NEW YORK—The upcoming trial of U.S. citizen William Nguyen on charges of “disturbing the public order” in Vietnam is an appalling attempt to frame peaceful protest as a dangerous crime, PEN America said today.

Nguyen, a graduate student at the Lee Kuan Yew School of the National University of Singapore, could face up to 7 years in prison for “disturbing the public order.” His trial is set to begin this Friday, July 20. The charges against him stem from his taking part in and documenting a protest in Ho Chi Minh City on June 10. The protest was ignited by proposed special economic zones (SEZs) that would allow foreigners to lease land for 99 years. The proposed SEZs have incited fear in Vietnamese citizens, as such laws could allow for Chinese encroachment on Vietnamese land, and a number of demonstrations against the proposal have taken place across major cities in Vietnam in recent weeks. Despite engaging in peaceful protests, Nguyen was “beaten over the head and dragged into the back of a police truck,” according to a statement given by his family and video evidence, and has been detained since his arrest. He is being charged with infringing Article 381 of the Penal Code relating to “disturbing public order.”

“By charging Nguyen, Vietnamese authorities have showed a blatant disregard for the basic human rights of free expression and assembly,” said Karin Karlekar, PEN America Director of Free Expression at Risk Programs. “Peacefully participating in and documenting a protest should not be considered a criminal activity. We urge the court to show Nguyen justice and drop the charges against him, and call for his immediate and unconditional release.”

Under Communist rule since the 1970s, Vietnam severely restricts both free expression and association, and has imprisoned scores of bloggers in recent years for such vaguely-defined crimes as “propaganda against the state.” PEN America has decried the recent convictions of bloggers including Phan Kim Khánh, “Mother Mushroom,” and Nguyen Huu Vinh and Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy. In a March 2017 interview with PEN America, journalist Trinh Huu Long discussed the dangers faced by independent bloggers in Vietnam, and the conviction of prominent blogger Nguyen Huu Vinh, also known as Anh Ba Sam.


PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.


Anoosh Gasparian, External Relations Manager: