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Western nations demand release of jailed Vietnam activist

October 12, 2016

Several Western governments have called for the release of a Vietnamese activist jailed this week for “anti-state propaganda”, urging greater freedoms in the authoritarian nation criticised for silencing critics.

Rights activist and blogger Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, more commonly known as Me Nam which means “Mother Mushroom”, was detained Monday as she visited a fellow dissident in jail in southern Nha Trang city.

Quynh, whose critical Facebook posts have included articles about civilians reportedly dying in police custody, was accused of distorting truth and history, defaming the Communist Party and provoking anti-state violence, according to the Ministry of Public Security’s official newspaper.

Her arrest comes after the appeal trials of two other bloggers in recent weeks, one whose sentence was upheld and another whose prison term was reduced by one year.

The United States, the European Union and Britain all called for her release.

“This trend threatens to overshadow Vietnam’s progress on human rights,” US Ambassador to Vietnam Ted Osius said in a statement Wednesday.

“The United States calls on Vietnam to release these individuals and all other prisoners of conscience, and to allow all individuals in Vietnam to express their political views online and offline without fear of retribution.”

EU Ambassador Bruno Angelet also called for Quynh to be freed, saying in a statement Tuesday that her “arrest goes against Vietnam’s international and domestic human rights obligations”.

British Ambassador Giles Lever echoed the call, expressing “his deep concern at this development”.

Last month, a Vietnamese court upheld prominent blogger Nguyen Huu Vinh’s five-year sentence, as well as the three-year jail term of his assistant Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy.

Weeks later, 50-year-old blogger Nguyen Dinh Ngoc had his sentence reduced from four years to three.

They are among scores of dissidents in jail in the one-party state where private media is banned and where critics are regularly subject to arbitrary arrest and detention.

Quynh, a member of the independent Network of Vietnamese Bloggers, was awarded the 2015 Civil Rights Defender of the Year by a Sweden-based international advocacy group.

She is accused of violating Article 88 of the criminal code, which rights groups have said is vaguely worded and used to silence dissent. The charge carries a maximum sentence of 20 years.

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Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.