Vietnam arrests pro-democracy icon shortly after US dialogue on human rightsPublished: Oct 8, 2020 Reading time: 3 minutes
Pham Doan Trang, one of the most internationally recognized human rights defenders in Vietnam, was arrested during the night of October 6 2020, a few hours after the conclusion of a human rights dialogue between Vietnam and the United States. People in Need condemns her arrest and calls for her immediate and unconditional release.
"I don't want freedom for just myself, that's too easy. I want something greater: freedom for Vietnam,” Pham Doan Trang wrote in a letter in May 2019 pre-empting the eventuality of her arrest.
According to official sources, Hanoi Police arrested Pham Doan Trang in Ho Chi Minh City during the night of October 6 2020 on charges of anti-state propaganda. She is also charged with propaganda against the state of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, under the nullified Article 88 of the previous 1999 Criminal Code. The arrest occurred only a few hours after the 24th Annual U.S. – Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue. The dialogue emphasized “the importance of continued progress and bilateral cooperation [between the U.S. and Vietnam] on the rule of law, freedom of expression and association […]”
The police have yet to announce the reason for Pham Doan Trang’s arrest. However, considering Trang’s courageous activism as an independent journalist and writer, the arrest is almost certainly a retaliation.
Less than two weeks before the arrest she co-authored the 3rd edition of a civil society report about the Dong Tam land dispute that had been heavily criticized for excessive use of force against land petitioners and violations of due process.
In 2019, prior to the Dong Tam land dispute coverage, she co-founded the Liberal Publishing House, which publishes books written by Vietnamese authors on topics of high political sensitivity. These include “Politics of a Police State,” “Non-Violent Resistance,” and most famously, “Politics for the Common People” written by Doan Trang herself. The Liberal Publishing House has since its founding been subjected to a wide range of state-sponsored attacks. Many of its readers have been summoned by the police for investigations. Some of its supporters and collaborators have been arrested and tortured.
Pham Doan Trang is also known as a key editor for Law Magazine, an independent online platform that discusses Vietnamese and international politics, topics which are heavily censored in state media.
Since her return to Vietnam in 2015 after spending some time studying and doing activism abroad, Pham Doan Trang has faced persecution, including physical injuries resulting in an abnormal gait. In 2018 Doan Trang was arrested, interrogated, stripped of her personal belongings and money, and brutally beaten. International human rights groups have repeatedly urged Vietnam to stop using violence against Doan Trang.
In recognition of her fearless contribution to human rights in Vietnam, People in Need awarded her the Homo Homini Award in 2017, when she received the award in absentia. In 2019 she received the Prize for Impact from international NGO Reporters Without Borders.
Foreseeing her arrest, Pham Doan Trang wrote a letter dated May 2019 with the intention that it be made public in the event of her arrest. She said she would not “admit guilt, confess, or beg for leniency.”
“Send me my guitar and try to have the wardens accept it - For me, the guitar is like my Bible,” she added.
People in Need condemns the arrest of Pham Doan Trang and ruthless violation of her right to freedom of expression. We call for her immediate and unconditional release. During her detention, People in Need demands an absolute and non-discriminatory respect of her rights to legal assistance, privacy and integrity, and protection from torture, inhumane or degrading treatment.