Pham Doan Trang: Mother comes to Geneva to receive the human rights award on behalf of her daughter

The Vietnamese delegation to lobby for Ms. Pham Doan Trang in Geneva included Ms. Tran Quynh Vi, Ms. Bui Thi Thien Can, and Mr. Will Nguyen.

Ms. Bui Thi Thien Can, 81 years old, Pham Doan Trang’s mother, activist Will Nguyen and co-founder of Luat Khoa magazine Tran Quynh Vi went to Geneva, Switzerland to campaign for Ms. Trang.

Speaking to BBC News Vietnamese, Ms. Can said: “I am extremely proud of my daughter’s courage and contribution to the democratization of the country.”

In January 2022, the 2022 Martin Ennals Award for human rights defenders was presented to Doan Trang, Daouda Diallo in Burkina Faso, and Abdul-Hadi Al-Khawaja in Bahrain.

The January 19 announcement said Pham Doan Trang was “a leading journalist, editor and democracy activist in Vietnam, where the Communist Party leaves little room for opposition voices.”

The Martin Ennals award ceremony will take place on June 2, and Mrs. Bui Thi Thien Can receive this award on behalf of her daughter, journalist Doan Trang.

On the occasion of this Martin Ennals human rights award ceremony, a human rights advocacy delegation for Vietnam went to Geneva including Ms. Trang’s mother, activist Will Nguyen, and Ms. Tran Quynh Vi, Co-Director of Legal Initiative for Vietnam.

Campaign goals

Answering BBC News Vietnamese on May 26, activist Will Nguyen emphasized that journalist Pham Doan Trang had been imprisoned for nearly 20 months without being allowed to contact the outside world, except for defense lawyers.

According to information on the Luat Khoa Tap Chi (Legal Initiative of Vietnam Journal), on the sidelines of the award ceremony, the delegation will meet representatives of United Nations agencies as well as international organizations and international press in Geneva in the coming weeks.

Regarding the content of working in Geneva, Mr. Will Nguyen, representative of the delegation, pointed out:

Our main goal is for Trang’s mother to receive the prestigious Martin Ennals Prize on Trang’s behalf, known as the ‘Nobel Prize for human rights.’”

Such a great honor deserved an in-person delegation, and we could not imagine anyone better suited for such a delegation than Trang’s mother; her strength in the face of her daughter’s unjust imprisonment and her will to fight for her daughter’s freedom should be witnessed by the world,” Mr. Will shared.

In addition, the delegation representative also said that they are asking the various NGOs, delegations, and representatives they meet to put pressure on the Vietnamese government on three main points:

  1. Provide adequate and immediate medical care for Ms. Trang’s disability;
  2. Grant family visitation rights (no one in Trang’s family has been able to see her since her arrest, only Trang’s lawyer);
  3. Free Trang;

Afraid as Trang can’t wait

On October 7, 2020, Ms. Pham Doan Trang was arrested. On December 14, 2021, she was sentenced to nine years in prison for “conducting propaganda against the state.”

In the letter she left before going to prison, Ms. Trang wrote:

If there is a campaign to release me, please start from the 3rd or 4th year (from the time of arrest), and please pay close attention to linking all campaigns to the implementation of the purposes I stated.”

In the letter, she also said: “I don’t want my own freedom; it’s too easy.”

On the issue of advocacy in Geneva for less than 3 years, Will Nguyen explained:

I think Trang will forgive us for acting sooner, especially as Trang’s health continues to decline. In any case, such advocacy must begin early as results for the advocacy campaigns will often come months or years after that.”

During more than a year in detention, Ms. Pham Doan Trang has never been able to meet her family.

She only met her lawyers once on October 19, 2021, more than a year after her arrest.

The arrest of journalist Pham Doan Trang: Initial reactions from international and Vietnamese

Blogger Pham Doan Trang is an honorary member of PEN, Germany

Lawyer Luan Le, one of her lawyers who was in contact with Ms. Pham Doan Trang, said about her health, Ms. Trang’s legs still hurt because the cold weather made her bones and joints more painful, because a few years ago she was injured by a police attack during a peaceful demonstration on an environmental issue.

