Jailed activist honoured by the United States

Quynh (on the right) appears to have antagonised the government by her involvement in environmental campaigns.

The detained Vietnamese blogger known as Mother Mushroom has been honoured by the United States as one of 13 international women of courage.

Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh was the only recipient not able to attend the ceremony, which was hosted by the First Lady, Melania Trump, and the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Thomas Shannon.

Quynh has been held incommunicado since her arrest last October on charges of spreading propaganda against the state, under Article 88 of the penal code.

“We admire her for refusing to be silenced and her defence of freedom of expression,” said Mr Shannon.

“Nguyen is being honoured for her resoluteness to expose injustices and corruption and using her voice to stand up for the protection of people’s rights and freedoms,” he said, to applause from the assembled guests.

The United States and other Western countries have called for Quynh’s release before, but the State Department has highlighted the case anew by honouring the blogger in this way.

The ceremony in Washington will give some encouragement to beleaguered activists and human rights campaigners in Vietnam, who had feared that the United States under the Trump administration was losing interest in their cause.

Exceptional courage

Quynh is perhaps the best known of the independent bloggers rounded up by the Vietnamese government in recent months, as it tightens its crackdown on critical voices.

She was taken from her home in Nha Trang by a large retinue of police officers after she began to campaign on behalf of the victims of last year’s chemical spill from the Formosa steel plant off the central coast.

“Nguyen has been held incommunicado at a detention centre since October after exposing a toxic waste dump, one of the worst environmental disasters in Vietnam’s history,” said Mr Shannon.

The State Department award honours those who have demonstrated exceptional courage, strength and leadership to advance the lives of others.

The Vietnamese government’s intolerance of diverse views was underlined by the fact that Quynh was the only one of the 13 women not free to attend the ceremony.

The US ambassador to Hanoi, Ted Osius, backed up the award with a statement of his own, praising the blogger for her bravery for raising civil society issues, inspiring peaceful change and for her calls for freedom of expression.

Quynh faces the prospect of a long period in detention, without access to her family or lawyers, before being brought to trial.

Other bloggers arrested on the same charge have been sentenced to substantial prison terms following prolonged periods of detention.