‘Woman of Courage’ and Christian prisoner go on hunger strike
VNRN – January 6, 2015
Two women prisoners of conscience held in the same prison in northern Thanh Hoa province, one of whom was honored a “Woman of Courage” by the U.S. State Department, are going on hunger strike to protest their treatments.
Ta Phong Tan (Tạ Phong Tần), a former police officer currently serving a ten year sentence for “anti-state propaganda,” has been on hunger strike since Dec. 22 to protest the conditions of her solitary confinement. Another woman prisoner, Nguyen Dang Minh Man (Nguyễn Đặng Minh Mẫn), serving a eight-year sentence, is also on hunger strike after being placed in solitary confinement.
News of Tan’s hunger strike only became public on Jan. 5 after her sister Ta Minh Tu (Tạ Minh Tú) took the more than 1,600-kilometer (1000 miles) from the Mekong Delta to visit her in the jungles of Thanh Hoa and returned home. By that time, Tan’s hunger strike had gone on for two weeks. Tu told the Vietnamese Redeptorist news service VRNs that Tan was locked “behind four layers of doors,” separated from other prisoners.
“She is not allowed to leave, no contact with anyone,” Tu told VRNs. “There’s no light in the cell. Normally, each Saturday and Sunday they’d be let out to mingle with the other prisoners but now she’s locked up 24/24. There’s no books or papers, no TVs, for food you can only buy one thing, if you buy vegetable you can’t buy fish or meat…. so Tan protested with a hunger strike.”
Word of Minh Man’s hunger strike also reached the outside world around the same time. when her mother Dang Ngoc Minh (Đặng Ngọc Minh), also a former prisoner of conscience in the same case, published an open letter after talking to her daughter on the telephone. In the phone call, which lasted only 5 minutes, Minh Man said she was protesting the separation of the political prisoners in disciplinary wings with no interaction with other prisoners or access to facilities.
Minh and Minh Man were part of a group of 14 Catholic and Protestant activists arrested in 2001 and tried in 2013 for allegedly plotting to overthrow the government. They were convicted and sentenced under Article 79 of the Penal Code. Minh served out her three-year sentenced and was released last year.
Ta Phong Tan was the last remaining defendant still in prison from the trial of Free Journalists’ Club. Before her arrest, Tan had been writing on her “Truth and Justice” blog exposing news events that government-owned media had been bannned from covering.
In 2011, together with FJC members Phan Thanh Hai (Phan Thanh Hải) and Nguyen Van Hai (Nguyễn Văn Hải), better known as Dieu Cay (Điếu Cày), Tan was convicted of “conducting propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam” under Article 88 of the Penal Code.
Since then, Phan Thanh Hai had served out his three-year sentence, and last October Dieu Cay was abruptly released early and immediately taken to the United States.
In 2013, the U.S. State Department in a ceremony presided by First Lady Michelle Obama honored Tan as one of the world’s Women of Courage.
“As a former member of the Vietnamese Communist Party, Ta Phong Tan made a name for herself when she began posting articles online that were critical of the government and exposing corruption in the Vietnamese legal system,” Secretary of State John Kerry said of Tan. “She helped inspire an awakening of citizen bloggers and journalists in Vietnam, who today are committed to spreading information and alternate opinions to the Vietnamese people.”