Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, the Vietnamese blogger who received the International Women of Courage Award from first lady Melania Trump in March, has been sentenced to 10 years in prison by the Hanoi government for the activities that earned her the honor, her laywer says.
The government found Quynh, also known as Mother Mushroom and Me Nam, guilty under Article 88 of the 1999 penal code — "conducting propaganda against the State of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam." She faced a maximum prison sentence of 12 years under the vaguely worded law that has drawn international condemnation for the range it allows the government in suppressing dissent.
Quynh, 37, had been detained on the current charges since Oct. 10, 2016, after posting about people dying in police custody.
Nguyen Kha Thanh, one of Quynh's three defense attorneys, called the verdict "too harsh, much more than a verdict to murder offender."
"It's not fair for Mother Mushroom from the beginning, based on two points," lawyer Ha Huy Son, whose request to assist Quynh's defense was denied by court officials, told VOA's Vietnamese Service. "First, the court doesn't respect defendant's right of having her lawyers. Second, the court used surveyors report to conclude the defendant guilty before trial."
In Vietnam, surveyors are government employees, tasked to review materials, especially "abstract materials," such as books and blog entries, to determine whether the content runs afoul of the legal code.
Nguyen Thi Tuyet Lan, Quynh's mother, recounted her daughter's last statements at trial: "She [said she] has the right to express her thoughts on Facebook because she has sent many suggestions for better [society], but did not receive any reply from the authorities."
Lan then told VOA that her daughter called the charges biased and requested continued supervision by any international rights organization.
"I'm sorry, Mum. But if given a choice, I'd still do it the same," Quynh announced to the court, aware that her mother was in attendance.
In March, she was one of 13 women to receive an International Women of Courage Award from the United States, which the first lady presented.
"Together, with the international community, the United States must send a clear message that we are watching. It is therefore our duty to continue to shine the light on each miraculous victory achieved by women — all capable of trying, truly leading the change to fight for those that cannot fight for themselves," said Trump.
Quynh, a founder of Vietnam's influential Human Rights Bloggers Network, was the only honoree unable to attend the Washington, D.C., ceremony. She spent the day in a Khanh Hoa Province prison.
The United States recognized Quynh for “her bravery for raising civil society issues, inspiring peaceful change, calling for greater government transparency and access to fundamental human rights, and for being voice of freedom of expression," said Grace Choi, a spokeswoman for the State Department’s East Asia-Pacific Office, at the time of the award.
Despite major reforms in Vietnam's economy and a growing acceptance of social change, the ruling Communist Party retains tight media control and exhibits zero tolerance for criticism.
Quynh, who began blogging as Mother Mushroom in 2006, has been a persistent critic.
Among her recent campaigns, she blogged about the government's handling of a chemical spill at the Formosa Ha Tinh Steel Corporation. The April 2016 Ha Tinh fish kill is widely seen as having raised environmental awareness and activism among Vietnamese.
In March 2009, Quynh spent nine days in police detention for receiving funds from Viet Tan, a California-based activist group, to print T-shirts carrying slogans against a major bauxite project in the Central Highlands, police said.
Hanoi declared Viet Tan "a terrorist organization" and warned that any Vietnamese found to be involved with the group would be regarded as co-conspirators and punished.
In March 2016, Hanoi's People's Court sentenced Nguyen Huu Vinh, founder of the news website and aggregator Ba Sam, and Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy, his editorial assistant, to five and three years respectively for "abusing democratic freedoms." The trial lasted less than one day.
That same month the court sentenced blogger Nguyen Ngoc Gia, also known as Nguyen Dinh Ngoc, to four years in prison and three years of probation for "propagandizing" against the state.
In March 2014, a court in Danang, Vietnam's third-largest city, sentenced prominent blogger and human rights defender Truong Duy Nhat to two years in prison for "abusing democratic freedoms."
This report originated in VOA's Vietnamese Service.