After eight years of strict prison, Catholic activist to purge five more years under house arrest
by Paul N. Hung

Minh Mẫn, 34, was arrested in 2011 and convicted for trying to overthrow “the people’s administration” and "undermining the unity policy”. The young woman photographed protests and posted the photos online. Her mother and brother also ended up in handcuffs. In prison, the young woman was subjected to heavy physical labour and abuse, and was often placed in isolation.

Ho Chi Minh City (AsiaNews) – Catholic activist Anne Nguyễn Đặng Minh Mẫn (pictured) will be released from prison on 2 August after serving eight years, but she will not be free because she will have to serve another 60 months under house arrest. She was convicted of documenting and taking part in the protests against China’s invasion of disputed territorial waters, also claimed by Vietnam.

Born 10 January 1985 in the southern province of Trà Vinh (Mekong Delta), Minh Mẫn began photographing protests and pro-democracy rallies at the age of 24. To show her commitment, she posted her pictures online.

She captured anti-Chinese protests of 5 June 2011 in Ho Chi Minh City (ex Saigon), during which she repeatedly spray-painted "HS-TS-VN" on walls, an abbreviation that means "Spratly and Paracel Islands of Vietnam".

Minh Mẫn was arrested in August 2011, in the midst of a campaign of repression against young Catholic and Protestant activists. Police took her camera, and arrested her, her mother, Đặng Ngọc Minh, and brother, Nguyễn ng Vĩnh Phúc.

Together with 13 other Christian militants, the three were tried behind closed doors at the Nghệ An Provincial Court between 8 and 9 January 2013. The Court found Minh Mẫn guilty of violating the controversial Article 79 (Carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the people’s administration) and Article 87 (Undermining the unity policy) of the Vietnam Penal Code.

The authorities and the Communist Party often use such charges against dissenters. The sentence included eight years at Prison Camp No. 5 in Thanh Hóa province and five years of house arrest.

Minh Mẫn’s mother was given three years in prison, as was her brother, whose sentence was however suspended.

In prison, Minh Mẫn was subjected to heavy physical labour and abuse, placed in isolation, unable to socialise with non-political prisoners. Visits by her mother, after her release from the same prison, were also limited.

The activist's father was repeatedly harassed and intimidated because of his relatives’ arrests. To visit his daughter, he had to travel for 40 hours and, at times, was not allowed to see her.

Minh Mẫn’s legal woes had devastating effects on her family.

“Minh Mẫn and my family fled to Thailand from Trà Vinh Province in April 1989 to find freedom,” said Minh Mẫn’s mother, Đặng Ngọc Minh. “We stayed at Panatnikhon and Sikiew refugee camps for over seven years. The last Sikiew Refugee Camp was also closed in 1995. So, we had to live wandering in Thailand” before “we were forced to return to Vietnam.”

When the family fled Vietnam, Minh Mẫn was four years old. In Thailand, she was introduced to the activities of the ‘Compassionate House’ for refugee children of the local Catholic Church. Thanks to this initiative, she was able to attend elementary schools and catechism classes.

Fr Peter Prayoon Namwrong set her First Communion for October 1996. Unfortunately, the family was deported and the child could not receive the sacrament. Back in Vietnam, Minh Mẫn resumed attending Church ten years later and in May 2005 she became Catholic.