protests," the U.N. experts said.

The U.N. believes Quynh, an environmental activist and human rights defender, was targeted for highlighting the damage caused by the Taiwanese Formosa steel plant based in Ha Tinh province. In April 2016 the steel plant discharged toxic waste into surrounding waters, killing local wildlife and causing grave damage to the local ecosystem.

"She has done no more than promote human rights through social media, and protect the environment from harm. In no country, including Vietnam, should this be regarded as a crime. Mother Mushroom should be cleared of the propaganda crime and be immediately released."

The U.N. experts said the sentencing of Quynh and attacks against other human rights defenders "appear to be in retaliation for their legitimate environmental human rights work in the wake of the Formosa disaster."

They raised fears that the Vietnamese government "is increasingly targeting bloggers and the organizers of peaceful protests to deter wider legitimate civic and environmental activism."

US State Department spokeswoman Nauert called on Vietnam to release Mother Mushroom immediately and to allow individuals in the country to express their views freely and assemble peacefully without fear of retribution.

"We've seen some positive steps on human rights in Vietnam over the past few years," she said. "However, the trend of increased arrests and convictions of peaceful protests since early 2016 is deeply troubling."

"Progress on human rights will allow the U.S.-Vietnam partnership to reach its fullest potential," Nauert said.

Over 1,000 people in Vietnam and abroad have signed an online petition to ask the U.S. First Lady, Melania Trump, to demand the immediate unconditional release of Quynh so that she can be united with her young children.

"We believe that with your honorable voice and our president’s attention in this matter, the Vietnamese communist regime will release her immediately or lessen her sentence," the petition said.  

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Other international human rights groups including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and Sweden-based Civil Rights Defenders, have called for Quynh's immediate release.

According to Human Rights Watch, there are about 110 known political prisoners in Vietnam.

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