The trial of multi-award-winning journalist and human rights activist Pham Thi Doan Trang for “anti-state propaganda” violated her rights to a fair trial and freedom of expression, a TrialWatch report has found.


Ms. Trang was arrested just a few hours after the 2020 US-Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue concluded, held incommunicado for over a year, then convicted following a one-day trial. This was despite a UN decision that the charges against Ms. Trang were unlawfully vague. She was given a nine-year prison sentence which was a harsher penalty than even the prosecution had requested.

CFJ calls on the court of appeals to reverse Ms. Trang’s conviction or for Vietnam to release her.

Over the last decade, Ms. Trang has been repeatedly arrested, detained, and beaten by the authorities in connection with her writing and activism. She is one of 207 journalists or human rights advocates in prison in Vietnam. The charges brought against Ms. Trang were based on her interviews with international press and articles about Vietnam’s human rights record that she wrote or that were allegedly found on her devices. The authorities said her work spread “psychological warfare” and included “untrue, fabricated information to cause dismay among the people.”

“Ms. Trang was prosecuted for doing what journalists do: collecting data, reporting, and sharing information with the public. None of that is ‘psychological warfare,’” said David McCraw, the TrialWatch Expert who co-authored the report with the Columbia Law School Human Rights Institute, and assigned the trial a grade of ‘F.’

The report found that the trial was marred throughout by egregious violations of Ms. Trang’s rights.  In particular, the court relied on an assessment by the Department of Information and Communications of Hanoi City, which concluded that the documents at issue in the case “have violated the law” before the trial even began. But when the defense requested to examine these ‘assessors,’ the court found that their presence was not necessary because they “had provided their assessment conclusion based on their expertise.”

Many of the journalists and human rights advocates in prison have faced charges under Vietnam’s array of ‘national security’ offenses, which provide for extended pre-trial detention despite the international law presumption in favor of bail.  In Ms. Trang’s case, she was charged with violating Article 88 of the 1999 Penal Code, which makes it illegal to make, store, or share information deemed “anti-State,” and which the former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights described as “effectively mak[ing] it a crime for any Vietnamese citizen to enjoy the fundamental freedom to express an opinion, to discuss or to question the Government and its policies.”

“The law used to prosecute Ms. Trang is by design intended to silence those who try to report critically on government actions and policies. By declaring certain information ‘anti-State,’ the government gives itself broad authority to punish free expression,” explained Mr. McCraw.

The TrialWatch report also found that the proceedings were an abuse of process. Taken against the backdrop of her repeated harassment by the authorities, and given the timing of her arrest, the inescapable conclusion is that her prosecution was “designed to silence her and warn others against criticizing the government of Vietnam.”

Download TrialWatch report: