The Vietnamese Catholic blogger and activist Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, also known as “Mother Mushroom”, has been released. This comes two years after Quynh was imprisoned for “propaganda against the state”. (Her moniker derives from her daughter being nicknamed Mushroom.)
For over a decade, Quynh (pictured) has been a committed advocate for human rights and social justice, covering “sensitive” topics such as police brutality, corruption and the government’s mishandling of environmental issues. She received recognition and respect from human rights organisations and the US State Department, and a 10-year sentence from the authorities.
Quynh’s release is welcome news, but it came with a condition, commonly imposed on activists: exile, in this case to the US.
While it appears that Quynh was targeted for her activism, rather than in direct connection with her Catholic faith, it is noteworthy that Catholic groups and individuals have been among the most outspoken critics of government corruption and human rights abuses. Some have received harsh sentences for speaking out. Just a day after the release of Mother Mushroom, the Higher People’s Court in Hanoi rejected the appeal of Catholic environmental activist Le Dinh Luong, upholding the sentence of 20 years in prison.
Both Quynh and Le Dinh Luong had previously called attention to the impact of a steel plant disaster in 2016 which left families, including many Catholics, with no means of livelihood. The police crackdown on protesters prompted the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to issue a statement of concern. Catholic leaders and activists have been beaten, denounced by officials, and imprisoned for organising peaceful protests about the government’s handling of the situation.
Vietnam’s record gives little cause for optimism. Quynh’s release is good news, but there are still more than 150 prisoners of conscience awaiting their day of liberation.