Harsh sentence for blogger may haunt Vietnam’s environmental movement

first_imgArticle published by Genevieve Belmaker HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam – On April 6, 2016 dozens of tons of dead fish began washing ashore along Vietnam’s central coast. The phenomenon continued through the month, turning into what is considered the largest environmental disaster in the country’s history.Fishing communities in Ha Tinh, Quang Binh, Quang Tri and Thua Thien-Hue provinces were decimated and left without a way to make income. Public blame for the disaster quickly fell on Formosa Ha Tinh Steel, a massive steel plant operated by the Taiwanese company Formosa Plastics, which reportedly discharged huge amounts of chemicals into the sea in the days before the dead fish appeared.However, the Vietnamese government didn’t announce Formosa’s culpability until June 30, nearly two months after the disaster had unfolded. This delay angered the public, leading to social media commentary and even demonstrations in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam’s largest cities. These protests were swiftly broken up by the government, and sites like Facebook and Instagram were blocked at times.These events brought the environment to the fore of public discussion in Vietnam and shone a spotlight on Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, a blogger known as Me Nam, or Mother Mushroom. The 37-year-old had been active online for years as a co-founder of the Network of Vietnamese Bloggers, a rare independent organization among the country’s state-owned news agencies.Mother Mushroom had written previously about environmental crimes and state repression, but the Formosa disaster drew major government attention to her writing. On October 10, 2016, she was arrested while visiting a jailed dissident. She was accused of defaming the government.Her Facebook page, which was last updated on May 13, 2016, features posts decrying pollution, a lack of government transparency and the need for a clean environment. It also shares pictures of alleged police brutality, another common theme in Quynh’s writing.On June 29 of this year, Quynh was sentenced to 10 years in prison for “conducting propaganda against the state.” The decision was met with shock, both within Vietnam and abroad. Members of local Facebook groups that rarely discuss Vietnamese politics shared the news of Mother Mushroom’s punishment widely. Many saw it as unfair treatment towards a woman who was simply trying to highlight environmental problems in Vietnam.State-run media outlets reported Quynh’s sentencing, but made little mention of the issues she wrote about. Instead, they focused on official accusations such as publishing distorted information and abusing democratic rights, a commonly used but highly ironic charge in a single-party state.The government, meanwhile, has been unrepentant. In March, Quynh received the International Women of Courage Award from First Lady Melania Trump. Vietnam reacted by saying this was “not appropriate and of no benefit to the development of the relations between the two countries.”Condemnation from organizations like Human Rights Watch over Quynh’s arrest has had no impact, and there is fear that Mother Mushroom’s harsh sentence may deter other activists from speaking up on the environment, which is seen as one of the few sensitive subjects which citizens can openly discuss in Vietnam.It appears likely that Quynh will serve her full term, though she remained defiant in the courtroom, which was guarded heavily during the completely closed one-day trial. Even Quynh’s mother wasn’t allowed to attend.“Each person only has a life, but if I had the chance to choose again I would still choose my way,” the blogger said before her sentence was announced.Michael Tatarski is a freelance journalist based in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. You can find him on Twitter at @miketatarski.FEEDBACK: Use this form to send a message to the author of this post. If you want to post a public comment, you can do that at the bottom of the page. Activism, Endangered Environmentalists, Environment, Environmental Activism, Environmental Politics center_img Popular in the CommunitySponsoredSponsoredOrangutan found tortured and decapitated prompts Indonesia probeEMGIES17 Jan, 2018We will never know the full extent of what this poor Orangutan went through before he died, the same must be done to this evil perpetrator(s) they don’t deserve the air that they breathe this has truly upset me and I wonder for the future for these wonderful creatures. So called ‘Mankind’ has a lot to answer for we are the only ones ruining this world I prefer animals to humans any day of the week.What makes community ecotourism succeed? 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In some ways, this is nature trying to fight back. This ban is great, but the rest of the world just cannot allow it to be temporary, because history has demonstrated that once this coronavirus passes, they will in all likelihood, simply revert to been the planets worst Ecco Terrorists. Let’s simply not allow this to happen! How and why they have been able to degrade this planets iconic species, rape the planets rivers, oceans and forests, with apparent impunity, is just mind boggling! Please no more.Probing rural poachers in Africa: Why do they poach?Carrot3dOne day I feel like animals will be more scarce, and I agree with one of my friends, they said that poaching will take over the world, but I also hope notUpset about Amazon fires last year? 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It is mentioned that planting trees in village common lands will have negative affects socially and ecologically. There is no need to even have to agree or disagree with it, because, you also mentioned the fact that Cauvery Calling aims to plant trees only in the private lands of the farmers. So, plantation in the common lands doesn’t come into the picture.2.I don’t see that the ecologists are totally against this project, but just they they have some concerns, mainly in terms of what species of trees will be planted. And because there was no direct communication between the ecologists and Isha Foundation, it was not possible for them to address the concerns. 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