Posts Tagged ‘Mother Mushroom’

Vietnamese Human Rights Defenders Targeted with Ocean Lotus Spyware

February 25, 2021

On 24 February 2021 a new Amnesty International investigation has identified a campaign of spyware attacks targeting Vietnamese human rights defenders (HRDs) from February 2018 to November 2020. Amnesty International’s Security Lab attributes these attacks to an attack group known as Ocean Lotus. The group has been active since at least 2014, targeting the private sector and HRDs. The spyware attacks investigated and identified by the Security Lab are the latest evidence of a crackdown on freedom of expression in Viet Nam and against Vietnamese activists outside the country.

Viet Nam’s history of Online Repression: Human rights are increasingly under attack both offline and online in Viet Nam. Over the past 15 years, repression linked to online activity has intensified, leading to a wave of harassment, intimidation, physical assault, and prosecution. Amnesty International has documented multiple cases of the arrest and prosecution of HRDs in Viet Nam in retaliation for their online expression since 2006. That year, former prisoner of conscience Truong Quoc Huy was arrested at an internet café in Ho Chi Minh City. Many activists and bloggers have been convicted for “conducting propaganda against the state.” Human rights blogger Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh (Mother Mushroom) was sentenced to 10 years in prison in June 2017 on such charges. Activists and bloggers also face frequent physical assaults by officials or government-connected thugs. [see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/70F07728-1E21-4D33-F0BE-460D5A188B9D] Police place activists under house arrest or briefly detain them to prevent them from participating in public events. The government also uses travel bans to prevent activists and HRDs from going abroad and engaging with the international community. In December 2020, Amnesty International published “Let Us Breathe”, a report documenting the widespread criminalization, online harassment and physical attacks faced by activists and bloggers and the rising numbers of individuals detained for peacefully expressing themselves online. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/12/01/facebook-and-youtube-are-allowing-themselves-to-become-tools-of-the-vietnamese-authorities-censorship-and-harassment/ ]

What is Ocean Lotus?

The cyber-security industry, comprised of individual and company-based researchers, routinely researches and publishes information about attack groups targeting companies and governments. The industry often gives informal names to groups they continuously track based on each group’s unique tactics and tools. Ocean Lotus (also commonly called APT32 or APT-C-00) is one of these groups. The first known Ocean Lotus attack happened in 2014. It targeted US-based NGO Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), the Associated Press international news organization and two Vietnamese activists. This group was named Ocean Lotus in a report from the Chinese company Qihoo 360 in May 2015. In 2017, the American cyber-security company FireEye published a report linking the 2014 EFF and other attacks to this same Ocean Lotus. Over the years, Ocean Lotus has developed a sophisticated spyware toolkit comprised of several variants of Mac OS spyware, Android spyware and Windows spyware. They also strategically compromise websites in order to identify visitors and conduct further targeting. More recently, Ocean Lotus was found creating fake media websites based on content automatically gathered online. A significant part of the group’s activities is the targeting of HRDs and civil society. In 2017, the cyber-security company Volexity revealed that over 100 websites were compromised, including many belonging to human rights organizations from Viet Nam, in an attack campaign that they attributed to Ocean Lotus. Numerous other spyware attacks linked to Ocean Lotus against human rights organizations have also been reported, such as the targeting of the Cambodian human rights organization, LICADHO, in 2018. The cyber-security company FireEye describes Ocean Lotus’ operations as “aligned with Vietnamese state interests” based on the list of targeted companies and civil society groups they identified. In December 2020, Facebook published a threat report linking Ocean Lotus’ activities with a Vietnamese company named CyberOne Group. Although Amnesty International was unable to independently verify any direct connection between Ocean Lotus and Cyber One or with the Vietnamese authorities, the attacks described in this investigation confirm a pattern of targeting Vietnamese individuals and organizations.

Attacks against HRDs.

