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Vietnam blogger ‘Mother Mushroom’ on trial

June 29, 2017

A prominent Vietnamese blogger known as ‘Mother Mushroom’ went on trial Thursday for anti-state propaganda, a court clerk said, as rights groups decried the charges as “outrageous” and demanded her immediate release.

Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, whose penname derives from her daughter’s nickname “mushroom”, was arrested in October 2016 for critical Facebook posts about politics and the environment.

Vietnam’s one-party state keeps a tight clamp on dissent and routinely jails activists, bloggers and lawyers who speak out against the communist regime.

A court clerk confirmed Quynh’s trial started Thursday morning, speaking to AFP on condition of anonymity.

Quynh’s mother, who was allowed to briefly see her daughter Wednesday for the first time since she was detained, said she has little hope for a verdict of not guilty.

“My daughter has done nothing wrong, but they have been so brutal and repressive,” Nguyen Thi Tuyet Lan said.

AFP was banned from attending the trial in the south-central province of Khanh Hoa, and photos on Facebook showed the courthouse heavily guarded by police.

Quynh was a vocal critic of Vietnam’s human rights record, civilian deaths in police custody and the government’s handling of a toxic leak that killed tonnes of fish last year.

She was arrested in Nha Trang on October 10 as she was visiting a fellow activist in prison.

She was charged under Article 88 of Vietnam’s criminal code and held incommunicado with no access to lawyers until June 20, according to her attorney Nguyen Kha Thanh.

New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) urged authorities to release the 37-year-old blogger this week, calling the trial “outrageous”.

“The scandal here is not what Mother Mushroom said, but Hanoi’s stubborn refusal to repeal draconian, rights-abusing laws that punish peaceful dissent and tarnish Vietnam’s international reputation,” Phil Robertson, HRW deputy Asia director said in a statement Wednesday.

The United States, Britain and the European Union have all called for Quynh’s release.

She received an International Woman of Courage Award from the US State Department in March, which Vietnam said was “not appropriate and of no benefit for the development of relations between the two countries”.

In 2015, Quynh was awarded the Civil Rights Defender of the Year by a Sweden-based international advocacy group.

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