Despite the country's legislative changes towards queer and trans rights in recent years, professionals of minority gender and sexuality in Vietnam’s public sector are still facing discrimination, hurting the very institutions that are pushing them out.
On August 25, an appellate court in Hanoi held the appeals hearing of Vietnamese journalist and human rights defender Pham Doan Trang, upholding her earlier nine-year imprisonment. Doan Trang, 44, was convicted of “distributing propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam,” violating Article 88 of Vietnam’s 1999 Penal Code, in her preliminary trial in December 2021.
The evidence used to prosecute Doan Trang included several reports and assessments she had written on Vietnam’s marine environment disaster in 2016, the human rights situation, and the right to freedom of religion and belief in Vietnam. She was also accused of giving interviews to foreign broadcasters, such as BBC News Vietnamese and RFA Vietnamese.
The prosecutors alleged that these documents “contained propaganda content which aimed at spreading fabricated news, sowing confusion among the people, and propagating information that distorts the guidelines and policies of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.”
According to the appellate court via State media, Doan Trang refused to plead guilty at the appeals trial. Her lawyers demanded the appellate court accept her appeal and reject the first-instance conviction. The court later dismissed Doan Trang and her lawyers’ request, concluding that her earlier punishment was handed down “in accordance with criminal wrongdoing.”
Bui Thi Thien Can, Doan Trang’s mother, said that she was barred from entering the courtroom. Court authorities ignored Can’s earlier request to attend the hearing. Foreign diplomats from the United States, the Czech Republic, Germany, Switzerland, and the EU delegation in Vietnam were also not allowed to attend the trial. The trial was previously declared to be open to the public.
“Our family expected her sentence to be upheld, and we are not surprised with the final outcome. Because we know the appeals trial is only for show and that the outcome had been decided in advance by senior officials, not by the judge, after the defense lawyers presented their defenses.” Doan Trang’s mother told RFA after hearing the court’s final decision.
Can stated that she had not seen her daughter in 22 months after Doan Trang was arrested in October 2020. Doan Trang’s health has reportedly declined as she continues to suffer from multiple diseases, including arthritis and gynecological problems.
During a meeting with attorney Ngo Anh Tuan, one of her defense lawyers, one day before the appeals hearing on August 24, Doan Trang said that “the world has changed, and no one is arresting or imprisoning writers in 2022 anymore,” while expressing her wish that Vietnam “should do the same thing.” “The reader is the only person who has the right to judge the writer, not the court, not even the police, nor the prosecutors,” she added.
International human rights groups and press freedom advocates have called on the Vietnamese government to immediately and unconditionally release journalist Pham Doan Trang ahead of her appeals trial.
“Pham Doan Trang became a target for Vietnamese government repression by speaking out against injustice, exposing human rights violations, and supporting political prisoners and their families,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, in a press release on August 23. “The Vietnamese authorities should end these abuses by quashing the conviction and ordering her release.”
Emerlynne Gil, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for Research, said in a statement on August 24 that Pham Doan Trang “is a courageous journalist and human rights defender who stood up for detained activists and criticized man-made environmental disasters and land grabs.”
“Amnesty International calls for the immediate release of Pham Doan Trang and all arbitrarily detained human rights defenders in Viet Nam, including activist Nguyen Thuy Hanh, journalist Le Van Dung, and land rights defenders Can Thi Theu, Trinh Ba Tu, Trinh Ba Phuong and Nguyen Thi Tam,” she added.
PEN America, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to protect free expression in the United States and worldwide, called on Vietnam to “immediately set aside journalist and human rights defender Pham Doan Trang’s nine-year sentence and release her unconditionally,” while raising concerns about the journalist’s declining health in prison.
“Her nine-year imprisonment is a grave violation of the fundamental right to expression under international law. Trang must be released unconditionally and immediately in light of her critical health condition resulting from gross medical neglect during her detention,” said Liesl Gerntholtz, director of the PEN America/Barbey Freedom to Write Center.
Pham Doan Trang has received numerous international awards for her activism to promote independent journalism and human rights in Vietnam.
The press freedom advocate Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) announced on July 14 that Pham Doan Trang was among the honorees of its 2022 International Press Freedom Award. The awarded journalists will be honored during a live gala dinner on November 17, 2022, in New York City.
On March 8, Pham Doan Trang was named one of the recipients of the 2022 International Women of Courage Award (IWOC) by the U.S. Department of State. According to the State Department’s spokesperson, the 2022 IWOC Award ceremony honors “twelve extraordinary women from around the world who are working to build a brighter future for all.”
In January this year, Doan Trang was one of the three laureates of the 2022 Martin Ennals Award for inspiring others to the human rights movement, along with Dr. Daouda Diallo from Burkina Faso and Abdul-Hadi Al-Khawaja from Bahrain. Doan Trang’s mother, Bui Thi Thien Can, received the award on her daughter’s behalf at the awards ceremony in Geneva on June 2.