Former Vietnamese prisoner of conscience receives Engel Prize for Human Rights


This year’s Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture (ACAT)-France’s Engel Prize for Human Rights has been awarded to former Vietnamese prisoner of conscience Tran Thi Nga in Paris on Saturday, February 01.

She received the award in absentia as she is unable to travel to Paris due to her poor health following her prison ordeal. She now lives in exile in the US with her husband and two sons.

Noted in Vietnam for her online activism, Tran was sentenced in July 2017 to nine years in prison for spreading “propaganda against the state” under Article 88 of Vietnam’s penal code, a provision frequently used to silence dissident bloggers and other activists. Her appeal was rejected in December that year.

Tran was released from prison last January 10 after serving three years of her nine year sentence in part due to diplomatic pressure from the international community on the government of Vietnam.

“Because my health is not good, I will not be able to travel to France to take part in the award ceremony. However, a friend will attend the ceremony on my behalf,” she said, speaking by phone from Atlanta.

Speaking to RFA, Tran expressed her appreciation for ACAT’s recognition of her work promoting human rights in Vietnam.

“For many years, I just thought I was doing everything I could to help myself, my children, and the many people who are now victims in Vietnam’s prisons. I never imagined that my work in fighting for human rights would be appreciated by international organizations,” she said.

Writing in a January 13 statement, the Paris-based rights group welcomed Tran’s early release from prison, saying she had been “unjustly punished by the Vietnamese government for her commitment to the rights of the weakest.”

“We regret, however, that she is unable to continue her work in her country, where she is prohibited from travelling,” the rights group said.

“We call on the international community not to confuse [her]early release with a relaxation of the repression carried out on civil society in Vietnam,” ACAT-France said.

“On the contrary, it is more necessary than ever for Hanoi’s trading partners to bring the issue of human rights to the table.”

Last year saw a surge in the number of prisoners of conscience in Vietnam, along with a continuing crackdown on the rights to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly, according to a report released this week by rights group Amnesty International.

“The authorities arrested and/or prosecuted at least 23 people over the course of the year on speech related grounds,” AI said in its report, “Human Rights in Asia-Pacific: Review of 2019.”

“Most of those targeted had expressed views on issues such as corruption, the environment, politics, and human rights, using Facebook as a platform. Those convicted received prison sentences of up to 11 years.”

Prisoners of conscience were frequently sent to facilities far from their homes and were subjected to “various forms of ill-treatment, including solitary confinement, poor quality food, lack of access to medical care, and mental and physical abuse,” including assaults by prisoners held for common crimes, the rights group said. (Source: RFA)