12/01/2017, 16.28
VIETNAM
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Catholic activist who reported Formosa disaster has sentence upheld

by Thanh Thuy

Nguyễn Ngọc Như Quỳnh was convicted of propaganda against the state over her criticism of how the authorities handled a major environmental emergency. One of her lawyers had his license revoked. Her mother was not allowed into the courtroom during the proceedings. Activists and NGOs are worried by Hanoi intensifying its crackdown.

Hanoi (AsiaNews) – A Vietnamese court yesterday upheld a ten-year prison sentence against 38-year-old Catholic blogger Nguyễn Ngọc Như Quỳnh, better known by her penname Mother Mushroom, Mẹ Nấm in Vietnamese.

A lower court had found Ms Quỳnh guilty of propaganda against the state during the crackdown by the country’s communist regime against activists, dissidents and critics.

A young man interviewed by AsiaNews, who asked that his name not be used, noted that "the communist government (of Vietnam) does not accept any decision contrary to its point of view".

Mẹ Nấm’s two children have lived with their grandmother since the day of her arrest.

The Catholic activist, who won several prizes and awards for her work in defence of human rights, spent nine days behind bars in 2009 for reporting on the damages caused by bauxite mining in northern Vietnam.

In the past she lashed out at Chinese imperialism in the seas, and highlighted the fate of prisoners dying in their cells. She is currently herself one of the many women in detention in Vietnamese prisons for defending freedom, civil rights and the environment.

Her latest arrest took place last June in the southern province of Khánh Hòa under Article 88 of the country’s penal code, which punishes "conducting propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam".

The evidence against her are articles she wrote on the environmental disaster caused by the Taiwan-based Formosa Plastics Group in the country’s central provinces in April 2016, which outraged many Vietnamese.

Some of her incriminating articles were titled: "Fish need clean water, the government needs to be transparent’, ‘Convict the Formosa Group’, ‘No to the Formosa group’, ‘No to Chinese expansionism’.

As in Quỳnh’s case, the People’s District Court in Hà Tĩnh province sentenced 22-year-old activist Nguyễn Văn Hoá to seven years in prison, plus three years of house arrest, on the same charges.

Reacting to the court’s decision to uphold the sentence, one of Quỳnh’s lawyers, Hà Huy Sơn, said the ruling was “unjust” and “not objective”. "Quỳnh is innocent and has only asserted her rights as a citizen," he said.

Local sources told AsiaNews that the authorities "have prevented her mother" from attending the court hearing. Outside the courthouse, the police have beaten and arrested several people, whilst plain-clothes agents have seized mobile phones.

People close to the family have reported that on Monday, the government revoked the license of one of Vietnam’s foremost lawyers, who was part of the team of lawyers representing the Catholic activist in this case.  

As the decision came a few days after the appeal, it was aimed at weakening Mẹ Nấm’s defence.

During the hearing the Catholic activist reiterated her innocence, admitting that she wrote the articles but stressing that their contents "do not constitute a crime".

According to international human rights activists and NGOs, Quỳnh is one of six people convicted this year in Vietnam for exercising their right to free expression, association and peaceful assembly.

Since the start of 2016, this constitutes a growing and worrying trend. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), currently there are more than 100 political prisoners in the Southeast Asian country.

However, Vietnamese authorities have rejected that claim saying that it has no prisoners of conscience, only common criminals who broke the law. (DS)

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