Vietnamese journalist and human rights activist Pham Doan Trang was sentenced to nine years in prison by a Hanoi court on Tuesday over her conviction of “conducting propaganda against the state.”
In their verdict, the judges ruled that Trang’s actions were harmful to society because she had acted “with the intention of violating the socialist regime” and that she should face harsher punishment.
“It was such a long sentence, close to the maximum term for such activities,” one of her lawyers, Nguyen Van Mieng, said Trang did not plead guilty at the trial but that they would later discuss a possible appeal.
Trang, who published material widely on human rights and alleged police brutality in Vietnam, wrote to Human Rights Watch before her trial that the government of Vietnam had responded in a “heinous manner” to citizens who wrote unpleasant things about the government.
“The longer the prison sentence, the more demonstrable the authoritarian, undemocratic, and anti-democratic nature of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam,” the activist stated.
Trang, 43, was arrested in Ho Chi Minh City just hours after an annual human rights dialogue between the United States and Vietnam last year, and subsequently transported to Hanoi.
According to Human Rights Watch, Trang was detained for more than a year in pretrial detention after being charged for “propagandizing against the socialist of Vietnam” without having access to a lawyer.
It claimed that Trang has been “frequently persecuted, harassed, and physically assaulted” by the security forces, citing her arrest in 2009, where she was detained for nine days due to “national security reasons.”
In May 2016, police detained and prevented Trang from attending a meeting with then-President Barack Obama, who had invited her to join him at an activists’ forum. Two years later, she was detained after meeting a European delegation that was preparing for an annual EU-Vietnam human rights dialogue.
Robertson, Deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement that the prosecution of Trang showed “how fearful they [the Vietnamese authorities] are of popular, critical voices.”
The United States also condemned the sentencing of Trang and called for her release. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in a statement that Trang’s detention was a “contravention of Vietnam’s international human rights commitments and obligations.”
“The United States calls on the Vietnamese government to release Trang, who has been recognized internationally for her work to advance human rights and good governance in Vietnam, and to allow all individuals in Vietnam to express their views freely and without fear of retaliation,” Price said.
Reuters contributed to this report.