She said, from the time she was detained, and until now, she has been bleeding a lot (women) continuously for up to 15 days a month, plus low blood pressure, so she is quite tired and obviously she said was showing signs of a tumor (she was examined by a doctor who said she had a cyst) without any examination and treatment, and with this condition, she lost 10 pounds, from 58kg to 48kg),” attorney Luan Le wrote.

Pham Doan Trang at the court hearing on December 14, 2021

And lawyer Ngo Anh Tuan said:

Ms. Trang was once in solitary confinement, but then was incarcerated with other common criminals. Life in the cell was very harsh, she had to fight seven times, but she happily said that she was the winner, even the weaker ones.”

Commenting to the BBC on May 26, an unnamed activist who worked with Trang said:

It is possible that Trang’s relatives and friends feel that Trang’s physical and mental health is not too weak. It should be remembered that, in 2015, Pham Doan Trang participated in a peaceful protest, and both her legs were broken by the police. Then there were other crackdowns such as in August 2018, when Trang was beaten again by police officers who also broke her helmet, causing her brain injury. During their time in prison, the lawyers also talked about her health. Trang’s condition deteriorated a lot and she did not receive proper medical treatment, so I think everyone is afraid that Trang won’t wait 3 or 4 years as she wants.”

Peaceful and radical struggle

In recent years, many people believe that the Vietnamese democracy movement is getting darker and darker when many famous activists are arrested and imprisoned. Protests for democracy and human rights issues are no longer active, and movements such as self-nomination for parliament, environmental protection, or China issues have gradually lost interest.

Along with the suppression of democracy movements in Hong Kong, the imprisonment of Myanmar’s democracy icon – Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi, many people have little faith in democracy and freedom in general in the world and in Vietnam in particular.

For example, prominent names such as Pham Doan Trang, Can Thi Theu, Trinh Ba Phuong, Trinh Ba Tu, and Nguyen Thuy Hanh… were imprisoned and sentenced to lengthy sentences.

However, Mr. Will Nguyen has a different opinion, he thinks that the campaign he is representing for Ms. Pham Doan Trang is highly positive.

Injustice thrives on silence, and so we will continue to speak up. In a nutshell, as Ms. Nguyen Thi Dinh is, ‘there is no other way to go.’ So, as long as we continue to believe that the Vietnamese people deserve their constitutional rights, we will continue to advocate.”

We will not be silent.” Mr. Will confirmed.

On social networks, through Ms. Trang’s articles, books, and activities, some opinions believe that journalist Pham Doan Trang is too radical. She chose the way of direct struggle, ie confronting the regime, government, and the state of Vietnam instead of taking a peaceful approach. And in the current Vietnamese social context, Ms. Trang’s approach only leads to imprisonment and repression.

Besides, there are also opinions supporting Pham Doan Trang’s way of fighting. An unnamed activist from Saigon told the BBC:

In a process to fight for something, it takes a lot of people with diverse approaches. Some people choose moderates, some people choose extremes, not those who choose moderates as cowards or people who choose extremes. Because no matter what they choose, they all have the same goal of making a better society. With people like Trang, I hope that people will remember in the future, as a very beautiful saying I once heard, those are the very small and slow changes that we are enjoying with each passing year, coming from the people who dared to hammer injustice and often pay the price for it, not the people who always raise the flag of peace.”

Pham Doan Trang won the Press Freedom Award, Influence category, of Reporters Without Borders, 2019

The Martin Ennals Awards are held annually to recognize the efforts of human rights activists around the world and advocate for their protection.

The award was established in 1992, named after Martin Ennals, a British human rights activist who served as Secretary-General of Amnesty International from 1968 to 1980.

In addition to the above award, in February 2022, Ms. Pham Doan Trang was awarded the Media Freedom award by Canada and the UK (Media Freedom 2022) of the two countries while she was imprisoned.

In September 2019, journalist Pham Doan Trang was awarded the Press Freedom Award by Reporters Without Borders, the category “Influence.”

In 2018, Ms. Trang also received the 2018 Homo Homini Award from the Czech-based human rights organization People In Need. (Translated)

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