The investigation conducted by Amnesty International’s Security Lab revealed that two HRDs and a non-profit human rights organization from Viet Nam have been targeted by a coordinated spyware campaign. This spyware allows to fully monitor a compromised system, including reading and writing files, or launching other malicious programs. Bui Thanh Hieu is a blogger and pro-democracy activist who goes by the name “Nguoi Buon Gio” (The Wind Trader). He writes about social and economic justice and human rights. He is also critical of the Vietnamese government’s policies and actions regarding its relations with China, including the dispute over sovereignty in the South China Sea. Due to his writing and activism, the licence for an Internet Café he owned in Ha Noi has been revoked and he has been repeatedly subjected to reprisals. He was arrested along with activists Pham Doan Trang [see https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/fe8bf320-1d78-11e8-aacf-35c4dd34b7ba] and Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh in 2009 and was kept in police custody for 10 days for“abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the State.” In January 2013, Bui Thanh Hieu reported on the trial of 14 dissidents in Viet Nam and was arrested and released a few days later. He has since left Viet Nam and has lived in exile in Germany since 2013. Vietnamese Overseas Initiative for Conscience Empowerment (VOICE) is a non-profit organization supporting Vietnamese refugees and promoting human rights in Viet Nam. It was established in 1997 in the Filipino capital of Manila as a legal aid office, before formally registering in the United States in 2007. The organization continues to operate out of Manila and has helped 3,000 Vietnamese refugees resettle in third countries. Since 2011, VOICE has operated an internship programme to equip Vietnamese people with knowledge, skills, and tools to become effective activists. The organization has faced reprisals from Vietnamese authorities several times. Staff at VOICE told Amnesty International that employees and interns have been harassed, banned from travelling, and have had their passports confiscated when they have returned to Viet Nam. Furthermore, state-owned media has run an unsubstantiated smear campaign against VOICE, claiming that the organization is a terrorist group. A blogger residing in Viet Nam has also been confirmed as an Ocean Lotus target by the Security Lab, but due to security concerns their name has been omitted. They are known to have spoken out publicly about the Dong Tam incident on 9 January 2020, when approximately 3,000 security officers from Ha Noi raided Dong Tam village and killed the 84-year-old village leader Le Dinh Kinh. Three police officers were also killed. The Dong Tam incident sparked a national outcry in Viet Nam. Activists and bloggers were at the forefront of the public debate online, prompting a nationwide crackdown on on-line expression by the government. VOICE and the two bloggers all received emails containing spyware between February 2018 and November 2020. These emails pretended to share an important document. They either contained spyware as an attachment or as a link. Once downloaded and launched on the victim’s computer, the spyware would then open a decoy document in line with what the email pretended to share to trick the victim in believing the file was benign. Screenshot of the email sent to VOICE in April 2020The spyware identified by the Security Lab were either for Mac OS or Windows systems. The Windows spyware was a variant of a malware family called Kerrdown and used exclusively by the Ocean Lotus group. Kerrdown is a downloader that installs additional spyware from a server on the victim’s system and opens a decoy document. In this case, it downloaded Cobalt Strike, a commercial spyware toolkit developed by the American company Strategy Cyber and routinely used to lawfully audit the security of organizations through simulated attacks. It allows an attacker full access to the compromised system including executing scripts, taking screenshots or logging keystrokes. Unlicensed versions of Cobalt Strikes have been increasingly used by attack groups, including Ocean Lotus, over the past three years.Example of Windows Spyware Infection Chain from one of the emails received The Mac OS Spyware was a variant of a malware family for Mac OS developed and used exclusively by Ocean Lotus, analysed by Trend Micro in April 2018 and November 2020. It allows the perpetrator to access system information, download, upload or execute files and execute commands.

USA’s International Women of Courage Awards for 2019

December 18, 2019

Stock Daily Dish on 16 December 2019 reports that Melania Trump made a rare public appearance to present 13 women with the 2017 Secretary of State’s International Women of Courage Award. The prize honors those who fight for women’s empowerment, often at great personal risk. “Together, we must declare that the era of allowing the brutality against women and children is over while affirming that the time for empowering women around the world is now,” Mrs. Trump said. She called on leaders to “continue to work towards gender empowerment and respect for people from all backgrounds and ethnicities,” and on the international community to fight all forms of injustice. For more on this award – and 7 more that have ‘courage’ in the title – see: http://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/international-women-of-courage-award.

Each US embassy can nominate one woman for the award. The 13 women honored this year are:

Malebogo Molefhe (Botswana), who used to play for the Botswana national basketball team, has served as an advocate for survivors of gender-based violence after she was attacked and shot eight times by her ex-boyfriend in 2009 and confined to a wheelchair,

Rebecca Kabugho (Democratic Republic of the Congo), has led peaceful anti-government protests calling for credible elections in the DRC, and spent six months in prison for her role as an activist

Major Aichatou Ousmane Issaka (Niger), currently the deputy director of social work at the Military Hospital of Niamey, was one of the first women to join the Nigerien army in 1996, and was one of the first to attend a military academy. She has served throughout Niger, including in the Diffa Region, a stronghold of the Boko Haram terrorist group.

