The confirmation on Thursday of a ten-year jail term for the blogger known as Mother Mushroom has highlighted the Communist government’s utter disregard for foreign criticism of its human rights record.
The 38-year-old blogger and single mother of two young children, Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, has generated a wave of support and sympathy from around the world, with the United States and the European Union leading calls for her release.
However, an upper court in the southern coastal province of Khanh Hoa upheld her conviction for spreading propaganda against the state in a brief hearing that was condemned as a “farce” by some government critics.
Quynh was arrested in October last year as the police cracked down on bloggers and other activists who had taken up the cause of fishermen suffering losses from the Formosa environmental disaster off the north-central coast.
Quynh’s mother and other supporters were prevented by police from entering the court, leading to scuffles outside and some arrests.
Quynh’s treatment is emerging as a potent symbol, at home and abroad, of the government’s intolerance of dissent and determination to silence its most vocal critics.
The U.S. Charge d’Affaires Caryn McClelland condemned the court’s decision, saying that individuals should be able to express their views freely.
“The trend of increased arrests, convictions, and harsh sentences of peaceful activists and students since early 2016 is deeply troubling,” she said.
The head of the EU delegation, Bruno Angelot, said the sentence directly contradicted Vietnam’s own commitments under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
He also noted the authorities’ decision to revoke the license of own of Quynh’s defence lawyers, Vo An Don. The move is seen as a sign that the government is seeking new ways to intimidate and silence against human rights activists.
The rejection of Quynh’s appeal came the day before an EU delegation was due to sit down with Vietnamese officials for their annual “human rights dialogue”.
Foreign diplomats struggle to point to any positive effects emanating from such encounters, as the Vietnamese government becomes increasingly contemptuous of attempts to influence its internal policies.
The failure of President Trump to make a stand on human rights during in Vietnam is seen by some as a key factor in Hanoi’s new zest for repression.
“Not raising human rights with Vietnam is like giving leaders in Hanoi a green light to commit more and they have not hesitated for a second,” said Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch.
“With many governments and donors having shamelessly fallen silent on human rights, Hanoi is going after the opinion leaders like Mother Mushroom first, with the hope that chopping down her and other prominent dissident heroes will intimidate rank and file activists to halt their activities,” he added.