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A blogger in Vietnam will spend 10 years in jail for comments about a Taiwan-owned factory's chemical spill

HANOI — Vietnamese activist blogger Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh — better known by her pen name Mother Mushroom — was sentenced in court Thursday to 10 years imprisonment for "propagating" against the state following a devastating chemical spill at a Taiwan-owned steel factory.

"This is an extreme injustice and cruelty given out by the authoritarian (government) as they want to silence my daughter," Quynh's mother, Nguyen Thi Tuyet Lan, told dpa after she attended the trial.

Quynh, 38, was arrested in October in Khanh Hoa province.

She had criticized the government's response to last year's catastrophic chemical spill at the Formosa Ha Tinh Steel factory, which decimated fisheries along the north central coast in Ha Tinh province.

The plant is owned by Taiwanese industrial giant Formosa Plastics Group.

The 2016 incident saw over 200 kilometers of Vietnam's coast polluted with toxic waste. The spill devastated the affected area's residents, who strongly rely on fishing and tourism. In response, the plant paid US$500 million in compensation.

Quynh was formally charged on June 2 for "conducting propaganda against the state of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam," a charge that carries up to 20 years in prison.

The trial, access to which was heavily restricted, lasted one day. Trinh Kim Tien, an activist who travelled from Ho Chi Minh City to attempt to attend, said the area around the courthouse was blocked off.

"This sentence is an act of inhumanity, they defy public opinion and people," she said.

Lan said the verdict would be hard for the family.

"At the trial, my daughter apologized to me and our relatives for having to separate our family for such a long time, but she said if she could go back in time and had a choice, she would still go on the way she has chosen to fight for justice and democracy," she said.

Quynh's activism won her the U.S. State Department's Women of Courage award in March. She was not able to collect her award, however, which would have been presented by U.S. first lady Melania Trump.

Prior to the verdict, the New York-based Human Rights Watch called her trial "outrageous."

"The scandal here is not what Mother Mushroom said, but Hanoi's stubborn refusal to repeal draconian, rights-abusing laws that punish peaceful dissent and tarnish Vietnam's international reputation," Phil Robertson, the rights group's deputy Asia director said.

Vietnam, which is ruled by a single party communist state, has outlawed dissent against the government. An Amnesty International report in 2016 listed 91 prisoners of conscience in the country, although the government denies holding political prisoners.

Speaking at a Thursday press conference in Hanoi while the trial was ongoing, Foreign Affairs spokesperson Le Thi Thu Hang defended the charges, saying that the prosecution was in accordance with Vietnamese law.

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