Veronica Simogun (Papua New Guinea), the founder and director of the Family for Change Association, who works to help shelter and relocate women affected by violence,

Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh (Vietnam), a blogger and activist who promotes environmental and human rights issues under the nom de plum Me Nam or Mother Mushroom. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/10/18/vietnamese-blogger-mother-mushroom-released/]

Saadet Ozkan (Turkey) was a primary school teacher, who uncovered a “decades-long pattern of sexual abuse” and forced a criminal investigation of the principal; she still supports the victims and their case as a private consultant.

Jannat Al Ghezi (Iraq), helps Iraqi women escape violence, rape and domestic abuse, as well as Islamic State terrorism and occupation, and offers them shelter, training, protection and legal services through the Organization of Women‘s Freedom in Iraq

Sister Carolin Tahhan Fachakh (Syria), known as Sister Carol, runs a nursery school in war-torn Damascus for more than 200 Muslim and Christian children, as well as a tailoring workshop for internally displaced women.

Fadia Najib Thabet (Yemen) is a child protection officer who has dissuaded young boys from joining Al-Qaeda, exposed its Yemeni branch Ansar al-Sharia as a recruiter of child soldiers and reported on human rights violations for the UN Security Council.

Sharmin Akter (Bangladesh), a student who refused an arranged marriage at age 15, which resulted in the prosecution of her mother and her much-older prospective husband,

Sandya Eknelygoda (Sri Lanka), who fought for justice after the disappearance of her journalist husband in 2010 and who has served as a voice for the families of others who have disappeared during the country‘s civil war.

Natalia Ponce de Leon (Colombia), who has become a human rights activist for the victims of acid attacks after a stalker threw a liter of sulfuric acid on her in 2014,

Arlette Contreras Bautista (Peru), a domestic violence survivor and activist, who helped launch the Not One Woman Less movement, which aims to increase the social and political awareness of women‘s rights and gender-based violence in Peru.

The newspaper noticed that Mrs Trump did not mention her husband or his presidential administration during her 10-minute remarks.

Women at the frontline for human rights in 2018

December 18, 2018

Read the rest of this entry »

Vietnamese blogger ‘Mother Mushroom’ released

October 18, 2018

Quynh, one of Vietnam's most prominent dissidents, was serving a 10-year-sentence for anti-state propaganda [AP]
Quynh, one of Vietnam’s most prominent dissidents, was serving a 10-year-sentence for anti-state propaganda [AP]

Vietnam has released dissident blogger Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, also known as “Mother Mushroom“. [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/07/06/the-kind-of-blogging-that-got-mother-mushroom-10-years-imprisonment-in-vietnam/]. Quynh, 39, was freed from jail and put on a plane to the United States where her mother and children live. She boarded a flight to Houston around noon Wednesday 17 October 2018, said Martin Gemzell, Asia program director for Civil Rights Defenders, a group based in Sweden.

Quynh, one of Vietnam’s most well-known activists, whose recognisable pen name “Me Nam” comes from her daughter’s nickname “mushroom”, was jailed in June 2017.  She is an outspoken critic of Vietnam’s one-party state and gained notoriety with her writing about the environment, politics and deaths in police custody. Quynh came to prominence when she received the Civil Rights Defender of the Year award in 2015 and also the (USA) International Woman of Courage Award in 2017.

The overly broad, ill-defined scope of this law makes it all too easy to quash any kind of dissenting views and to arbitrarily detain individuals who dare to criticize government policies,” former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said in 2016.

While the Vietnamese authorities have not given a reason for the release of Quynh, it coincided with a visit to Vietnam by US Secretary of Defence Jim Mattis.  Quynh is the second Vietnamese dissident released this year. A prominent human rights lawyer, Nguyen Van Dai, was released from prison in June and went to Germany.

