Imprisoned for Writing: Pham Doan Trang

Independent journalist and human rights defender Pham Doan Trang was sentenced to nine years by The People’s Court of Hanoi on December, 14 2021. She was arrested in Ho Chi Minh City on October 7, 2020, and charged under Article 88 of the 1999 Criminal Code which criminalizes “making, storing, distributing or disseminating information, documents and items against the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam.”

Trang is the author of several books that address women’s rights, LGBT issues, environmental concerns and land rights.  In 2019, Reporters Without Borders awarded her a Press Freedom Prize in recognition of her impact.  Her work on the Liberal Publishing House helped it receive the prestigious Prix Voltaire award in 2020 for its continued coverage in spite of risks and dangers of reprisals.

Trang was held in isolation from the time of her arrest until October 19, 2021, when she was finally allowed to meet with one of her lawyers after having been denied access to her family and legal representation for over a year.

Foreseeing her own arrest, she gave instructions ahead of time for fellow activists to take advantage of her imprisonment to negotiate for more freedom in Viet Nam, and to “advocate for the others first, then me.”

In The Vietnamese, a journalists’ magazine Trang founded, her “final statement” from her trial has appeared today reads, in part:

“In a democratic society, if a citizen writes something or responds to interview questions from foreign journalists regarding matters the government doesn’t want to hear, what would be the civilized response? The most civilized response would be for the government to do nothing because a civilized person knows how to respect the opinions and interests of others.

“In a less fortunate situation, if a government has authoritarian tendencies and finds what the citizen says unacceptable, then it could simply write books or articles to rebut that citizen, or even boldly reach out to the foreign press to arrange an interview in which a government representative expresses his/her viewpoint or responds to the citizen in-kind.

“But the Socialist Republic of Vietnam does none of this. Instead, it chooses to respond in a more vile, foolish, and heinous manner, imprisoning its citizens simply because they write works or respond to interviews with foreign journalists.”

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