IN A surprise move, the Vietnamese government released Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, the environmental blogger known as Mother Mushroom, from prison on Wednesday.
Quynh, 39, was subsequently flown to Houston, along with her mother and two children.
Quynh was arrested on Oct 10, 2016, and on June 29, 2017, she was sentenced to 10 years in prison for “conducting propaganda against the state.”
It remains unclear why Quynh was released, though Secretary of Defense James Mattis was visiting Ho Chi Minh City at the time, leading to speculation that this was a goodwill gesture by the Vietnamese government.
The State Department has yet to comment on the matter.
According to AFP, upon arrival in Texas, Quynh said: “I will continue to raise my voice until there is human rights in Vietnam, real human rights.”
Good news! Viet Nam has released prominent blogger Me Nam, known as Mother Mushroom.
While she is no longer in prison after more than 2 years, there are over 100+ people languishing in jail because they peacefully spoke their mind – in public, on blogs or on Facebook. pic.twitter.com/VLEBmo0PmY
— AmnestyInternational (@amnesty) October 17, 2018
She gained international attention following a 2016 disaster in which the Formosa Ha Tinh Steel Corporation discharged huge amounts of chemicals from an under-construction steel plant on the north-central coast. Fish stocks were decimated throughout four provinces, wiping out the livelihoods of numerous fishermen and their families.
The disaster is among the most controversial topics in Vietnam today, as public anger after the catastrophe quickly targeted the government. Quynh’s writing about Formosa played a role in her arrest.
Quynh hails from Nha Trang, a city on Vietnam’s south-central coast. She had originally been imprisoned there, but earlier this year was moved to another facility hundreds of miles away, separating her from her family.
Quynh had reportedly gone on at least one hunger strike in order to protest her treatment.
In March 2017, First Lady Melania Trump awarded her the International Women of Courage Award, further raising her profile.
She is but one of many activists to have been arrested in the wake of the Formosa scandal, most of whom remain behind bars. She is also not the first to be released and exiled abroad.
In June, Nguyen Van Dai, a human rights lawyer who had been sentenced to 15 years in jail for “attempting to overthrow the state,” was sent to Germany.
The aftermath of the Formosa disaster has largely faded from public view, especially as nationwide protests over the summer have led to a fresh round of activist arrests and prison sentences.
Quynh’s release will likely refocus some attention on the matter, though likely not within Vietnam, where this development has yet to be reported in local media.
This article first appeared on Mongabay.