This statement was originally published on pen.org on 17 December 2020.
Poet, blogger, and human rights activist Tran Duc Thach was sentenced to 12 years in prison and three years probation by Nghe An province courts this Tuesday on charges of subversion under Article 109 of the country’s criminal code. PEN America condemned the sentencing today as a repressive attack on free expression in the country.
“This is a shocking and shameful outcome in a case that never should have been brought to trial in the first place. Thach should be celebrated for his civic engagement and advocacy, not subjected to mistreatment and imprisonment,” said James Tager, deputy director of free expression research and policy at PEN America. “This draconian sentence is another blatant violation of basic human rights and stifling of freedom of expression by the Vietnamese state in the name of national security. We call for his immediate and unconditional release.”
Thach was initially arrested on April 23 for “activities against the people’s government.” Authorities reportedly used several Facebook posts he published criticizing government corruption and human rights violations as the primary implicating evidence. During the trial, provincial prosecutors claimed that Thach’s activism and writings “threatened social stability, encroached upon national independence and socialism, reduced people’s trust in the political institution of the state of Vietnam, and infringed upon national security and social safety and order.”
Last month, in advance of his sentencing, PEN America called on Vietnamese authorities to drop the charges against Thach, noting that “peaceful criticism is no crime.”
Thach is a prolific writer, whose work includes his 1988 novel Doi Ban Tu (Two Companions 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. Thach is also co-founder of the Brotherhood for Democracy, a civil society group that has been repeatedly targeted by authorities for their activism, with several members of the group apprehended in recent years. Thach has faced repeated harassment for his writing and his activism.
Thach is just one of those who has been targeted by the Vietnamese government’s heightened campaign against internet personalities, rights advocates, and independent journalists, a campaign that has become more pronounced in the run-up to the country’s 13th National Congress scheduled for January 2021. According to the NGO Vietnam Human Rights Defenders, there have been 17 subversion-based convictions this year alone while 31 individuals are currently held in pre-trial detention. Additionally, the government has leveraged the pandemic to arrest dissidents on the pretext of public security and stifling COVID-related disinformation.
PEN America has been active in advocating for other targeted or imprisoned Vietnamese writers, including Pham Doan Trang, Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh (“Mother Mushroom”), and Nguyen Huu Vinh, and Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy. In PEN America’s 2019 Freedom to Write Index, released earlier this year, the organization 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.”
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Source: MEDIA FEED