Activist could face long jail term

Tran Thi Nga campaigned for the release of Me Nam (Mother Mushroom) before her own arrest in January.

Rights campaigners are concerned that the authorities are preparing to impose another heavy sentence on a prominent activist this week.

Tran Thi Nga goes on trial in a court near Hanoi charged with conducting propaganda against the state under Article 88 of the penal code.

She could face a similar penalty to the ten year jail term imposed on the blogger, Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, known as Me Nam or Mother Mushroom, who was convicted on the same charge last month.

“The Vietnamese government consistently goes to extremes to silence its critics, targeting activists like Tran Thi Nga with bogus charges that carry a long prison sentence, and subjecting their families to harassment and abuse,” said Phil Robertson, Deputy Asia Director of Human Rights Watch.

He called on foreign aid donors to use their leverage to push for her release.

Nga was arrested in January, the latest in a series of independent bloggers and activists to be targeted by the authorities.

Campaign of intimidation

State media reported that she was arrested for posting a number of articles and videos on the internet which were critical of the government.

She faces a maximum sentence of 12 years in prison if convicted on the charge, which is one of a number of provisions used by the Communist party to silence its critics.

Nga is a labour rights activist, who has also campaigned against police brutality and land confiscations.

She had been subjected to a campaign of intimidation before her arrest, including violent assaults by thugs thought to be working as police auxiliaries.

The move to press formal criminal charges against her came after she expressed support for the environmental campaign against the Formosa steel company, an acutely sensitive issue for a government easily spooked by mass popular movements.

Tran Thi Nga’s supporters have staged small scale rallies in an attempt to show solidarity with her plight.

The authorities, however, have shown no signs of leniency in recent months, despite appeals from western governments that they should respect rights to free expression guaranteed in their own constitution and international agreements.