Human rights defender and lawyer Dang Dinh Manh will represent outspoken Vietnamese democracy activist and author Pham Doan Trang who was arrested last week for crimes against the state, he said, adding that while Trang has received essentials in detention she has yet to meet with her family.
Trang was arrested at an apartment in Ho Chi Minh City on the night of Oct. 6 and charged under article 117 of Vietnamâ€™s 2015 Penal Code, accused of â€œmaking, storing, distributing or disseminating information, documents and items against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam,â€ as well as â€œanti-state propagandaâ€ under article 88 of the 1999 Penal Code. She faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
Described by state media as a blogger who used to work for various publications in Vietnam, Trang was transferred to the capital Hanoi where she is currently being held at the Public Security Ministryâ€™s No. 1 Detention Camp.
Lawyer Manh, who has represented defendants in several high-profile political cases, told RFAâ€™s Vietnamese Service on Monday that he had registered with investigating police in Hanoi to represent Trang.
â€œThe reason activist [Trang] is indicted for two charges â€¦ is because they are based on her actions both before and afterÂ Jan. 1, 2018, when the 1999 Penal Code expired and the 2015 Penal Code took effect,â€ he said.
Rights groups condemned Trangâ€™s apprehension just hours after annual U.S.-Vietnam human rights talks and warned that the blogger faced the risk of torture in custody.
Following Trangâ€™s arrest, her friends posted a message they said was written by her in advance, that read:Â â€œNobody wants to go to jail, but if prison is the place for those who fight for freedom, and if it is the place to carry out set goals, then we should go to prison.â€
Manh said that as of Monday, â€œ[Trangâ€™s] relatives were allowed to send essentials, including utensils and money, to her â€¦ but have not yet been able to meet her.â€
â€œIf [Trangâ€™s] relatives want to meet her, they must wait for as long as the first phase of investigation process takes to complete, and Pham Doan Trang has to also cooperate with investigating police,â€ he said. â€œOtherwise, they will only be able to meet her at the trial of first instance.â€
International watchdogs and officials of Western governments have demanded that Trang be freed, including U.S. Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Robert A. Destro, who tweeted over the weekend that the Trump administration â€œurge[s] the Government of Vietnam to immediately release her and drop all charges.â€
Last month Trang had published the 3rd edition of a report of a violent clash at Dong Tam commune outside Hanoi inÂ January. The publication of the first edition of that report one week after the incident led to the arrest in June of three out of five of its authorsâ€”Can Thi Theu and her sons Trinh Ba Phuong and Trinh Ba Tu. They were also charged with anti-state propaganda.
Amid a spate of arrests and abuse of independent journalists this year in Vietnam, Trang told RFA in May that toleration of dissent was deteriorating and likely to get worse in the run-up to the ruling party congress next January.
Trang, who released a well-regarded book titledÂ Politics for Everyone, was awarded the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) 2019 Press Freedom Prize. She founded the online legal magazineÂ Luat Khoa and edits another web-based rights journal calledÂ thevietnamese.
In August 2018, Trang was among at least four activists who were attacked after policemen stormed into a cafe and broke up dissident singer Nguyen Tinâ€™s â€œMemory of Saigonâ€ show.
She was then taken by police to an unknown road outside the city and â€œbeaten further to the point of disfiguring her face,â€ friends said at the time.
Vietnamese police routinely investigate postings on Facebook and other online media that authorities claim â€œslander or offend the prestigeâ€ of Vietnamese government leaders, including Communist Party members and provincial officials.
Vietnamâ€™s already low tolerance of dissent has deteriorated sharply this year with a spate of arrests of independent journalists and publishers, as well as Facebook personalities.
Estimates of the number of prisoners of conscience now held in Vietnamâ€™s jails vary widely. HRW says that authorities held 138 political prisoners as of October 2019, while Defend the Defenders has suggested that at least 240 are in detention, with 36 convicted last year alone.
Reported by RFAâ€™s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Huy Le. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.