The prominent dissident Pham Doan Trang was recently arrested for "anti-state propaganda" charges.  Her works as a journalist, author and publisher gathered huge following both in the local and international communities making her one of Vietnamese authorities' biggest critic.  Prior to her arrest, she sent a letter to her activist-friend and instructed him to release the letter entitled “Just In Case I Am Imprisoned.”


The outspoken Vietnamese journalist and activist Pham Doan Trang knew it was only a matter of time before the police came for her.

She wrote a letter last year and gave it to an American friend with instructions to release it upon her arrest. In the letter, she asked that her friends not just campaign for her freedom but use her incarceration to fight for free elections and an end to single-party rule in Vietnam.

“I don’t want freedom for just myself; that’s too easy,” wrote Ms. Pham, 42, who has walked with difficulty since a police beating in 2015. “I want something greater: freedom for Vietnam.”

Shortly before midnight on Oct. 6, the police raided her apartment in Ho Chi Minh City and arrested her on charges of making and disseminating propaganda against the Vietnamese state. She faces up to 20 years in prison.

Ms. Pham is one of the most prominent critics to have been arrested in recent years by Vietnam’s Communist regime, which has long made a practice of harassing, beating and imprisoning outspoken activists.

The widespread use of smartphones and the internet in Vietnam has meant that daring activists and journalists like Ms. Pham can independently publish stories in which they uncover corruption or expose malfeasance. But that also puts a huge target on their backs.

The Communist Party has long feared that free speech would undermine its hold on power, and it has built a large apparatus to stifle dissent. Activists say Ms. Pham’s arrest was likely prompted by the party’s upcoming congress in January, which occurs every five years.

At a time when Vietnam has repositioned itself as a strategic American ally and important global manufacturing hub, the authorities are newly emboldened to crack down on dissent with little fear of repercussions. They have also been invigorated by a United States administration that has widely ignored human rights abuses.

Human Rights Watch estimates that Vietnam has jailed at least 130 political prisoners, more than any other country in Southeast Asia.

Just four years ago, then-President Barack Obama made human rights in Vietnam a priority. During a 2016 visit, he invited Ms. Pham and other dissidents to meet with him publicly. But the police kept her from attending by detaining her.

After Amnesty International, the Committee to Protect Journalists and other groups called for her release, the State Department on Saturday pressed Vietnam to set Ms. Pham free.

“The United States condemns ​the arrest of writer, democracy, and human rights activist Pham Doan Trang,” Robert A. Destro, the assistant secretary of state for human rights, said in a statement. “We urge the Government of Vietnam to immediately release her and drop all charges.”

Ms. Pham began her career as a journalist, but in a country where most media is state-controlled, she chafed at the restrictions.

In her 2019 book “Politics of a Police State,” she wrote about the continual harassment she had suffered for a decade as a writer and activist.

The police once put glue in her apartment door lock so she could not leave, she wrote. They placed her under house arrest, publicly posted intimate photos taken from her computer and stole her identity cards.

She left the country in 2013, but she was not happy in exile.

“It’s really hard to watch from outside what happens in Vietnam,” she said at the time. “It makes me feel helpless.”

She returned to Vietnam in 2015, and had lived in hiding since 2017.

In a 2016 interview with The New York Times, Ms. Pham predicted that the authorities’ effort to intimidate activists by imprisoning Mother Mushroom would fail.

“She has a lot of supporters,” Ms. Pham said. “Many of them will replace her or follow in her path.”

Perhaps she was already thinking ahead to the likelihood of her own incarceration.

In her letter, titled “Just in case I am imprisoned,” she told friends not to believe the police if they claimed she had confessed.

She asked for a movement not to “free Trang,” but to “free Trang and ensure free and fair elections.”

“No one wants to sit in prison,” she wrote. “But if prison is inevitable for freedom fighters, if prison can serve a predetermined purpose, then we should happily accept it.”