Arrest of Vietnamese Writer is Escalation in Attempts to Quash Independent Political Thought
Pham Doan Trang was arrested October 6 just as the U.S.-Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue concluded
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(New York, NY) — Blogger, writer, and activist Pham Doan Trang’s arrest represents an escalation in Vietnam’s attempts to restrict the space for expression and exchange of independent political thought, PEN America said today.
Author of numerous titles including Chính Trị Bình Dân (Politics for the Masses), Trang was arrested on October 6 during a raid at her apartment in Ho Chi Minh City. The Ministry of Public Security and Hanoi Police arrested Trang in a joint operation just hours after the 2020 U.S.-Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue ended. She remains detained on accusations of “making, storing, spreading information, materials, items for the purpose of opposing the State of Socialist Republic of Vietnam,” a charge that reportedly carries a sentence of up to 20 years in prison. Trang has written about a number of social and political issues, most recently about a highly sensitive land rights clash in Dong Tam village.
“Trang’s arrest and detention is punitive and is intended to also intimidate those she has impacted through her writings,” said Karin Deutsch Karlekar, PEN America’s director of Free Expression at Risk Programs. “Knowing the power of her work, Trang has firmly upheld her belief in human rights principles, even amidst constant judicial and physical retaliation from the Vietnamese government. We stand in solidarity with Trang by supporting her freedom to write and encouraging the world to read her work.”
In addition to writing several books, Trang is a founding member of Liberal Publishing House, a founding member of Luat Khoa online magazine, and she blogs independently online. Though she has been subject to interrogation and assaults by the state for several years, Trang has faced increased surveillance and harassment in recent years. In February 2018, police arbitrarily detained Trang and questioned her about Chính Trị Bình Dân (Politics for the Masses). In March 2019, she alerted her colleagues that secret police were surveilling her residence and following people delivering copies of her books. Earlier this year, the Ministry of Public Security called her written work “anti-state propaganda.” She resigned from the independent Liberal Publishing House in anticipation of further retaliation.
Trang prophesied her arrest over a year ago. In May 2019, she wrote “JUST IN CASE I AM IMPRISONED,” a letter to friends and advocates on her behalf. In her letter, Trang urges people not to call for her individual freedom but to advocate new laws to promote political and electoral reform, and encourage the public to read her books.
Trang’s arrest appears to be indicative of a broader crackdown on Vietnamese activists ahead of the Communist Party Congress scheduled for January 2021. A number of political prisoners remain detained in Vietnam under the same law levied against Trang. On July 14, PEN America joined a group of nine human rights defenders urging Vietnam to release prisoners of conscience and respect human rights in line with the country’s obligation under international law. Vietnam ranked 8th worldwide in PEN America’s inaugural Freedom to Write Index, with at least eight writers and intellectuals recorded as spending time behind bars in 2019.