Home for the Holidays: Mother Mushroom's Story
“Each person only has a life, but if I had the chance to choose again I would still choose my way.” Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, better known as Mother Mushroom, bravely choose the life of an activist blogger in Vietnam. She faced imprisonment and separation from her family for her advocacy work for prisoners of conscience and government accountability. Mother Mushroom was released from prison this year after serving two years of her ten-year sentence.
Mother Mushroom advocacy work led her to help create the Network of Vietnamese Bloggers. This network provided a source of news for the Vietnamese people on Facebook and other internet outlets that did not have to conform to government censors. In 2015, the Stockholm based advocacy group, Civil Rights Defenders, named Ms. Quynh their civil rights defender of the year. One of the issues Quynh wrote about was environmental protection in the wake of the chemical spill from Formosa steel plant in Vietnam that polluted over 125 miles of coastline. This environmental disaster that hurt the fishing industry and destroyed vast quantities of marine life was initially downplayed by the Vietnamese government. Protests broke out across Vietnam and bloggers, including Mother Mushroom, criticized the government for its inadequate response to the spill. The government saw the protests as a threat to their power and cracked down hard, arresting over 500 people involved in the protests.
On October 10, 2016, Mother Mushroom was one of those arrested for spreading “propaganda against the state.” She had to wait for her trial until June 2017. The closed-door trial lasted only three hours and not even her family could be in attendance. One of her defense lawyers, Vo An Don, was disbarred just days before the trial. At the end of the trial, the judge sentenced her to ten years of prison time. While in prison, the authorities made it difficult for Quynh’s mother and her two children to visit her and denied her access to nutritional vitamins to support her continually weakening health. Authorities made Quynh’s situation even worse by transferring her further away from her family to the notorious Prison no. 5. Vietnam has used this tactic with other political prisoners to isolate them from the emotional support of their families.
Government agencies and multiple NGOs, including BPSOS, continued to pressure the Vietnamese government to release Mother Mushroom. Her case continued to garner attention, as Mother Mushroom was awarded the “International Women of Courage Award” by the First Lady. Suddenly, on October 17, 2018, Mother Mushroom was released from prison and sent into exile to the United States along with her family. Quynh's daughter wrote a thank you letter to the First Lady and people around the world who helped secure her mother’s release from prison. She expressed her happiness that after a long period of time, she can finally hug her mother and celebrate her birthday with her mother and brother this year.
Even though she has left Vietnam, Mother Mushroom said that her exile to the United States will not stop her from advocating for freedom for all Vietnamese. BPSOS is grateful that Quynh is finally home with her family for the holidays.
Currently Vietnam holds 196 activists in detention and if you would like to support BPSOS work to free these activists, please consider donating at www.bpsos.org/donate