A Vietnamese court has sentenced a prominent Catholic blogger to 10 years in prison for distorting government policies and defaming the Communist regime in Facebook posts and in interviews with foreign media. Mary Magdelene Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, also known as ``Mother Mushroom,'' was sentenced on Thursday at the People's Court of Khanh Hoa province in Nha Trang City, her lawyer Vo An Don said. Her conviction related to the content of 18 articles on her Facebook page and interviews with foreign news outlets such as Voice of America and Radio Free Asia, Don said.
Quynh, 37, co-founded a network of bloggers and is very popular in Vietnam. She has written about human rights, civilian deaths in police custody and the release of toxic chemicals by a Taiwanese-owned factory that killed thousands of fish in one of Vietnam's worst environmental disasters.
Quynh, the single mother of two young children, maintained her innocence throughout the trial, her lawyer said. ``Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh did not admit that she committed any crime, saying she has a right to freedom of expression,'' Don said. Don said the sentence was ``too harsh and unjust'' and that Quynh plans to appeal the verdict.
Quynh's sentencing drew a stern rebuke from the United States, which said it was ``deeply concerned'' about her conviction and those of other peaceful protesters over the last year. Catholic lawyer Le Cong Dinh expressed surprise “by the 10-year sentence that shows the government's inhumanity to a single young mother." "I did not realize what a state of panic the ruling party is in," he said.
Sources claim her trial was fraught with irregularities. Only three of the five lawyers Quynh had requested were present at the trial. Her lawyers demanded the trial be postponed but the judges rejected the appeal. One lawyer was refused the opportunity to meet with Quynh before the trial. Sources said the judges did not listen to the lawyers' arguments and handed down an arranged sentence.
Quynh's mother, Nguyen Thi Tuyet Lan, was not permitted to enter the courtroom and had to watch the trial through a screen in a room nearby. She wrote on Facebook that the heavy sentence aims to take revenge against her daughter who tried to tell the truth. Lan said she and Quynh's two young children had only met with Quynh for five minutes before the trial since her arrest on Oct. 10, 2016, while visiting a fellow activist in prison.
"Every person has only one life. But if I had to replay my life, I would still have done the same thing,” Quynh said in court. “I believe my mother and children will never feel sorry for me but be proud of me." "I want to build a good society. People can only be happy and free when they enjoy freedom of speech and expression," Quynh said. "I hope people will continue the struggle and overcome their fears to build a better country."
International human rights groups including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and Sweden-based Civil Rights Defenders have called for her immediate release. According to Human Rights Watch, there are about 110 known political prisoners in Vietnam.
Quynh’s activism has been recognized abroad. The United States Department of State While honoured her in absentia in March with the International Women of Courage Award. She was then in detention for receiving funds from a California-based activist. In 2015, Quynh was given the Civil Rights Defender of the Year award by the Swedish rights group.