Pham Doan Trang

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Police arrested Vietnamese journalist Pham Doan Trang in Ho Chi Minh City on October 6, 2020. She was charged the same day with “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 88 of the country’s criminal code and is awaiting trial.

Trang covers human rights issues, including police abuses, for the Luat Khoa legal magazine, which she founded, and for the independent English-language The Vietnamese news website, according to a report by the U.S. Congress-funded broadcaster Radio Free Asia (RFA).

After Trang’s arrest, she was transferred from Ho Chi Minh City to the capital Hanoi pending an investigation, according to a statement posted on the Ministry of Public Security’s website. Police seized documents and equipment during her arrest, news reports quoted Major General To An Xo, a Ministry of Public Security spokesperson, as saying. 

On August 26, 2021, Hanoi police announced they had completed their investigation into the charges, according to an RFA report and a post on Trang’s personal Facebook page, which has continued to be updated since her arrest. 

On August 30, the Hanoi Procuracy Office issued its formal indictment against Trang under Article 88, according to an open letter by CPJ and other press freedom and rights organizations calling for Trang’s release. The indictment dropped a similar charge against her under Article 331 of the penal code, according to the letter.

The indictment references three of her writings, including a report about the 2016 chemical spill by Taiwan-owned Formosa Ha Tinh Steel that killed marine life and poisoned people along the coast of central Vietnam, a 2017 report on freedom of religion in Vietnam, and an undated article, “General Assessment of the Human Rights Situation in Vietnam,” according to the letter. The Procuracy Office also accuses her of speaking with RFA and the British Broadcasting Corporation to allegedly fabricate news and defame the government. 

Tran Quynh-Vi, co-director of Legal Initiatives for Vietnam, a nongovernmental organization monitoring Trang’s case, told CPJ by email that she had been held incommunicado since her arrest as of late September 2021. She said her family was allowed to send her money and clothes in prison but was not permitted to meet or communicate directly with her. 

Trang was being held at Hanoi’s Hoa Lo Prison in late 2021, according to The 88 Project, an advocacy group that monitors the status of Vietnamese political prisoners. Convictions under Article 117 carry jail terms of up to 20 years.

Before her arrest, Trang wrote on her personal Facebook page that she had faced persistent police harassment in relation to her work from September 2019 to February 2020, RFA reported

Trang wrote a letter in May 2019 in case she was ever arrested, republished by The 88 Project, which stated that said she stood by her work and would not plead guilty in a future case against her. 

In 2018, Trang went into hiding after being assaulted by police during interrogations, CPJ documented at the time. She has also spent time abroad in self-exile after facing official harassment, CPJ documented in a 2014 special report on her situation.

Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security, which oversees the country’s prison system, did not respond to CPJ’s emailed requests for comment about Trang’s status and treatment in prison in late 2021.