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Prominent blogger Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, left, stands trial in Vietnam, on June 29, 2017. She was convicted on charges of distributing propoganda against the state, according to reports. (Vietnam News Agency/AP)

CPJ awardee 'Mother Mushroom' faces threats, poor prison conditions

July 3, 2018 12:46 PM ET

Bangkok, July 3, 2018--The Committee to Protect Journalists today strongly condemned the recent harassment of jailed Vietnamese blogger Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, known by her pen name "Mother Mushroom," and called again for her immediate and unconditional release.

Prison authorities at Thanh Hoa province's Prison Camp 5 recently began placing Quynh in a shared cell with two other female prisoners, one of whom has verbally threatened the journalist, according to a Facebook post from Quynh's mother, Nguyen Thi Tuyet Lan, which she wrote after visiting her daughter on June 26.

In the post, which was cited by the independent Vietnamese-language news website Danlambao, Lan wrote that Quynh has repeatedly requested that prison authorities move her to another cell away from the threatening cellmate, but they have refused to intervene, the report stated.

According to a person in close contact with Quynh's mother who wished to remain anonymous for security reasons, Quynh is also sometimes held in solitary confinement, though the source was unable to specify how frequently Quynh was held with other prisoners and how frequently she was in solitary.

In her Facebook post, Lan also wrote that the solitary confinement cell in which Quynh is held often lacks electricity and sometimes cannot be opened according to schedule because the lock is filled with soap or sand.

"Vietnamese authorities must put an immediate stop to the deliberate psychological abuse of jailed Vietnamese journalist Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh," said Shawn Crispin, CPJ's Southeast Asia representative. "As long as Quynh remains behind bars, the world will view Vietnam as an unconscionable abuser of basic human rights."

The Ministry of Public Security, the agency responsible for Vietnam's prison system, could not be reached by phone to comment on the allegations of abuse. The Ministry of Public Security's director general for prison administration, Pham Duc Chan, also could not be reached by phone.

In an interview with the U.S. Congress-funded Radio Free Asia, Lan said Quynh now fears she will die in detention due to hostile cellmates and poor prison conditions. In her Facebook post, Lan wrote that Quynh requested that she visit every month to confirm that she is still alive.

Earlier this year, Quynh was transferred from a detention facility close to her home province of Nha Trang to Thanh Hoa's Prison Camp 5, making it more difficult for her family to visit. In May, Quynh staged a week-long hunger strike to protest the poor prison conditions, according to reports.

A Vietnamese court convicted Quynh of distributing propaganda against the state, an anti-state crime under Article 88 of Vietnam's penal code, after a one-day trial on June 29, 2017, news reports said. The charges were in connection with 18 articles Quynh published online, including an investigative report on the unusually high number of deaths of suspects in Vietnamese police custody, according to CPJ research.

The blogger has been jailed since October 2016, when police arrested her as she tried to visit an imprisoned political activist.

CPJ will present its International Press Freedom Award to Quynh at a ceremony in New York City in November in recognition of her courage in reporting.

According to CPJ's annual prison census, at least 10 journalists, including Quynh, were behind bars in Vietnam as of December 1, 2017.

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