Pham Thanh Nghien

Current Status: At risk

Photo of Pham Thanh Nghien

Other Names: Phạm Thanh Nghiên

Date of Birth: November 24, 1977

Gender: F

Religion: Christian (Catholic)

Ethnicity: Kinh

Occupation: Blogger

Areas of Activism:

  • Democracy
  • Environment
  • Freedom of expression
  • Human rights
  • Sovereignty

Known Affiliations:

Communities At Risk:

Highlighted Human Rights Concerns:

  • Former Political Prisoner

December 2023:

Pham Thanh Nghien reported that HCMC Police have surrounded their former neighborhood, Loc Hung Vegetable Garden in Binh Thanh District, which for years has been a contentious flashpoint against land-grabbing by the authorities. Since Dec. 6, work trucks had been bringing dirt, sand and other construction material to the site. Ambulances, fire trucks and frequency-jamming vehicles had been stationed in two schools near the area. All roads going in and out were monitored and controlled by police. Several people who live right outside Loc Hung had also been ordered not to leave their homes.

May 2023:

Former political prisoner Pham Thanh Nghien, who was allowed to leave Vietnam for the United States last month, reported that police went to her house in Ho Chi Minh City and harassed her two sisters “who had come from the North to help clean up” after she left Vietnam. As Nghien put it: “They questioned my sisters about their background and why they were there. Then they issued my sisters a citation for ‘not reporting about temporary residence’ and for ‘helping their sister clean up the house before returning it to the landlord’.”

April 2023:

Married former political prisoners Pham Thanh Nghien and Huynh Anh Tu arrived safely in Houston with their daughter on April 13. In Houston, Nghien told the Little Saigon magazine that her family was held at Tan Son Nhut International Airport for two hours before being allowed to board because officials wanted to make sure that US Secretary of State Blinken was indeed coming to Vietnam. During their months-long process of preparation, Nghien said she was repeatedly advised by U.S. consulate officials to keep a low profile and not say anything, especially on social media.

Details - Background, History of Activism, Family Situation, Contact Information.

In 2016, Pham Thanh Nghien got married Huynh Anh Tu, a former prisoner of conscience, who has lived in Loc Hung since 2014. They have a toddler and had just completed building their own house in Loc Hung vegetable garden one week before the new house was torn down during the forced evictions on January 4 and 8, 2019.

Profile photo source: Facebook Dương Đại Triều Lâm

On September 2008, Pham Thanh Nghien was arrested because of her protest against China’s illegal claim towards Paracel and Spratly Islands. Accused of “conducting propaganda against the State of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam," Nghien was sentenced to four years in jail and three years under house arrest on January 29, 2010.

July 2021:

Former political prisoner Pham Thanh Nghien, residing in HCMC, was told by her family in Hai Phong (North Vietnam) that on July 26, the Hai Phong police came to tell them to tell her that she had been summoned to come to Hanoi on July 28 to answer questions regarding Nguyen Thuy Hanh, founder of the 50K Fund, who was arrested earlier in the year. Hanoi police said they found a book by Nghien — Slices of life behind bars — at Thuy Hanh’s house. It is not clear what that had to do with Nghien, or why Hanoi police did not request HCMC police contact her directly. What is clear is that it would be impossible for Thanh Nghien to leave on such short notice while both cities were in total lockdown.

Her husband is a former prisoner Huynh Anh Tu, and they have a toddler. 

Nhà báo Phạm Thanh Nghiên bị tuyên án 4 năm tù, Voice of America Vietnamese, January 29, 2010

Vietnam, dissident Pham Thanh Nghien sentenced to 7 years, AsiaNews, January 30, 2010

Interview with Pham Thanh Nghien (Part 1 – Arrest), The 88 Project, April 5, 2013

Facebook post about the harassment against her sisters, May 2023

Interviews with Nghien 

January 8, 2019: house destroyed during forced eviction at Loc Hung vegetable garden

Forced eviction
January 8, 2019
Local administration
Loc Hung vegetable garden, Ward 6, Tan Binh District, Ho Chi Minh City (map)

  • freedom of movement
  • respect of privacy, family, home, and correspondence

In the early morning of January 8, the authorities carried out their land-grabbing for the second day at Loc Hung vegetable garden, Ward 6, Tan Binh District, Ho Chi Minh City.

