We learned of this Vietnamese journalist’s arrest exactly six months ago. Plainclothes policemen arrested her at her Ho Chi Minh City home on the night of 6 October 2020. There has been no news of her since then. She has not been allowed to talk to a lawyer or her family. She is facing up to 20 years in prison under article 117 of the penal code on a charge of “anti-state propaganda.”
To help draw the international public’s attention to Trang’s fate, RSF asked other past recipients of its Press Freedom Prize to send video messages expressing support for their Vietnamese colleague.
“The surge of solidarity with Pham Doan Trang shows the Vietnamese authorities that the world is watching them, that a journalist they don’t like cannot be jailed with impunity,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk. “The Vietnamese Communist Party’s current leadership, which controls the government, needs to understand that history will hold them to account for the crackdown on press freedom they launched several years ago. They can save face by freeing Pham Doan Trang and all of the other unjustly detained journalists.”
Tomasz Piatek, a Polish journalist who received the RSF Prize in 2017, used his online programme “Coming to the truth” to address Vietnam’s leaders: “I don’t know what to call you… Leaders., ringleaders, commanders, bosses, godfathers… I am asking you to release my friend from prison immediately and stop harassing and tormenting her for writing the truth. If you want to present yourself to the world as politicians and leaders of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, you must immediately stop harassing your citizens and give your citizens the right to the truth.”
Duty as citizens
“Nobody wants you to speak truth to power,” says Swati Chaturvedi, an Indian journalist who received the RSF Prize for courage in 2018. “Journalists are being jailed, activists are being jailed. RSF stands for the fight of all journalists. Please help and speak out for my colleague, my Vietnamese colleague Pham Doan Trang, who is in jail right now. Please support RSF and press freedom.”
Can Dündar, a Turkish journalist and documentary filmmaker who used to edit the Turkish daily Cumhuriyet and who received the RSF Prize in 2016, recalls the ceremony as which Trang was awarded the prize.
“I attended the award ceremony in Berlin in 2019 to which she couldn’t come because the Vietnamese authorities wanted to set conditions on Trang for her to leave the country. She sent a powerful message saying that she hoped the award would encourage other journalists to become more committed to pursuing truth, justice and human rights in Vietnam. I ask Vietnamese authorities to release her and to respect the freedom of the media.”
“Pham Doan Trang has been charged with disseminating information that opposed the state of Vietnam,” said Inday Espina-Varona, a Filipina journalist who was awarded RSF’s Prize for Independence in 2018. “But it is every journalist and citizen’s obligation to criticise and when necessary to oppose policies and actions inimical to the welfare and rights of people. And it is also the duty of journalists and citizens wherever we are in the world to stand up when those who seek to do the right thing are battered for their efforts.”
RSF launched an international awareness campaign in support of Trang two months after her arrest. It included a petition for her immediate and unconditional release and a video in which five Vietnamese dissident bloggers and journalists based in Germany, France, Taiwan and the United States took advantage of their exile to express their solidarity with Trang and say what their colleagues still in Vietnam cannot say without risking long jail terms.
Vietnam has languished for years near the bottom of RSF's World Press Freedom Index and is ranked 175th out of 180 countries in the 2020 Index.