In advance of the upcoming trial of poet Tran Duc Thach, which is scheduled for November 30, PEN America calls on Vietnamese authorities to drop the charges against him.

Tran Duc Thach is a poet, internet writer, and human rights advocate. On April 23, 2020, Thach was arrested under “activities against the people’s government,” a charge commonly levied against human rights activists and dissidents. The charge, Article 109 of the Vietnamese Criminal Code, carries a potential sentence of life imprisonment. The charge against him appears to be related to Thach’s Facebook posts discussing government corruption and human rights abuses. His lawyer, who was only allowed to meet with Thach months after his arrest, has recently said that Thach’s trial will be on November 30.

“The Vietnamese government commonly treats dissident and critical writers as criminals, and we fear in this case that they will treat Thach similarly,” said James Tager, deputy director of free expression research and policy at PEN America. “But peaceful criticism is no crime. Quite the opposite—it is the mark of someone who is civically engaged, and who cares about their country. We call on the Vietnamese authorities to drop these charges against Thach and to release him. He should have never been arrested, and he certainly should not be imprisoned for exercising his freedom to express himself.”

Thach is a prolific writer, whose work includes his 1988 novel Doi Ban Tu (Two Companians in Prison), his memoir Ho Chon Nguoi Am Anh (A Haunting Collective Grave), and his poetry collection Dieu Chua Thay (Things Still Untold). His writing commonly deals with human rights issues within Vietnam, and Thach has faced repeated harassment for his writing and his activism. Thach is also a member of the Brotherhood for Democracy, a civil society group that has been repeatedly targeted by authorities, with several members of the group imprisoned for their activism.

PEN America has been active in advocating for other targeted or imprisoned Vietnamese writers, including Pham Doan TrangNguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh (“Mother Mushroom”), and Nguyen Huu Vinh and Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy. In our 2019 Freedom to Write Index, released earlier this year, we noted that the lengthy imprisonment of bloggers Truong Duy Nhat and Ho Van Hai “demonstrate the longstanding risks associated with online expression in the country.”