[See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/11/18/overview-of-recent-campaigning-for-human-rights-defenders-in-vietnam/]

https://www.wral.com/mother-mushroom-vietnamese-activist-is-said-to-be-released/17922631/

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/10/dissident-vietnamese-blogger-mother-mushroom-released-181017100207668.html

Overview of recent campaigning for human rights defenders in Vietnam

November 18, 2017

The NOW! campaign, founded by 14 human rights organizations, calls for the immediate release of 165 prisoners of conscience in Vietnam. The campaign has established a comprehensive online database containing information about Vietnam’s prisoners of conscience. According to the database, Vietnam’s prisoners of conscience included bloggers, journalists, environmentalists, students, farmers, and workers who were arrested for their peaceful activism. Together, these men and women are serving 955 years and one month in prison, followed by 204 years under house arrest. Most of them were charged with violating article 79 of the criminal law, “plotting to overthrow the government”, and article 88, “conducting propaganda against the state”. But Civil Rights Defenders, one of the members of the NOW! campaign, said that the number of prisoners of conscience could be higher. [see also earlier post: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/01/14/assaults-on-human-rights-defenders-on-the-rise-in-vietnam/]

A letter signed by 17 civil society organizations urged leaders who attended the 2017 summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) in Vietnam to raise the issue of human rights violations committed by state forces. The letter informed APEC leaders that Vietnam has detained at least 25 peaceful activists and bloggers since last year. “This crackdown is contrary to the goal of “Creating New Dynamism, Fostering a Shared Future” which is the stated theme of this year’s APEC gathering. Arbitrary detention, censorship, and state-sponsored violence against activists and human rights defenders are not only an affront to our common humanity but a grave violation of international human rights laws and standards. We believe it is in the strong interest of APEC and of the international community to speak out against the widespread and systematic violations of human rights violations in Vietnam.”

Nine human rights groups launched the #StopTheCrackdownVN campaign decrying the crackdown of bloggers and activists in recent months and the harsh prison terms handed out to critics of the state. Don Le, a writer and member of Viet Tan political party, explained how the notorious articles 79 and 88 of the law are used by authorities to silence citizens: The law also allows authorities to filter, block or temporarily shutdown networks on the basis of any information that may be seen to “incite” mass gatherings that disturb national security and order. Given the Vietnamese government’s broad interpretation of national security, we might expect to see more attacks and shutdowns aimed at independent media and bloggers and arrests of peaceful community mobilisers.

But Vietnam is not easily impressed as the recent case of reprisals shows: Front Line Defenders reports that three human rights defenders were briefly arrested after meeting the EU Delegation in Hanoi. [On 16 November 2017, human rights defenders Pham Doan Trang, Bui Thi Minh Hang and Nguyen Quang were arrested by police after attending a meeting with the European Union Delegation in Hanoi to discuss human rights issues ahead of the EU – Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue, scheduled for 1 December 2017. After being kept incommunicado without access to legal representation, the human rights defenders were released. They remain under surveillance.] From Line adds that: Authorities in Vietnam have a habit of tightening the grip over human rights defenders and civil society ahead of international meetings. During the APEC Summit in Danang between 6 and 10 November 2017, and afterwards, during the state visits of U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping, several human rights defenders and activists were kept under house arrest and heavy surveillance. Reports also state that human rights defenders were harassed by policemen in plainclothes to prevent them from meeting with international officials or organising demonstrations.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a statement in July 2017 expressing concern about the detention and persecution of citizen journalists: We urge the Vietnamese authorities to immediately release all those detained in connection with their exercise of their rights to freedom of expression, and to amend the overly broad ill-defined laws that are used – under the pretext of national security – to crack down on dissent.

The kind of blogging that got Mother Mushroom 10 years imprisonment in Vietnam

July 6, 2017

On 20 April 2015 I reported on a Vietnamese blogger nicknamed “Mother Mushroom” being awarded the Civil Rights Defender of the Year award [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2015/04/20/vietnamese-blogger-mother-mushroom-gets-civil-rights-defender-of-the-year-award-2015/]. Now a long piece by Visen Liu under the title ““Why did the fish die?” goes into detail about  why Vietnam thinks it needs to imprison for 10 years a mom blogger.

Last week, Vietnam convicted and sentenced her to prison for a decade on charges of “conducting propaganda against the state.” The main evidence against her? A body of writing, some 400 Facebook posts about fish deaths, China’s intervention in the South China Sea, and police brutality in Vietnam. Her Facebook posts were described by the police as “a pessimistic, one-sided view that caused public confusion and affected the people’s faith [in the State].”

