Legal Initiatives for VIETNAM co-directors, Vi Tran and Trinh Huu Long were quoted in NPR News podcast, as four prominent Vietnamese dissidents have been given harsh prison terms for speaking out against the government. Activists say it's part of an escalating crackdown on dissent.

Title: Vietnam sentences dissidents to prison for spreading anti-state propaganda
Publisher Date: December 24, 2021
Publisher: NPR News


SULLIVAN: That's Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch. Human rights lawyer and activist Vi Tran has another explanation for the timing of last week's verdicts.

VI TRAN: I think it is a message, and the message is just, like, raising two middle fingers to the rest of the Western countries.

SULLIVAN: Especially the European Union, she says. She thinks the EU has been a bit naive in its approach to Vietnam, especially in the runup to the free trade agreement the two signed not long ago. Here's an argument she says she heard frequently while in Brussels.

TRAN: If we, you know, help them raise the economy to a better place, human rights would come with it, right? They also say that, you know, Vietnam is needed in the geopolitical world because this is the place that we can counter China. So we should be nice to Vietnam a little bit, and they will be nicer to human rights defenders.

SULLIVAN: In fact, activists say the government's crackdown on dissent is just getting worse.

TRINH HUU LONG: 2021 is and has been a very difficult year for dissidents and journalists because within one year, they prosecuted and tried and convicted three groups of activists.

SULLIVAN: More than 20 people in total, says activist and journalist Trinh Huu Long, among them his friend and colleague, the prominent journalist Pham Doan Trang.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Non-English language spoken).

SULLIVAN: Her conviction and sentencing last week was covered prominently on state-run media. Here's her friend, the human rights lawyer and journalist Vi Tran, reading Pham Doan Trang's defiant final statement to the court.


TRAN: You may imprison me and bask in celebration for eliminating a long-standing thorn in your eye, but you will never be rid of your ugly, authoritarian, undemocratic, anti-democratic reputation because an animal is forever an animal. It can never become human.

SULLIVAN: The judge sentenced Phan Doan Trang to nine years in prison, more than the prosecutors had asked for. There was an outpouring of support for her on social media, which Vietnam hasn't been able to keep a lid on the way neighboring China has. And the recent surge of the COVID pandemic in Vietnam has dinged the ruling party's reputation even more. Again, activist and journalist Trinh Huu Long.

TRINH: I see major changes in political attitudes among ordinary Vietnamese people. They are now much more critical, and they are more willing to stand up for what is right. And I think this is very bad news for the government.