After spending four years in prison for publicizing grave human rights violations in Vietnam, blogger Pham Thanh Nghien has been named as one of five finalists for the 2017 Front Line Defenders Award for Human Rights Defenders at Risk. The annual Award recognizes activists who – despite severe and often life-threatening risks – have made exceptional contributions to protecting and promoting the rights of their communities.
Pham Thanh Nghien, 40, has been a vocal critic of the authorities in Vietnam, publishing several essays online and appearing frequently on radio to detail and discuss government violations of human rights. She promotes civil engagement in human rights issues, debate on territorial sovereignty, and tackling corruption. In 2009, she was a recipient of the Human Rights Watch Hellman/Hammett Award. She is a member of the Former Vietnamese Prisoners of Conscience Association and Bloc 8406, a pro-democracy network of human rights defenders and organizations.
“Human rights defenders tell us that international visibility is vital to their work, particularly as governments and corporations work to defame, slander, and delegitimize their peaceful struggle for rights … Their struggle has not gone unnoticed and we in Ireland support their fight for rights,” said Andrew Anderson, Executive Director of Dublin-based Front Line Defenders.
In 2007, when the wool company where she worked went bankrupt, Pham Thanh Nghien started advocating on behalf of landless farmers and writing articles calling for human rights and democracy. Authorities barred her from attending the trial of her close friend, the democracy campaigner Le Thi Cong Nhan, and she has been repeatedly harassed by the police, who regularly bring her in for aggressive questioning. In June 2008, she was detained after co-signing a letter to the Public Security Ministry that requested authorization to organize a peaceful demonstration against corruption. A few days later, she was attacked and beaten by hooligans, who threatened her life if she continued “hostile actions” against the state.
On June 2nd 2015, Pham Thanh Nghien was severely beaten, along with family members and members of the Network of Vietnamese Bloggers, in a police attack outside her home in Haiphong. Besides suffering from bruises sustained in the beating, the human rights defender experienced acute pain following attack, in connection with a previous spinal degenerative disease and scoliosis.
In January 2010, Nghien was sentenced to four years imprisonment and three years of probation after being found guilty of spreading propaganda against the state. Prior to her sentencing, the human rights defender had been held in prison for over a year, awaiting trial in connection to her attempts to organize a peaceful pro-democracy protest.
Pham Thanh Nghien spent four years in prison for her work publicizing violations against and defending the rights of relatives of fishermen killed by Chinese patrols. Following her release, she was kept under house arrest, during which time she spearheaded numerous human rights campaigns and co-founded the renowned Vietnamese Bloggers’ Network. Nghien has had her home raided, been blocked from attending medical appointments, had a padlock placed on her door from the outside and been refused a marriage certificate. Nghien has also survived numerous physical assaults aimed at stopping her powerful, peaceful work uncovering and publicizing human rights violations in Vietnam.
Jury members selected human rights defenders from Ukraine, Nicaragua, Vietnam, South Africa and Kuwait after receiving 142 nominations from 56 countries. “These five defenders demonstrate the tenacity and will to persist in the face of severe, often life-threatening risks,” said Andrew Anderson.
The 2017 finalists and their families have faced attacks, defamation campaigns, legal harassment, death threats, prison sentences, and intimidation. Front Line Defenders works to promote the visibility and protection of the five finalists, who are critical to the human rights movements in their countries and communities.
The recipient of the 2017 Front Line Defenders Award for Human Rights Defenders at Risk will be announced at a ceremony at Dublin’s City Hall on May 26th.