Nguyen has described her writing differently, saying it was motivated by wanting to leave a better country for her children. She’s part of a wave of environmental activism that is growing in the one-party state where civil liberties and the press are severely restricted; in recent years Vietnam has seen public rallies over harm to marine life and to protect trees. Over years, from posting about parenting, she graduated to impassioned writing about the environment and human rights:

  • The 2016 fish die-off. Nguyen has often posted about the deaths of some 70 metric tons of fish in April 2016 that locals blamed on waste water from a new steel plant in the Ha Tinh province owned by Formosa Ha Tinh Steel, a subsidiary of Taiwan-based Formosa Plastics Group, a major investor in Vietnam. State-media first blamed the firm for the marine crisis, which hurt both fishing and tourism, but then back-tracked. The firm also initially said it was not to blame, sparking anger and protestsWhile heading to an environmental rally last May, Nguyen was assaulted in a hotel lobby, according to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). Later that month, Nguyen made it to another rally and managed to hold up a sign asking “Why did the fish die?” Vietnam eventually officially blamed Formosa, which has promised to pay $500 million for clean-up and compensation. Security authorities cited signs they found in Nguyen’s home, including one that says “Fish need water,” as part of their evidence against her, according to the OHCHR.

  • South China Sea In November 2015, Nguyen called on people to rally against the visit of Chinese president Xi Jinping, citing detentions of fishermen as well as China’s treatment of its ethnic minorities. Vietnam and China have ongoing territorial disputes in the South China Sea. In an earlier post she criticized Vietnam’s stance with China over the South China Sea.

  • Deaths in detention Nguyen and others compiled reports from state-owned media and put together a file called “Stop police killing civilians” about 31 people who died in police custody. The document was later criticized by the police: “[It] bears a hostile viewpoint against the people’s police force.” ….

    Offline protests Apart from blogging, she also waged her battles in offline protests. She actively participated and advocated for activities to promote a freer political atmosphere and cleaner environment. …

..She was detained and allegedly assaulted by police several times before her current incarceration. One time she faced a $66 fine over her Facebook posts. When Civil Rights Defenders, a Swedish advocacy group, awarded her the title of Defender of 2015, she was not able to receive the prize in person as she was in detention. At the same time as she was becoming an increasingly active blogger, Nguyen continued to support her family, including her two children, 60-year-old mom and 90-year-old grandmother, by working as an independent tour guide.

Things came to a head last year. Nguyen was arrested in October 2016 after she accompanied the mom of an imprisoned online activist to help her see her son. Her daughter, now 11, saw her being hand-cuffed and taken away by numerous police officers. Nguyen’s son was just two at the time of her arrest. In March, the US awarded her its “Women of Courage” award. Numerous rights groups have called for her release, including Human Rights Watch, Civil Rights Defenders and Pen America.

Her activism has been motivated in part by her strong views that her children should inherit a country where human rights, environmental protection, and rule of law are meaningful and part of everyday reality, and not just rhetoric spouted by the ruling Communist Party,” wrote Phil Robertson, of Human Rights Watch….

Source: Mother Mushroom wants to know: The questions and Facebook posts that led Vietnam to imprison a mom blogger — Quartz

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-40439837

Vietnamese blogger Mother Mushroom gets Civil Rights Defender of the Year award 2015

April 20, 2015

Stockholm-based Civil Rights Defenders announced earlier this month that its Civil Rights Defender of the Year award for 2015 has gone to Ms. Nguyễn Ngọc Như Quỳnh. She is Coordinator for the Vietnamese Bloggers Network and well-known for her use of social media to speak out against injustices and human rights abuses in Vietnam. Quỳnh has been blogging under the pseudonym of Me Nam (Mother Mushroom) and has openly criticised the Vietnamese government over human rights abuses and corruption. She began blogging in early 2006 when she paid a visit to a hospital and witnessed many poor people in the hot sun desperately waiting for treatment, but ignored because they lacked money to bribe hospital officials.

Civil Rights Defenders reported about bloggers and the human rights movement in Vietnam in: We will not be silenced.

For further information on the award: http://www.brandsaviors.com/thedigest/award/human-rights-defender-year-award

Civil Rights Defenders – Civil Rights Defender of the Year 2015 – Nguyễn Ngọc Như Quỳnh.