A Vietnamese human rights activist living in Hanoi has won an award given by the U.S.-based opposition party Viet Tan for her work supporting the families of prisoners of conscience jailed by the one-party communist state, Viet Tan said in a statement this week.
Nguyen Thuy Hanh, founder of the 50K Fund raised by contributions of as little as 50,000 dong (U.S. $2) from citizens around the country, will be presented with the 2019 Le Dinh Luong Human Rights Award in a ceremony held in London on Dec. 15.
It is not yet known if she will be allowed by Vietnamese authorities to leave the country to receive her award.
Established on April 30, 2018, the 50K Fund distributes money to prisoners and their families and organizes visits to family members to provide emotional support, Viet Tan said in its statement on Dec. 10.
“To date, the 50K Fund has supported approximately 200 current and former prisoners of conscience and their families,” Viet Tan said.
Labeled a terrorist group by Vietnam in October 2016, Viet Tan describes itself instead as “committed to peaceful, nonviolent struggle” to promote democracy in Vietnam. Members of the group both in Vietnam and entering Vietnam from abroad have themselves been arrested and thrown in jail.
Nguyen’s work in Vietnam has faced constant challenge from government authorities, Viet Tan said, adding that she is frequently attacked by state media and has had her movements restricted by police.
“Nevertheless, she has continued to pursue her work,” Viet Tan said. “She said: ‘A donation to the fund is like a ballot, another raised fist to support human rights and democracy, another person who has overcome their fear.’”
‘I can never pay her back’
Speaking to RFA’s Vietnamese Service, Tran Thanh Thuy, the wife of a political prisoner jailed in 2012 in southern Vietnam’s coastal Phu Yen province, said that the money provided by the 50K Fund “helps families of prisoners of conscience both economically and spiritually.”
Though local authorities warned her against accepting money from the Fund, saying they would not allow her to visit her husband in prison if she received it, Tran said she will now use the money she was given to pay the expenses of the trip.
Also speaking to RFA, Nguyen Van Cu—the father of Nguyen Van Thuan, a man jailed for three years for taking part in June 2018 protests in Phan Ri city against proposed cybersecurity and special economic zone laws—said that though he has never met Nguyen, her support has made him “very happy.”
“She sends me money once a month, or every two months,” he said. “I will never be able to pay her back.”
Estimates of the number of prisoners of conscience now held in Vietnam’s jails vary widely, with Human Rights Watch putting the number in October at 138. The rights group Defend the Defenders meanwhile puts the number as at least 240, with 36 convicted this year alone.