Freedom for Vietnam, Freedom for My Brother
Human rights and Vietnam
March 17, 2004, 10:21 a.m.
On March 17, 2003, a year ago today, Vietnamese
security police arrested my brother, Nguyen Dan Que, in front of his home in
Saigon. A longtime activist for freedom in Vietnam, Que has been held in jail
ever since, cut off from any outside contact.
His crime? According to the Vietnamese authorities, that
evening he was on his way to a café to send out, via Internet, documents
critical of the government. Later that night, police searched his home and
seized his papers, among which was a press release rebutting a government claim
(made five days earlier) that freedom of information reigns in Vietnam. The
press release stated: "We are declaring to the world that all media in
Vietnam are tools of the regime for the party's propaganda purposes. There are
no private, independent newspapers in Vietnam, not even ONE." The press
release urged support for the Freedom of Information in Vietnam Act of 2003, introduced
by Representatives Ed Royce and Zoe Lofgren in February of that year.
learned in May of last year that the Vietnamese government, under U.S. and
other pressures, offered to release Que on the condition that he would leave
Vietnam. But for Que, "forced exile is not freedom," and so he
remains behind bars.
had previously turned down three other opportunities to leave his country. One
such opportunity came when North Vietnamese troops rolled into Saigon in May of
1975. My family and I were fleeing in a boat, and Que came down to the port. He
could have joined us, but didn't. Idealistic, he thought that as a highly
trained physician he could make a contribution to the rebuilding of Vietnam
after the war, even under a Communist regime.
soon found he was wrong. When he challenged the government's medical policies
for giving party officials priority over the poor, he was fired as chairman of
the medical department of Cho Ray Hospital. Frustrated by the lack of basic
human rights throughout the country, he and others formed the National Front
for Progress. The Front explicitly embraced nonviolence in its efforts to get
the government "to cut down military spending, invest in the welfare of
the people," and hold free and fair elections. The National Front for
Progress expanded rapidly, in the process gaining the support of many
intellectuals. The group published two underground newspapers, both of which
soon found a wide following among students and intellectuals.
this intolerable, the government arrested Que in February of 1978 along with 47
fellow activists. Five died in captivity. When Que protested to prison
authorities, he was locked up for two months in a five-by-six cell without
sanitary facilities. In 1998, thanks in large part to a campaign led by Amnesty
International, he was released. Again, he refused to emigrate. Instead, he
became the first Vietnamese member of Amnesty International — and he refused to
1990, inspired by the democratic movements in Eastern Europe, Que and some of
his associates founded the Non-Violent Movement for Human Rights in Vietnam,
and on May 11 of that year he issued a public manifesto calling for a
nonviolent struggle to achieve a free, democratic, multiparty Vietnam. Afraid
of Que's growing influence and the Movement's popularity, the regime arrested
him again on June 14, 1990. In November of 1991, Hanoi held a half-hour sham
trial and sentenced Que to 20 years of hard labor for "trying to overthrow
August of 1998, in response to international pressure, Hanoi relented. The
regime once again said Que would be released if he went abroad. Again he
refused, but was released anyway and kept under house arrest. And again, he
refused to stay quiet.
his home in Saigon, despite constant surveillance and harassment by the
authorities, Que continued to write and distribute articles advocating free
trade in Vietnam and criticizing the government's policies toward ethnic
minorities and dissidents. His connections with the outside world were cut off,
his laptop seized, and police watched his home day and night, keeping away
visitors and harassing some foreign correspondents.
Que somehow managed to get the word out to his supporters in Vietnam and in the
United States. Last year, after he dared dispute publicly the government's
statement that freedom of information exists in Vietnam, twelve Nobel Laureates
including Torsten Wiesel, Nobel Laureate in medicine and chair of the National
Academy's human-rights committee, asked the Hanoi government to release Que.
the annual Vietnam Human Rights Day commemoration on Capitol Hill last year,
Wiesel called him the Andrei Sakharov of Vietnam for having "steadily
refused to abandon his vision of a free and democratic country and his efforts
to achieve it."
years ago, Congress and the president established May 11, the date on which Que
issued his manifesto in 1990, as Vietnam Human Rights Day. In conjunction with
congressional leaders of both parties, we have commemorated that day every May
since 1994. We do so again this year, to keep alive Nguyen Dan Que's hopes for
a free Vietnam — and the Vietnamese people's hopes for the same.
Dr. Quan Nguyen, a physician in Northern Virginia,
chairs the International
Committee for Freedom to Support The Non-Violent Movement For Human Rights In
Human Rights Network
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