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Trump blamed for surging crackdown on Vietnamese dissidents

Hanoi -- Nguyen Thi Tuyet Lan, the 61-year-old mother of imprisoned Vietnamese blogger Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, has struggled to cope since her daughter was sentenced to 10 years in jail for her anti-government advocacy in June.

Unemployed and left to provide for Quynh's two small children, Lan said the future looks bleak.

"My life has been upside-down since my daughter was arrested and jailed," she said. "I am trying to pass this life day by day, but I don't know how long I can stand it."

Quynh - also known by her pen name Mother Mushroom - was sentenced on June 29, at the beginning of a nationwide crackdown on dissidents that has been draconian even by Vietnam's standards.

The country is ruled by a single-party communist state that broadly criminalizes dissent.

Five days before Quynh's conviction, activist Pham Minh Hoang, a Vietnamese-born French national whose Vietnamese citizenship was forcibly revoked earlier that month, was deported to Paris, separating him from his family.

Fresh charges, arrests and convictions against at least eight more dissidents followed in July.

The crackdown, according to activists, foreign observers and a regime official, is largely influenced by US President Donald Trump's foreign policy toward Vietnam and his perceived indifference to human rights in one of Washington's newest strategic partners.

"I can say everything has its relation. Nothing relates to nothing," said Dinh Hoang Thang, Vietnam's former ambassador to the Netherlands, when asked if the recent judicial action against dissidents stemmed from the Trump administration's indifference to human rights.

Thang, who now serves as vice president of a Vietnamese think tank that advises the government and Communist Party, was the only current or former government official willing to go on record for this story.

"Vietnam and the US now have become strategic partners, and the relationship between the two countries is developing very firmly and in all fields," he said.

Thang described the crackdown as "paradoxical" to the growing relationship between Hanoi and Washington.

The recent crackdown has cast a wide net, with targets ranging from bloggers to lawyers.

On July 24, Vietnamese police arrested Le Dinh Luong on charges of attempting to "overthrow" the government. A day later, activist Tran Thi Nga was sentenced to nine years in prison on anti-state charges.

Two activists, including high-profile human rights lawyer Nguyen Van Dai and his colleague Le Thu Ha, were charged on July 30 with attempting to "overthrow" the government. Four activists connected with Dai were also arrested the same day on the same charge.

These dissidents are known for their activities protesting China's maritime claims in the South China Sea, Vietnam's human rights record and perceived state indifference to environmentalism.

Vietnam denied any link between Trump and the recent crackdown on dissidents at an August 3 government press conference in Hanoi.

"I don't see any relationship between the arrest of the people who violated Vietnamese law with the domestic politics of any other country," said Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesperson Le Thi Thu Hang.

But Vietnam's Ministry of Public Security, the apparatus tasked with fighting anti-government activism, has likely assessed that Trump is not particularly concerned with human rights in Vietnam, said Carlyle Thayer, a South-East Asia expert and emeritus professor at the University of New South Wales.

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