BANGKOK — The outspoken Vietnamese journalist and activist Pham Doan Trang knew it was solely a matter of time earlier than the police got here for her.
She wrote a letter final 12 months and gave it to an American buddy with directions to launch it upon her arrest. In the letter, she requested that her associates not simply marketing campaign for her freedom however use her incarceration to struggle at no cost elections and an finish to single-party rule in Vietnam.
“I don’t want freedom for just myself; that’s too easy,” wrote Ms. Pham, 42, who has walked with issue since a police beating in 2015. “I want something greater: freedom for Vietnam.”
Shortly earlier than midnight on Oct. 6, the police raided her house in Ho Chi Minh City and arrested her on costs of constructing and disseminating propaganda towards the Vietnamese state. She faces as much as 20 years in jail.
Ms. Pham is among the most distinguished critics to have been arrested lately by Vietnam’s Communist regime, which has lengthy made a apply of harassing, beating and imprisoning outspoken activists.
The widespread use of smartphones and the web in Vietnam has meant that daring activists and journalists like Ms. Pham can independently publish tales wherein they uncover corruption or expose malfeasance. But that additionally places an enormous goal on their backs.
“She is the kind of prolific writer and thinker the Vietnamese government does not want to be free,” stated Phil Robertson, the deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch. “They are going to throw the book at her and she is not going to compromise.”
The Communist Party has lengthy feared that free speech would undermine its maintain on energy, and it has constructed a big equipment to stifle dissent. Activists say Ms. Pham’s arrest was seemingly prompted by the social gathering’s upcoming congress in January, which happens each 5 years.
At a time when Vietnam has repositioned itself as a strategic American ally and essential world manufacturing hub, the authorities are newly emboldened to crack down on dissent with little concern of repercussions. They have additionally been invigorated by a United States administration that has broadly ignored human rights abuses.
Human Rights Watch estimates that Vietnam has jailed at the least 130 political prisoners, greater than some other nation in Southeast Asia.
Just 4 years in the past, then-President Barack Obama made human rights in Vietnam a precedence. During a 2016 go to, he invited Ms. Pham and different dissidents to satisfy with him publicly. But the police stored her from attending by detaining her.
The Trump administration has not prioritized human rights in Vietnam in the identical approach. The police arrested Ms. Pham hours after the 2 governments held their 24th annual “Human Rights Dialogue.”
After Amnesty International, the Committee to Protect Journalists and different teams known as for her launch, the State Department on Saturday pressed Vietnam to set Ms. Pham free.
“The United States condemns the arrest of writer, democracy, and human rights activist Pham Doan Trang,” Robert A. Destro, the assistant secretary of state for human rights, stated in a assertion. “We urge the Government of Vietnam to immediately release her and drop all charges.”
Ms. Pham started her profession as a journalist, however in a rustic the place most media is state-controlled, she chafed on the restrictions.
In her 2019 e book “Politics of a Police State,” she wrote in regards to the continuous harassment she had suffered for a decade as a author and activist.
The police as soon as put glue in her house door lock so she couldn’t depart, she wrote. They positioned her beneath home arrest, publicly posted intimate images taken from her pc and stole her id playing cards.
She left the nation in 2013, however she was not blissful in exile.
“It’s really hard to watch from outside what happens in Vietnam,” she stated on the time. “It makes me feel helpless.”
She returned to Vietnam in 2015, and had lived in hiding since 2017.
In addition to the upcoming Congress, Ms. Pham’s arrest may additionally have been prompted by a report she co-wrote final month difficult the official account of a lethal police raid in Dong Tam village, close to Hanoi.
In Vietnam, all land is owned by the state, and officers have the ability to grab prime parcels and provides them to their cronies or overseas corporations, a apply that fuels corruption. The dispute within the village started in 2015 when officers transferred 145 acres to the nation’s largest telecommunications firm, the government-owned Viettel Corp., however residents refused to surrender their land.
During a confrontation in 2017, villagers held 19 police and safety officers captive for every week.
In January of this 12 months, about three,000 officers raided the village. The 84-year-old village head, Le Dinh Kinh, a lifelong Communist Party member who had led the opposition to the land seizure, was shot and killed by the police. Three law enforcement officials additionally died. The authorities arrested 29 villagers on homicide or obstruction costs.
In their report, Ms. Pham and her co-author challenged the official declare that Mr. Le had been holding a hand grenade when the police shot him. In reality, they wrote, he had been holding a cane.
Since the report’s launch, three different contributors have been arrested, activists stated. Another creator, the American activist Will Nguyen, was beforehand deported from Vietnam, in 2018, after being compelled to make a video confession that was proven on tv.
It was Mr. Nguyen who launched Ms. Pham’s letter final week foretelling her arrest.
“Trang has been a thorn in the government’s side for a long time, and the authorities have been hunting her down since 2017,” Mr. Nguyen stated in an e-mail.
“At heart, she has an acute sense of justice and a profound love for Vietnam,” he stated. “She wishes for it to be better, even if it means sacrificing her freedom and herself.”
Ms. Pham additionally reported on a 2016 environmental catastrophe precipitated when a Taiwanese-owned metal manufacturing facility discharged poisonous waste into the ocean alongside a stretch of Vietnam’s central coast.
Other activists who wrote in regards to the catastrophe landed in jail, together with Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, a blogger higher referred to as Mother Mushroom, who was later launched and allowed to fly to the United States.
In a 2016 interview with The New York Times, Ms. Pham predicted that the authorities’ effort to intimidate activists by imprisoning Mother Mushroom would fail.
“She has a lot of supporters,” Ms. Pham stated. “Many of them will replace her or follow in her path.”
Perhaps she was already pondering forward to the probability of her personal incarceration.
In her letter, titled “Just in case I am imprisoned,” she informed associates to not consider the police in the event that they claimed she had confessed.
She requested for a motion to not “free Trang,” however to “free Trang and ensure free and fair elections.”
“No one wants to sit in prison,” she wrote. “But if prison is inevitable for freedom fighters, if prison can serve a predetermined purpose, then we should happily accept it.”