The Life and Imprisonment of LIV Co-founder Pham Doan Trang: Insights from the George W. Bush Presidential Center

The George W. Bush Presidential Center, a nonpartisan institution dedicated to promoting the values of freedom, opportunity, accountability, and compassion, published an article that delves into the life, imprisonment, and current circumstances LIV Co-founder Pham Doan Trang faced. Titled “A Vietnamese writer championed by the U.S. remains in prison,” and written by Ellen Bork, this article is part of the Bush Center’s monthly series, "The Struggle for Freedom," which sheds light on the challenges of democracy and the plight of global human rights activists. It was released on October 30, 2023, and serves as a reminder of ongoing struggles for justice and liberty worldwide.

The article discusses Trang’s activism and focuses on several key events that led up to her arrest. In 2006, she began writing on her personal blog to practice English. However, the subject of many of her writings shifted towards the poor and vulnerable sectors of Vietnam, emphasizing their plight. Trang also worked for several state publications but negative experiences with the police led her to write independently. Eventually, she managed to publish several books; however, due to their content, they ended up being banned in Vietnam. 

The article also mentions Trang’s friendship and professional relationship with current LIV Executive Director, Tran Quynh Vi. They met when Trang was on a University of Southern California fellowship. Together with Trinh Huu Long and another human rights activist, Truong Tu Minh, they eventually formed Legal Initiatives for Vietnam (LIV). They launched two magazines to help Vietnamese people learn about the law, politics, and their rights: Luat Khoa Magazine in 2014  and The Vietnamese Magazine in 2017. 

When Trang returned to Vietnam in 2015, she was held in detention by the police for 15 hours. After her release, she was forced to avoid the authorities by continuously relocating for several years. However, she was eventually arrested on Oct. 6, 2020, and convicted in 2022 for nine years for allegedly “spreading anti-state propaganda.” Pham Doan Trang currently remains imprisoned and is being denied urgent medical care by the Vietnamese government. 

The article includes some remarks from LIV Executive Director Quynh-Vi Tran, which was shared with the writer. “She told us that every country needs to have a generation that will give up everything for the future to be better.” Despite the risks, Pham Doan Trang chose to remain in Vietnam rather than seek asylum abroad. In her own words, she refused to be “a pawn for the government to trade.” Through her character, works, and ideals, Pham Doan Trang continues to embody unwavering courage, resilience, and a steadfast commitment to the future of Vietnam. 

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