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Vietnamese human rights journalist’s appeal set for Aug. 25

The appeal hearing for a journalist, jailed for nine years for “anti-state propaganda” will take place in two weeks’ time.

One of Pham Doan Trang’s lawyers told RFA the outcome depends on whether or not she pleads guilty at Hanoi’s High People’s Court on Aug. 25.

Trang, 44, was jailed in Dec. last year for breaching Article 88 of the 1999 Penal Code, which is often used to silence activists.

Her appeal will be held at the headquarters of the high court in Hanoi’s Cau Giay district.

Ngo Anh Tuan was one of the lawyers who defended Trang in her original trial and will also represent her at the appeal hearing.

He said his client has always asserted her innocence so he thinks it is unlikely the sentence will be reduced.

“Ms. Trang has pleaded not guilty from the outset, up until now,” he told RFA. “We agree with her. In the defense’s view Ms. Trang is not guilty so there is no need to ask for a reduction in the sentence.”

“The probability of the first-instance judgment being upheld is over 90% because, in cases like this as we’ve shown many times, it’s about attitude.”

“That means if our clients ask for mercy, it’s likely to be acceptable. However, if they don’t ask for mercy the possibility of upholding the sentence is very high. Ms. Trang’s case is no exception.”

The activist’s mother, Bui Thi Thien Can, told reporters she did not know if she would be able to attend the public appeals court, even though she was at the original hearing, because she doesn’t think it will achieve anything.

“If it was other countries they would probably have a bit of respect for international pressure but the Vietnamese communists are very stubborn,” she said.

“As soon as Trang was arrested, as well as before the first-instance hearing, many foreign embassies called on Vietnam to release Trang immediately and unconditionally, but the regime ignored them.”

Can said her daughter has not been allowed to see her relatives since her arrest more than 22 months ago. They have also been refused permission to send her meals, which is allowed in many cases. Instead they have to buy it from the detention center’s canteen for the Hanoi police to give to her.

Trang is accused of “making, storing and circulating documents and articles with content aimed at opposing the State of Vietnam,” between Nov. 2017 and Dec. 2018, according to the original indictment.

Trang is also accused of possessing documents titled: “A Brief Report on Vietnam’s marine environmental disaster,” “General assessment of the human rights situation in Vietnam,” and “Report on a review of the 2016 law on religion and belief related to exercising the right to freedom of religion and belief in Vietnam.”

The Hanoi People’s Procuratorate said the documents contained “psychological warfare rhetoric, spreading fabricated news to cause confusion among the people, and propagating disinformation about guidelines and policies of the State of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.”

Trang is also accused of giving interviews to foreign broadcasters such as the BBC Vietnamese Service and Radio Free Asia containing “content that distorts the State’s policies.”

Trang co-founded Luat Khoa, an English-language magazine and newspaper. She also wrote many political books such as “Politics for Ordinary Citizens” and “Handbook for Prisoners’ Families.” She also worked at one point for the state-controlled VietnamNet newswire.

She was arrested on Oct. 6, 2020, just hours after the annual Vietnam-U.S. Human Rights Dialogue.

The arrest was related to her co-authoring the Dong Tam Report, published in English and Vietnamese. She wrote  about land disputes in Hanoi’s Dong Tam commune and the raid by some 3,000 police in the early hours of Jan.9, 2020, leading to the death of spiritual leader Le Dinh Kinh and the arrests of dozens of people.

Trang has been detained and beaten by the Vietnamese police many times.

After being beaten by security forces during a protest against the Hanoi government’s felling of thousands of old trees in Hanoi’s city center in May 2015, her leg was broken and she had to use crutches.

Trang’s mother said her daughter was beaten many times during the investigation both by investigating officers and fellow prisoners. Trang suffers from heavy and prolonged menstrual bleeding, or menorrhagia, low blood pressure, and leg pain, but does not receive adequate medical treatment.

Trang has been awarded many prestigious international awards for her activities in promoting human rights and freedom of the press, including the U.S. State Department’s International Women of Courage Award and the Press Freedom Prize from Reporters Without Borders. She also won the Homo Homini (human to human) Award from the Czech Republic’s People in Need, the Media Freedom Award 2022 presented by the Canadian and U.K. governments, last year’s Martin Ennals Award for championing freedom of expression and this year’s International Press Freedom Award from the Committee to Protect Journalists.