imprisoned vietnamese journalist garlanded by press freedom group - Imprisoned Vietnamese Journalist Garlanded by Press Freedom Group

The imprisoned Vietnamese journalist Pham Doan Trang has received a fresh accolade, being named last week as one of the International Press Freedom Award winners by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a U.S.-based press freedom advocacy group.

CPJ named Trang as one of four winners in a statement on July 14, alongside Niyaz Abdullah from Iraqi Kurdistan, Abraham Jiménez Enoa from Cuba, and Sevgil Musaieva from Ukraine. The organization said that all four have “withstood immense challenges, including government crackdowns, aggression, and imprisonment to bring the public independent reporting amid rampant disinformation and war.”

Trang was arrested in Ho Chi Minh City in October 2020, and subsequently charged under Article 117 of the Vietnamese penal code for conducting “propaganda against the State.” In December of last year, she was convicted and sentenced to nine years in prison, with the sentencing judge arguing that her work was “dangerous for society” and was carried out with the “intention of violating the socialist system.”

“Our award winners exemplify the best of journalism: work that shines a light on the impacts of war, corruption, and abuse of power on everyday lives,” CPJ President Jodie Ginsberg in a statement marking the announcement of the winners. “We look forward to honoring these inspirational journalists, who demonstrate the central role journalism plays in serving the public good.” All four award winners will be honored at CPJ’s annual awards ceremony on November 17.

Trang is one of a small band of individuals who undertake the personally risky activity of independent journalism in Vietnam, for which efforts and sacrifices she was also awarded the 2022 Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders in January. She was the co-founder of the dissident blog Luat Khoa Tap Chi (Journal of Law) and has contributed to several other independent media outlets, including The Vietnamese, an independent English-language website, and the exile-run Danlambao blog.

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For years before her arrest, Trang was outspoken on a range of issues relating to human rights, democratic rights, and environmental protection. She was particularly critical of the government’s official narrative of the high-profile land dispute at the village of Dong Tam in northern Vietnam, which culminated in the sentencing of two brothers to death and 27 other villagers to prison terms following a violent clash with police in January 2020.

Her arrest is emblematic of a sharply repressive turn in Vietnam, which has seen dozens of dissident political figures, journalists, and bloggers sentenced for challenging, implicitly or otherwise, the Vietnamese Communist Party’s monopoly on power. According to CPJ, Trang is among at least 23 journalists held behind bars for their reporting in Vietnam, making the country the fourth highest number of imprisoned journalists of any nation in 2021.

Last month, a Vietnamese court sentenced the prize-winning environmentalist Nguy Thi Khanh to two years in prison, after finding her guilty of tax evasion. Her sentencing, just the latest of four environmental and civil society activists to be sent down on tax charges, demonstrates the Vietnamese government’s continuing desire to safeguard its political monopoly, and its broad indifference to the state of international liberal opinion.