Writers and democracy advocates jailed in Vietnam for the peaceful expression of their opinions were honored in absentia by an exile group in a ceremony held in California on Dec. 10, International Human Rights Day.
Recipients of the award, the Vietnam Human Rights Award, included the well-known blogger Mother Mushroom, blogger Anh Ba Sam, Protestant pastor Y Yich, and the online Brotherhood For Democracy advocacy group.
Speaking at the ceremony, Nguyen Kim Binh—representing the California-based Vietnam Human Rights Network—called those honored in Sunday’s ceremony in Westminster city “among the bravest of our people.”
“All through the present crackdown by the Communist Party, there have been people willing to sacrifice their lives to fight for human rights and for the [Vietnamese] people,” Binh said.
“Some of them have passed away, and there are others who are still very young but are already serving prison terms of from five to ten years,” he said, adding that among those now jailed in Vietnam are veterans from both sides of the Vietnam War and many who were born after the war ended.
“All have paid a heavy price,” he said.
“Each year, our laureates are either prisoners of conscience or former prisoners of conscience. Some are still on probation and are living under intimdation,” Binh said.
Also speaking at the ceremony, Dinh Ngoc Thu—a former associate of blogger Anh Ba Sam, also known as Nguyen Huu Vinh—said that to counter authoritarian rule in Vietnam, “the people must be provided with information.”
“This is the only way to change their perception, with changes in perception leading to changes in behavior,” he said.
Anh Ba Sam, a former police officer and son of a late government minister, was handed a five-year prison term in March 2016 after publishing writings critical of Vietnam’s government on his Ba Sam blog site.
He had been convicted on a charge of “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe on the interests of the state" under Article 258 of Vietnam’s penal code.
His assistant Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy was given three years in prison on the same charge. The two had been in prison since their arrests in May 2014.
Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, better known by her blogger handle Mother Mushroom, is currently serving a 10-year prison term for publishing politically sensitive material online.
She had blogged about human rights abuses and corruption for more than a decade, and more recently voiced criticism over Vietnam’s policy toward China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea.
She has also criticized the government’s response to a 2016 toxic waste spill by a Taiwanese firm that destroyed the livelihoods of tens of thousands of Vietnamese living in four coastal provinces.
Pastor Y Yich, a resident of Gia Lai province in Vietnam’s central highlands, was arrested in 2007 and sentenced to six years in prison for his role in demonstrations demanding land and freedom of religion for Vietnam’s Montagnard people.
Arrested again in 2013, he was sentenced to 12 years in prison.
'Don't lose hope'
In August and September of this year, six members of the Brotherhood for Democracy, an online advocacy group founded in 2013, were arrested and jailed under vaguely worded provisions of Vietnam’s penal code used to silence dissenting voices in the country.
In May, jailed human rights attorney and activist Nguyen Van Dai, a founding member of the group, received an award in absentia from the German Association of Judges, the Deutscher Richterbund, honoring him for his work in human rights.
Speaking in an interview with RFA’s Vietnamese Service, EU Special Envoy for the Promotion of Religious Freedom Jan Figel urged the people of Vietnam, a one-party communist state, not to lose hope in their work for greater freedom.
“Communism in Europe collapsed because it was unsustainable. People stopped believing in it,” Figel, a native of Slovakia, said.
“We need free and fair societies, and this is a dream that I hope will sooner or later, but surely, be achieved in Vietnam and by everyone in the world.”
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Viet Ha. Written in English by Richard Finney.