Despite sweeping economic reform and increasing openness towards social change, including gay, lesbian and transgender rights, Vietnam's ruling Communist Party retains tight media censorship and does not tolerate criticism.

In recent months, it has targeted critics whose voices have been amplified by social media in a country that ranks among Facebook's top ten, in terms of users.

Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, 37, known as "Me Nam" (Mother Mushroom), who gained prominence for blogging about environment issues and deaths in police custody, was found guilty in June for distributing what police called anti-state reports.

A court in the central city of Nha Trang upheld Quynh's sentence, one of her lawyers said.

"This sentence is not objective and is unfair," Ha Huy Son told Reuters by telephone. "Quynh said she is innocent and she carried out her right as a citizen."

Her mother was denied access to the hearing, he added. The mother could not immediately be reached for comment.

In March 2009, Quynh spent nine days in police detention for receiving funds from Viet Tan, a California-based activist group which Vietnam calls a terrorist group, to print T-shirts with slogans against a major bauxite project, police said.

Quynh has also spoken out against a subsidiary of Taiwan's Formosa Plastics Corp that caused one of Vietnam's biggest environmental disasters in April.

On Monday a prominent rights lawyer who has represented Quynh said the bar federation in the southcentral province of Phu Yen had revoked his licence to practice law just days before Quynh's appeal hearing.

Reuters - November 30, 2017


Vietnam blogger 'Mother Mushroom' appeal rejected

A Vietnamese court on Thursday rejected the appeal of a prominent blogger known as "Mother Mushroom", in jail for anti-state propaganda, days after one of her lawyers was disbarred in a case that has drawn global ire.

Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh was sentenced to 10 years in jail in June, a heavy term decried by rights groups that accuse the communist government of waging a harsh crackdown against critics this year.

Her appeal was thrown out by a court in the southern city of Nha Trang, her lawyer Ha Huy Son said, at a heavily-guarded trial closed to foreign media.

"The sentence is very unfair and biased. They argued that Quynh confessed her wrongdoings, but I think it's groundless and not in accordance with the law," Son told AFP.

Quynh, 38, whose pen name "Me Nam" derives from her daughter's nickname "mushroom", was jailed in October 2016 as she was visiting a fellow activist in prison.

She was convicted earlier this year for anti-state propaganda, which carries a maximum sentence of 12 years in prison.

Mother Mushroom wrote posts critical of the government on the environment, politics and deaths in police custody -- a sensitive topic in the one-party state where independent media is banned.

In court Thursday, Quynh defended her legal right to free expression and said she did not break the law, Son said.

A few days before her appeal, Vo An Don, one of her lawyers, was disbarred in a move he said was politically motivated.

"The main reason was that I had participated in defending the rights of several poor people and prisoners of conscience. The authorities might have hated me for that," Don told AFP.

The bar association in nearby Phu Yen province accused Don of providing false information to foreign media, abusing his right to free speech by spreading propaganda and distorting the truth, according to the state-run Thanh Nien newspaper.

The US State Department gave Quynh the International Woman of Courage Award in March, presented to her in absentia by First Lady Melania Trump.

Last month, Quynh's daughter wrote an emotional appeal to Trump, asking her to push for the blogger's release.

There has been no public reply from the first lady.

Her conviction has drawn criticism from the United States and the European Union, which have both called for her release.

The rejection of her appeal comes ahead of an EU human rights dialogue in Hanoi on Friday, which follows at least 15 activist arrests and several heavy jail sentences since January.

Observers say the sweep is being carried out by the conservative communist leadership that has been in power since last year.

Agence France Presse - November 30, 2017