03/11/2013, 00.00
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Washington awards Catholic blogger and dissident Maria Tạ Phong Tần

by Nguyen Hung
For the State Department she is among the 10 "most courageous" women in the world for her pro-freedom fight. She must serve 10 years in prison for "subversive" activities and "slanderous" writing against the government and the Party. In reality, she denounced rampant corruption and the distortions of the Vietnamese legal system. Hanoi and on-line repression.

Hanoi (AsiaNews) - The story of Catholic blogger Maria Tạ Phong Tần is emblematic of the abuse and violence perpetrated by the Vietnamese authorities against voices for freedom, especially those using the Internet and the worldwide web to denounce human rights violations. In recent days, the international organization Reporters Without Borders has confirmed Hanoi is on the list of countries considered  "enemies of the Internet", classifying it in the ranking on press freedom in 172 place out of 179 nations.  As a result of its censorship and repression of bloggers and Internet, the nation ranks third after China and Oman. This is also why the U.S. government has wanted to recognize and reward the courage of Maria, still in prison after being sentenced to 10 years jail, plus five probation.

At the end of July 2012, the eve of her trial, the mother of the 44 year old Catholic - accused of "subversive" activities and having written "slanderous" things against the government and Party, in articles on the prison system and the distortions of justice - set herself on fire in front of government buildings in the province of Bac Lieu, to expose her daughter's fabricated sham trial. The elderly woman died on the same day from severe burns, while the relatives of the accused - brothers and sisters - have become the target of threats and "warnings".

In addition to articles on the justice system, Maria has released hundreds of articles on the issues of corruption and bad business practice, she is a symbol of true patriotism, a "free" voice in a media that is largely subservient to the regime and for this has had to endure ill-treatment, violence and a harsh prison sentence. On the occasion of International Women's Day, which is celebrated on 8 March, the U.S. government has decided to award the Catholic blogger, including her on a special list of the "10 most courageous women in the world." The ceremony, held in Washington, was also attended by the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and the "First Lady" Michelle Obama.

Over the past two years, Hanoi authorities have intensified its arrest of bloggers and Internet users because of allegations of violations of the "national security". To date, at least 32 on line activists are "detained, prosecuted or imprisoned for demonstrating their peaceful dissent, or criticizing government policies." Seventeen of them were convicted on the basis of "draconian" Article 88 of the Criminal Code, which represses "propaganda against the state". One jailed blogger, the 25 year-old Nguyen Hoang Li was also reportedly sexually abused by the police, during an "identity check" in December 2012. The girl was detained in at a court at the trial of another blogger. Catholic activists and bloggers have also been targeted, some of whom have recently been convicted to  "up to 13 years in prison."


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