Incarcerated blogger Ta Phong Tan has been on hunger strike since May 13 to protest the mistreatment of political prisoners at the prison where she is being held in Vietnam's central Thanh Hoa province, according to news reports. It is believed to be the third time Tan has fasted in protest at poor prison conditions since she was detained in September 2011 for her critical reporting.
News of Tan's protest broke Monday when her sister, Ta Minh Tu, spoke with reporters and press freedom activists after a June 3 prison visit. Tu said Tan is currently being held in solitary confinement in a stifling windowless jail cell and that her health has declined as a result of the hunger strike. Despite pleas from her family, Tan has refused to end her protest, according to reports quoting Tu.
Amnesty International said in an "Urgent Action" statement released Monday that Tan suffers from arthritis, high blood pressure, and a stomach ailment, and is "weak and in poor health." It was unclear from news reports if Tan is in immediate need of medical treatment. She has long been subjected to abuse from fellow prisoners and prison authorities, including a recent confiscation of her hygiene products by prison guards, according to Tu.
Tan is serving a ten-year sentence for "propagandizing against the government," an anti-state offense under Article 88 of Vietnam's criminal code. A former police officer, Tan published several articles about human rights abuses and corruption among police and the judiciary on her Justice and Truth blog. Some press freedom activists have suggested to CPJ that Tan's harsh treatment in prison is retribution for her critical reporting on police and judicial abuse.
Vietnam 'fifth worst jailer of journalists'
Both justice and truth are in short supply in Vietnam. According to CPJ's latest prison census, 16 journalists, most of them independent bloggers like Tan, are behind bars, making the country the fifth worst jailer of journalists in the world. Tan was sentenced in part for her role in co-founding the Free Journalists Club, a group of independent reporters who ran a news site that was not legally registered.
Vietnamese authorities have recently released a number of jailed journalists for reasons of ill health. In February, the bloggers Hong Le Tho and Nguyen Quang Lap were moved from jail to house arrest for medical reasons while authorities continue to investigate anti-state accusations against them related to their reporting, according to human rights group The 88 Project.
Nguyen Van Hai, a blogger who co-founded the Free Journalists Club with Tan, staged several hunger strikes that aggravated maladies he suffered under especially harsh prison conditions. Last October, Hai was granted early release from a 12-year sentence after staging a hunger strike that his family told CPJ had left him beyond physical recognition. Hai, a CPJ International Press Freedom Awardee, immediately left Vietnam and now lives in the U.S.
Tan's declining health during her hunger strike should make her a clear candidate for early and unconditional release. That Tan suffers from the same official abuse on which she previously reported, meanwhile, speaks to the ill-health of Vietnam's justice system and the dire state of press freedom.
- Support Ta Phong Tan and other jailed journalists in Vietnam with CPJ's Press Uncuffed campaign.
[Reporting from Bangkok]