Two weeks after receiving the Homo Homini human rights award from the Prague-based NGO People in Need, Trang was detained on 24 February when she went to Hanoi to celebrate the Têt (Lunar New Year) with her mother. The Hanoi police arrived unannounced at her mother’s home and took Pham Doan Trang away without showing a warrant.
After being held for 23 hours, she was returned home where she is now under de facto house arrest with the Internet and electricity disconnected and police officers deployed around the apartment.
When the police picked her up, they reportedly told her they needed her to “work” with them on the question of her newly-published book, entitled “Chính Trị Bình Dân” (Politics for All). After returning her to her mother’s home, they ordered her not to leave because they would need to “work” with her again during the days to come. The warning has fuelled concern that she could be formally arrested in the next few days.
“What with arbitrary detention and house arrest without the least formality, the Vietnamese authorities are no longer making any attempt to conceal their persecution of press freedom under the usual veneer of legality,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk.
“The arrest of someone such as Pham Doan Trang, who has been praised internationally for the courage and quality of her published writing, represents a new level in the Vietnamese government’s drive to suppress independent journalists and bloggers. The international community should immediately draw the appropriate conclusions.”
In particular, RSF calls on the European Parliament to freeze ratification of the free trade agreement between the Europe Union and Vietnam that was supposed to be approved in the coming months and come into effect by the end of the year.
After the European Parliament’s adoption of an emergency resolution in December, condemning Vietnam’s crackdown, it would be a disgrace if the EU were to go ahead with this agreement with a country that in recent months has become one of the world’s worst enemies of the freedom to inform.
The United Nations has expressed similar concerns. Last week, several UN special rapporteurs called for the release of Vietnamese citizen-journalists who have been jailed for trying to inform the public about environmental and public health issues.
The latest victim is Hoang Duc Binh, a blogger who was sentenced to 14 years in prison on 6 February for posting a video on social networks a year ago showing a march by fishermen who wanted to file a complaint against Formosa, a Taiwanese-owned steel plant responsible for one of the biggest environmental disasters in Vietnam’s history.
By disseminating the video, Binh has clearly wanted to serve the public interest but, in a summary trial, the court ruled that he had been “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe on the interests of the state.”
Long near the bottom of RSF's World Press Freedom Index, Vietnam is ranked 175th out of 180 countries in the 2017 Index.