Ta Phong Tan is one of three Vietnamese bloggers, collectively calling themselves the ‘Club for Free Journalists’, at the centre of a draconian clampdown by the country’s authorities. Vietnam is one of the world’s most restrictive countries for freedom of speech and the press. Only China, Eritrea and North Korea come lower on RSF’s press-freedom index.
Tan (pictured) and her fellow bloggers were arrested in September 2012 and charged with ‘conducting propaganda against the state’ in articles that allegedly ‘distorted and opposed’ the Vietnamese government.
In fact in over 700 articles on Tan’s blog Cong Ly va Su That (‘Justice and Truth’) she exposed the extent of corruption in the country. She covered a broad range of social issues, including the maltreatment of children, corruption, unfair taxation and illegal land confiscations by local party officials.
Before becoming a journalist, Tan worked as a police woman in Hanoi, giving her an insight into the workings of the system. On 4 October 2012, after a trial lasting just one day, Tan was sentenced to spend the next ten years in jail, with an additional five years of house arrest upon release. She refused to plead guilty.
This month a court in Vinh in Nghe An province, northern Vietnam, sentenced 14 activists, many of them bloggers, to up to 13 years in jail followed by several years of house arrest. The BBC reported that their convictions relied on loosely worded national security laws — in this instance article 79 of the penal code, which vaguely prohibits activities aimed at overthrowing the government. The Committee to Protect Journalists reported that state officials had beaten and stripped online reporter Nguyen Hoang Vi while detained by Ho Chi Minh City police.
“These shocking prison sentences confirm our worst fears — that the Vietnamese authorities have chosen to make an example of these bloggers, in an attempt to silence others,” Rupert Abbott, Amnesty’s researcher on Vietnam, told the New York Times, adding that freedom of expression in the country was “dire and worsening.”
Before the trial began, Tan’s mother killed herself in a self-immolation protest against the treatment of her daughter, and the violence, harassment and threats of deportation levelled against the family.