LIV Co-founder, Pham Doan Trang, to Receive PEN America’s Barbey Freedom to Write Award

LIV Co-founder, Pham Doan Trang, to Receive PEN America’s Barbey Freedom to Write Award
In: News

On April 11, 2024, the Associated Press (AP) reported that Legal Initiatives for Vietnam (LIV) Co-founder Pham Doan Trang would be awarded PEN America’s Barbey Freedom to Write Award (previously the  PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award) on May 16, 2024, during PEN’s annual literary gala. Established in 2016, the award is given to honor writers who have been imprisoned for their work, with the purpose of ending the persecution of writers and defending free expression. Trang’s lawyer, Dang Dinh Manh, and LIV Executive Director, Quynh-Vi Tran, will accept the award on her behalf.

In a press statement, PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel remarked that Pham Doan Trang’s “powerful words” have ignited the spirit of the Vietnamese people “through her writings on democracy, human rights, environmental degradation, and women’s empowerment.” PEN’s CEO also states that despite the Vietnamese government’s persecution and crackdown on activism and dissent, Trang has remained steadfast in her pursuit of justice, even at significant cost to her health and freedom. 

Before her imprisonment, Pham Doan Trang was a staunch and vocal critic of the Vietnamese government, openly denouncing its actions on her blog and through her many published works such as “Politics of a Police State” and “Politics for the Common People.” Her activism and outspoken views led to repeated harassment and assaults by the police; Trang now walks with a permanent limp due to police beating during an environmental protest in 2015. Fearing for her safety, Trang left Hanoi for Saigon in July 2017, where she continued her advocacy. However, on Oct. 6, 2020, she was arrested and subsequently sentenced to nine years in prison in 2022 on charges of “spreading anti-state propaganda.”

PEN America has called for Trang’s release numerous times and has closely monitored her well-being and situation since 2019. Moreover, the organization has continued to bring attention to and raise awareness of the broader human rights situation in Vietnam and other countries across the globe. 

The award serves as a springboard for PEN’s advocacy for the writers it honors; out of the 53 imprisoned writers who have received the award since 1987, 46 have been released. PEN attributes this success, at least in part, to the increased awareness generated about the writers’ situations and the pressure exerted on the offending governments.

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