A house of former political prisoners Pham Thanh Nghien and Huynh Anh Tu was destroyed on this day. The couple just completed building their new house in Loc Hung with their ten-year savings, only to see that house destroyed a week after. Pham Thanh Nghien managed to leave to bring her one-year-old daughter to a safe place thanks to a friend’s support, while Huynh Anh Tu stayed behind and witnessed the destruction of their house at 4:25 pm.

Tu and Nghien’s family is now in a particularly precarious situation: as a former refugee in Thailand and long-term political prisoner, Huynh Anh Tu does not have any identification papers, so they are unable to rent. Nghien and Tu’s toddler has asthma and they need a home with electricity for her to have access to a functioning nebulizer aspirator.

Note: Loc Hung vegetable garden is a six-hectare area that belongs to the Catholic Church of Vietnam in Ward 6, District Tan Binh, Ho Chi Minh City. That area has been in dispute between the local government and the households for nearly twenty years. The authorities prevented the Loc Hung residents from legalizing their land use right even though the residents have valid documents to support their claim.

The negotiation ended with the first forced eviction on January 4, destroying around 10 houses by a powerful force, including police, civil defense forces, and volunteer youth, with equipment such as bulldozers and firetrucks. After the second day of land-grabbing on January 8, 2019, all 112 houses were totally destroyed.

Please read more on the land-grabbing at Loc Hung vegetable garden, here.

July 13, 2021: summoned during COVID from Ha Noi while living in Ho Chi Minh City

  • Police summons
  • Intimidation
July 13-28, 2021
Public security
Ha Noi (map)

freedom of expression

Pham Thanh Nghien was summoned by the Ha Noi Public Security with a letter dated July 13, 2021. The reason, as explained by the Nghien herself, was that Ha Noi public security found her book named “Slices of life behind bars” (“Những mảnh đời sau song sắt”) in Nguyen Thuy Hanh’s possession after searching her house. The book was published in the US back in 2017.

The problem was, however, Nghien was living in Ho Chi Minh City when Ha Noi Public Security sent the summons to her registered household in Hai Phong. The letter only arrived on July 26, while demanding her presence in Hanoi on July 28.

It should also be noted that both cities, Ha Noi City and Ho Chi Minh City, were in total lockdown at that time due to COVID-19. The public security should have known that travel either from Hai Phong or Ho Chi Minh city to Ha Noi was impossible. The letter, therefore, looks more like a warning to Nghien for her online critiques against the government for their failures concerning the welfare of citizens during COVID.

Note: photo below is of Nghien and her husband who were doing a sketch to mock the promise of the Vietnamese government concerning a stimulus package worth over 62,000 billion VND (approx $2 billion USD) that never seemed to come.

July 26, 2021: summoned for questioning related to book

Police summons
July 26, 2021
Public security
Hanoi (map)

freedom of expression

Former political prisoner Pham Thanh Nghien, currently residing in Ho Chi Minh City, was told by her family in Hai Phong (North Vietnam) that on July 26, Hai Phong police came to tell them that she had been summoned to go  to Hanoi on July 28 to answer questions regarding Nguyen Thuy Hanh, founder of the 50K Fund, who was arrested earlier this year. 

Hanoi police said they found a book by Nghien — Slices of life behind bars — at Thuy Hanh’s house. It is not clear what that had to do with Nghien, or why Hanoi police did not request that the Ho Chi Minh City police contact her directly. Nghien was unlikely to be able to comply with the summons, as both areas were in lockdown from COVID-19 at the time of the summons.

December 23, 2021: summoned by public security as a “witness

Police interrogation
December 23, 2021
Public security
Ho Chi Minh City (map)

freedom of expression

Nghien received two summonses repeatedly on December 23 and December 30, 2021, from the Security Investigating Agency of Ho Chi Minh City. They requested Nghien be at the Investigating Agency Office (in District 1) on December 31. 

Nghien said on her blog that she refused to go due to vague justification for the first summoning (on December 23), stating that the public security needed to “work” with her. Nghien responded and requested further information on December 24.

The second summons (on December 29, delivered on 30) asked for her presence as “witness” in Nguyen Thuy Hanh’s case. Nghien attended the meeting and returned home safely.

Profile last updated: 2023-12-21 17:12:32

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