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March 2, 2024
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U.S. lawmakers call for release of Vietnamese prisoner of conscience

Two U.S. lawmakers have urged the Vietnamese government to release a woman serving a 33-month sentence for spraying paint on the country’s national flag.

Radio Free Asia reported in October that Hyunh Thuc Vy had been beaten and choked by guards in Gia Trung Prison in Vietnam’s central highlands, according to family members. The family also said that the guards were doing nothing to protect her from attacks from other inmates at that time.

In a Jan. 31 letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, U.S. Rep. Gerald E. Connolly, a Democrat from Virginia, urged the administration to pressure Vietnam to release Vy, whom he described as an independent blogger who has written about human rights and socio-political issues in Vietnam since 2008.

“Vietnam’s politically motivated imprisonment and physical abuse of Ms. Huynh is an affront to freedom of expression and press freedom. She and the 20 other journalists imprisoned in Vietnam as of December 1, 2022, should be released immediately,” Connolly said in the letter.

On the same day, U.S. Rep. Ro Khanna, a Democrat from California, also called for her release on Twitter.

“I urge the Vietnamese government to release Huynh Thuc Vy, a journalist and human rights activist. The Vietnamese government and prison guards must be held accountable for Vy’s treatment during her imprisonment,” Khanna said.

Khanna said his office would continue to monitor the situation.

Vy’s older brother, Huynh Trong Hieu, said that the two congressmen’s support for his sister was “great news that we have been looking forward to.”

“We have been expecting that under the diplomatic pressure created by the U.S., the Vietnamese government in general, and Gia Trung Prison, in particular, will let my sister be safe in prison and the prison’s maltreatment will be restricted,” Hieu said.

Khanna’s office has told the family that the congressman would press his colleagues to join in advocating for her release, Hieu said. Vy knows about the congressmen’s support and hoped it would help win her release, he said.

Over the past decade, several prisoners of conscience in Vietnam who lawmakers from the U.S. and other countries have advocated for were subsequently released. The list includes lawyer Nguyen Van Dai, a co-founder and chairman of the Brotherhood for Democracy, a group of formerly jailed dissidents that coordinate their activism online.

In an interview with RFA, Dai credited the advocacy of U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, U.S. Rep. Chris Smith and former U.S. Rep. Alan Lowenthal for helping win his release. Dai, who currently lives in Germany, said that the lawmakers as well as political figures in Germany and other countries raised his case whenever they met with Vietnamese government’s officials.

“Thanks to the persistent advocacy of the U.S. and Germany’s lawmakers, I was released earlier than many others even though I was sentenced to 15 years in prison and five years on probation,” Dai said.

On Dec. 30, 2022, Khanna also called on the Vietnamese government to “immediately and unconditionally release” human rights activist Nguyen Thuy Hanh who was arrested in 2021 on the charge of “anti-State propaganda.” 

Hanh has been forced to receive treatment at a psychiatric hospital in the capital city of Hanoi over the past few months. Hanh’s husband, Huynh Ngoc Chenh, told RFA that although she was not treated badly and harshly in the hospital, she had not been released yet.

Translated by Anna Vu. Edited by Eugene Whong and Jim Snyder. 

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