Six Vietnamese Writers Awarded Human Rights Prize

An international human rights group honored six Vietnamese writers last week for their contributions to free expression in the cause of democracy. The honorees were among a diverse group of 42 writers from 20 countries who have received the Hellman/Hammett award, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said.

They include novelist and journalist Tran Khai Thanh Thuy, human rights activist Pham Van Troi, poet and military veteran Tran Duc Thach, and teacher and writer Vu Van Hung. All four are serving prison terms in Vietnam. HRW also honored bloggers Bui Thanh Hieu and Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh. They were detained after criticizing China’s claims to much of the South China Sea, and criticizing Hanoi for bowing to Chinese pressure and failing to defend its own maritime sovereignty.

“Vietnamese writers are frequently harassed, or even jailed, for peacefully expressing their views,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of HRW. “By honoring courageous writers who have suffered political persecution, lost their jobs, or even sacrificed their freedom, we hope to bring international attention to voices that the Vietnamese government is trying to silence.”

The Hellman/Hammett grants are given annually to writers around the world who have been targets of political persecution or human rights abuses.

More information about the six writers:

Bui Thanh Hieu (Vietnam), who blogs under the name “Nguoi Buon Gio” (Wind Trader), is one of Vietnam’s best known bloggers. His blog critiques the government’s China policy, its approval of controversial bauxite mines, and its mishandling of Catholic prayer vigils. Hieu was arrested in August 2009 and held for more than a week on charges of “abusing democratic freedom.” His house was searched and his laptop confiscated. In March 2010, Hieu was summoned and questioned by police for several days. He remains under surveillance and could be arrested and jailed at any time.

Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh (Vietnam) who blogs under the name of “Me Nam” (Mother Mushroom) was detained and questioned after being photographed wearing a T-shirt with the words “No Bauxite, No China: Spratly and Paracel Islands belong to Vietnam.”  In September 2009, she was taken from her home in the middle of the night by police and questioned about blog postings that criticized government policies on China and its disputed claims to the Spratly Islands. She was released after 10 days, but remains under surveillance by police, who continue to pressure her to shut down her blog. Her application for a passport was rejected.

Pham Van Troi (Vietnam) has used various pen names to write about human rights, democracy, land rights, religious freedom and territorial disputes between China and Vietnam. He was an active member of the Committee for Human Rights in Vietnam, one of the few rights organizations permitted to operate in Vietnam,   He wrote for the dissident bulletin To Quoc (Fatherland). Since 2006, he has been repeatedly harassed and summoned by police. He was arrested in September 2008 and charged with disseminating anti-government propaganda. In May 2009, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention determined that Pham Van Troi had been wrongfully detained. Despite its conclusion, he was sentenced in October 2009 to four years in prison, followed by four years of house arrest.

Tran Duc Thach (Vietnam) has written a novel, hundreds of poems, and articles and reports that condemn corruption, injustice, and human rights abuses. A veteran of the People’s Liberation Army, he is a member of the Nghe An Writers Club. His 1988 novel, Doi Ban Tu (Two Companions in Prison) described the arbitrary nature of Vietnam’s legal system and the inhuman conditions in Vietnamese prisons. Poems published under the title Dieu Chua Thay (Things Still Untold) speak about life without freedom and justice. Tran Duc Thach has been repeatedly harassed since 1975. In 1978, the pressure became so harsh that he set himself on fire and was badly burned. Since then, he has been arrested 10 times and brought to court four times, each time released for lack of evidence. In 2009, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention determined that he had been wrongfully and arbitrarily detained after his last arrest in September 2008. Despite this he was sentenced to a three-year prison term, which will be followed by three years of house arrest.

Tran Khai Thanh Thuy (Vietnam), a prominent novelist and journalist, writes about farmers’ land rights, human rights, corruption, and political pluralism. She is often critical of the government and the Vietnamese Communist Party. In October 2006, she was denounced in a show trial before hundreds of people. The next month she was fired from her job as a journalist and placed under house arrest. In April 2007, she was arrested at her home and held incommunicado in B14 prison in Hanoi for nine months. In 2008 and 2009, she endured repeated harassment from police and orchestrated neighborhood gangs, including at least 14 attacks by thugs throwing excrement and dead rodents at her house. Then in October 2009, she was arrested after trying to attend the trials of fellow dissidents and is serving a 42-month prison term. She has diabetes and tuberculosis but has been refused medical care while in prison.

Vu Van Hung (Vietnam) is a teacher and contributor to the dissident bulletin To Quoc (Fatherland), who was dismissed from his job because of his involvement with democracy activists and dissident writers. He was detained for nine days in 2007, then placed under house arrest. He wrote Nine Days in Jail to tell the story of his interrogation. In April 2008, he was arrested and severely beaten for joining a peaceful demonstration against China when the Beijing Olympic torch passed through Ho Chi Minh City. He was arrested again in September 2008 for hanging a banner on a bridge calling for multi-party democracy and is currently serving a three-year prison term, which is to be followed by three years of house arrest. His 2009 trial took place just months after the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention determined that he was a victim of wrongful and arbitrary detention. He is thought to be imprisoned at Hoa Lo 2 Prison in Hanoi, where he is suffering from health problems as a result of severe beatings during interrogation and a one-month hunger strike.


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  1. I commend HRW for awarding the Hellman’Hammett to literary authors this year. Although they have recognized, and so significantly protected, novelist Duong Thu Huong and poet Nguyen Chi Thien in the past, most H/H awards in most years go to those who work directly in politics.

    There is nothing wrong with that. Lillian and Dashiell themselves were active Stalinists and then valiant liberals. But the world knows them as imaginative authors, so it is good to see funds from their copyrights awarded to their peers as authors.


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