Vietnam blogger 'Mother Mushroom' appeal rejected

Vietnamese blogger Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh (L), also known as "Mother Mushroom", stands trial at a courthouse in the central city of Nha Trang on June 29, 2017. (AFP Photo)

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. – AFP

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