Vietnamese journalist Huynh Thuc Vy is serving a prison term for allegedly defacing Vietnam’s flag. She was first held under house arrest while she cared for her young daughter.
On November 30, 2018, she was sentenced to two years and nine months in prison on charges of defacing a national flag, a criminal anti-state offense under Article 276 of Vietnam’s penal code, according to VietnamPlus, a state-run news website.
The court ruled she would be held under house arrest until her youngest child reached three years of age, after which she would be required to serve her full term. Vy was the mother of a two-year-old child and was two months pregnant at the time of her conviction.
However, on December 1, 2021, authorities took Vy into custody after a Dak Lak province court revoked her house arrest for unclear reasons, according to her father, Huynh Ngoc Tuan, who communicated with CPJ via messaging app. Tuan said that Vy was transferred to Gia Trung Prison, over 200 km (125 miles) from her home, in February 2022.
Before her conviction on the flag defacement charges, Dak Lak police had accused Vy of "linking with bad elements from outside the country; exchanging ideas, giving interviews, writing articles, making video clips, and distributing them on her blog and on social media with contents that distort and twist the truth of Vietnam, smear and malign our Party and State," Human Rights Watch reported.
Vy began blogging in 2008 and frequently wrote on political, social, environmental, and human rights issues, including the dire situation of the country’s many political prisoners, reports said. Her father Tuan served 10 years in prison between 1992 and 2002 on anti-state charges for his fictional writing critical of the government, according to Human Rights Watch.
In 2013, Vy helped to form a group known as Vietnamese Women for Human Rights. In a 2017 interview with the BBC, Vy spoke about the harassment, intimidation, and discrimination her family faced due to her father’s status as an anti-state political prisoner. A clip of the interview is embedded in Vy’s personal Facebook page.
On October 9, 2022, Vy told her daughter that guards had beaten and choked her at Gia Trung Prison, according to a post on her personal Facebook page maintained by her family, and Tuan’s communication with CPJ.
Tuan told CPJ that the circumstances surrounding Vy’s assault were unclear but said that guards had earlier warned that her monthly visitation rights would be suspended if she spoke about her prison conditions with family and if she continued to advocate for other women prisoners who had been denied family phone calls and visits.
On November 9, 2022, Vy’s younger brother, Huynh Trong Hieu, released a statement, which CPJ reviewed, saying Vy had been physically attacked and strangled by two other female prison inmates in October in the presence of prison guards, who allegedly failed to intervene.
The statement, issued after Hieu met with Vy and prison officials that day, said a third inmate threatened to kill Vy and that the three inmates had repeatedly threatened her life in October.
The statement said Vy’s “life security is in serious danger in prison via criminals who serve prison guards” and that the family planned to file a formal complaint against Gia Trung Prison officials with national authorities and also advocate for an independent United Nations investigation into the abuse.
U.S. Representative Gerald Connolly wrote a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken dated January 31, 2023, urging the U.S. government to call for Vy’s release. “Vietnam’s politically motivated imprisonment and physical abuse of Ms. Huynh,” wrote Connolly, “is an affront to freedom of expression and press freedom.”
On October 22, 2023, Tuan told CPJ via messaging app that Vy’s health was “relatively stable” and that she had not been mistreated recently. Tuan said that Quang Nam provincial authorities have claimed Vy owed an 85 million dong ($3,460) fine for articles deemed offensive she published online between 2008 and 2011; the fine was not related to her 2018 conviction.
He said the same authorities have claimed the amount had accrued to over 500 million dong ($20,365) with late fees and that Vy and her family did not have the funds or inclination to pay what he views as an “arbitrary” and “illegal” penalty. Tuan also said it was unclear if Vy would be released when her sentence was fully served in 2024 if the fine is unpaid.
Tuan told CPJ in early November 2023 that Vy had developed tricuspid valve regurgitation, a serious heart condition, that required medication the prison would not provide and that her family could not afford to buy and get regularly delivered to the prison 200 km away.
Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security, which oversees the country’s prison system, did not respond to CPJ’s October 2023 request for comment on Vy’s health, detention, and allegations of abuse and extortion.