Pham Doan Trang

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Vietnamese journalist Pham Doan Trang is serving a nine-year sentence on anti-state charges for her critical news reporting. She was convicted in a one-day trial in 2021 after being held for over a year in pretrial detention.

On December 14, 2021, Hanoi’s People’s Court convicted and sentenced Trang under Article 117 of the penal code, a provision that bars “making, storing, distributing or spreading” news or information against the state, international news reports said. 

Presiding Judge Chu Phuong Ngoc gave one day’s notice of Trang’s trial date and repeatedly interrupted the journalist’s testimony during the trial, saying her “behavior was dangerous for society” and that she should be “severely punished” for acting against the state, according to The Washington Post and other reports.

On August 25, 2022, the High People’s Court in Hanoi rejected Trang’s appeal, which according to her lawyer Dang Dinh Manh argued that her initial trial did not follow domestic legal procedures and international treaties, Al-Jazeera reported. Manh said family members and diplomats were barred from attending her appeal hearing.

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).

Police first arrested Trang in Ho Chi Minh City on October 6, 2020. 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 30, 2021, 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 referenced 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 accused her of speaking with RFA and the BBC to allegedly fabricate news and defame the government. 

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.

Tran Quynh-Vi, co-founder and co-director of Legal Initiatives for Vietnam, a nongovernmental organization monitoring Trang’s case, told CPJ by email that Trang was held incommunicado for over a year before she was allowed to meet with a lawyer.

News reports quoting Trang’s spokesperson Trinh Huu Long said in mid-August 2022 that her health had deteriorated while in detention and that she suffered from sinusitis, arthritis, and gynecological issues.

On October 1, 2022, Trang was transferred from Hanoi to An Phuoc Prison, over 1,500 kilometers (930 miles) away in the south of the country, according to a report by The Vietnamese. The report noted that Vietnamese authorities often order such transfers as an “extra form of punishment.”

In 2023, Trang suffered from pain in her legs from injuries that never fully healed after being assaulted by security officials in 2015, according to Quynh-Vi, who communicated with CPJ on a Zoom call on October 11. She also suffered from gynecological issues and labored breathing from a COVID-19 infection she contracted while in prison, Quynh-Vi said. 

Throughout 2023, prison authorities refused Trang’s family’s request to allow her private medical treatment for her ailments, Quynh-Vi told CPJ. Trang’s brother was allowed to make monthly visits in 2023 while her 83-year-old mother—who has advocated strongly with the international community for Trang’s release—visited in September, Quynh-Vi said. 

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. Trang was a 2022 winner of CPJ’s International Press Freedom Award in recognition of her courage in the face of harassment and persecution.

Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security, which oversees the country’s prison system, did not respond to CPJ’s October 2023 emailed requests for comment about Trang’s conviction and her health and treatment in prison.