Bärbel Kofler, Human Rights Commissioner of the Federal Government, issued the following statement today (30 November) on the appeal court ruling against popular Vietnamese blogger and human rights activist Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh (Mother Mushroom):
I am saddened and outraged that the prison sentence against blogger and activist Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh has been upheld. She is to go to prison for ten years because she exercised her right of freedom of opinion - a right guaranteed by the Vietnamese constitution. This ruling contravenes international treaties on civil and political rights, which Viet Nam itself has ratified.
Ms Quynh spoke out against social injustice and corruption. As a journalist, she raised awareness about the large number of unexplained deaths in prison or police custody. She also worked tirelessly in support of the fishermen and their families affected by an environmental disaster in central Viet Nam.
Her arrest and trial, and the ruling against her, are all the more incomprehensible as the focus of her work was precisely on those areas where the Vietnamese government itself sees the most urgent need for reform, namely administrative law and procedures, the environment and consumer protection. There is no doubt in my mind that the aim of truly modernising the country cannot be achieved without civic engagement and greater transparency.
Unfortunately, however, the decision of the appeal court fits all too well with the many arrests and convictions, police harassment and attacks - including physical violence - against journalists, bloggers, activists and lawyers in the past months. Freedom of opinion and of the press in Viet Nam - and those who fight for it - have been subjected to an unprecedented level of state run attacks in 2017. I call on the Vietnamese government to release Ms Quynh and numerous other political prisoners, to respect basic rights guaranteed by the constitution and to uphold rule of law procedures.
Ms Quynh is one of the best-known bloggers in Viet Nam and writes under the pen name Mother Mushroom. She was declared 2015 Civil Rights Defender of the Year by the eponymous Swedish NGO. Following her arrest in October 2016, she was presented in absentia with the International Women of Courage Award by US First Lady Melania Trump in March 2017.
In her posts, Quynh focuses on social problems, government mismanagement, environmental pollution, and detention conditions. Most recently, Quynh was actively engaged in the fight to defend the rights of fishermen in central Viet Nam who were affected by an environmental disaster caused by industrial waste. Ms Quynh criticised, among other things, the inaction of government authorities when faced with financially powerful environmental polluters. She also campaigned for imprisoned activists and their families.
It is especially for her environmental protection efforts that Ms Quynh and her family have suffered a large number of reprisals since the autumn of 2016. These have included attempts at public humiliation in her local community. On 10 October 2016, Ms Quynh’s house was searched by dozens of police officers and she herself was arrested. At the end of June 2017, she was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment.
The European Union, Germany, the United States and other countries have lobbied intensively in recent months in support of Ms Quynh – with statements, during official meetings and through the EU-Viet Nam Human Rights Dialogue. Frank Schwabe, a Member of the German Bundestag, is campaigning for Ms Quynh’s release as part of the programme “Parliamentarians protect Parliamentarians”.