THE HUMAN RIGHTS SITUATION IN VIETNAM
With delicate WTO access negotiations going on and PNTR status pending in the U.S. Congress, one would think that Hanoi would soft-pedal its repression of the dissidents, at least until PNTR is secured and President Bush completes his visit to Vietnam (at the APEC Summit) this coming November.
But contrary to expectation, the situation of human rights in Vietnam has worsened day by day.
The August 12 raid in Hanoi
On Saturday, August 12, between the hours of 8:00 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. (Hanoi time), the Public Security Police descended in force on the homes of five dissidents who were subsequently forced to go to various Public Security offices in town (for instance, Hoang Tien to No. 7 Nguyen Dinh Chieu Street, Hanoi, and Nguyen Khac Toan to 87 Tran Hung Dao Street, Hanoi) to answer about a "plot" in which they are involved.
The five were:
- The writer HOANG TIEN, who lives at Room A11, Thanh Xuan Bac Collective, Hanoi
- The recently released NGUYEN KHAC TOAN, who lives at 11 Ngo Trang Tien, Hanoi
- The lawyer NGUYEN VAN DAI, who lives at Apt 302-Z8, Bach Khoa Collective, Hanoi
- The engineer BACH NGOC DUONG, whose temporary address in Hanoi is at No. 15 Alley 88, To Vinh Dien Street, Hanoi
- And Ms. DUONG THI XUAN, a cousin of Nguyen Khac Toan and a teacher, who lives at Apt 403 Alley 186, Ban To Chuc (Organization Committee) Collective, Ngoc Ha Street, Hanoi.
The case of Ms. Xuan is slightly different. She was not arrested right away. Instead, she was followed by six Public Security officers all the way to Bac Giang (about 30 miles north of Hanoi) before she was arrested and escorted back to Hanoi for interrogation.
The plot they were supposed to be involved in is their intention to put out an Internet bulletin entitled TU DO DAN CHU (Freedom and Democracy), "the voice of all freedom and democracy loving Vietnamese all over the world," which can be later downloaded and distributed as a paper bulletin (because not many people have Internet access in Vietnam). The first issue was planned for August 15.
In the case of Nguyen Khac Toan, he is reported by Radio Free Asia (on August 14) that when he was asked to go to the Public Security Office mentioned above, at first he did not want to comply saying that the police did not have an arrest warrant for him. But the police, about ten of them, nonetheless forced him to go. He was interrogated from 9:30 until 12:30. At the lunch break, he refused to eat in protest. The interrogation resumed at 2:30 p.m. and lasted until 7 p.m. before he was allowed home.
We are told that none of the five dissidents agreed to sign the minutes of the interrogation sessions saying that they are illegal. According to a protest letter written the next day (August 13) to the Minister of Public Security by the writer Hoang Tien, this is what happened in his case:
Normally an invitation to go and have a chat with the police would allow the recipient some time to arrange his schedule. In this case, there was no advance notice and he was forced to go with the police.
The interrogation revolves around the group's intention to publish the bulletin Tu Do Dan Chu.
The dissidents' position was that they did nothing wrong. The right to freedom of opinion is expressly mentioned in the Vietnamese Constitution (of 1992). If the press law limits that right, it is the press law that is illegal, because it is unconstitutional.
The bulletin they intended to put out is a mere internal bulletin, it is not meant for sale to the public nor is it meant to be a business operated for profit. It is no different from an internal organ like a school bulletin board. Furthermore, it is not even out yet. So how can it be judged to be illegal. With no exhibit available, how can the dissidents be accused of doing something wrong?
The way the police operated shows that they realized they were not in the right. For instance, they showed the dissidents the invitations but took them right back. These invitation papers would be handed over to the dissidents at the end of the interrogation session, they were told, but this was not done.
Furthermore, when in the afternoon of Saturday, August 12, the police went to the dissidents' homes to look for evidence, they did not have a search warrant. When asked, they could not produce any. Nonetheless, they came not in uniform but in a group of up to 15-16 persons who constantly communicated with some higher authority on their cell phones. They said, they were told to proceed with the search even without warrant. So they just shoved aside Hoang Tien and his wife, both in their 70's, and started confiscating all sorts of documents, including his literary writings and not just political documents. When they were done they asked Hoang Tien to sign a paper saying that he voluntarily handed over these materials. But Hoang Tien refused. In the end they took away a big carton of documents, his computer's CPU and his Motorola cell phone--without giving him even a receipt. "It's like robbery," Hoang Tien commented.
In the case of Nguyen Khac Toan, the police also went to his home while he was being interrogated at the police station. Toan's mother, who is in her 80's, refused to let them in. Nonetheless, they forced their way in and took away documents and his computer's CPU.
Bach Ngoc Duong and Nguyen Van Dai were similarly treated. They both had their computer CPU taken away and their cell phones confiscated.
After Saturday, Aug 12, Toan was summoned by the police again on Monday, Aug 14, then on Tuesday, Aug 15, because they suspected him to be the brain behind the proposed bulletin, Tu Do Dan Chu. The engineer Bach Ngoc Duong only offered his computer skills but it is believed that his communications with others were somehow known to the police, which led to the raid.
The June 30 raid on the home of Prof. Nguyen Thanh Giang
It should be mentioned in this connection that at 6:30 a.m. on June 30, some 20 Public Security police from Tu Liem District in Hanoi invaded the home of Prof. Nguyen Thanh Giang (No. 6 Trung Van Geophysics and Aeronautics Collective, Tu Liem, Hanoi) and carted away some 50 kilograms of books and documents, including many of his recent writings on human rights and Sino-Vietnamese relations. Prof. Giang was so incensed by this raid that he tried—futilely—to resist with a butcher knife!
Then also, during July, the police cut off all telephone lines to the homes of the dissidents throughout the countries, including disrupting their cell phone services.
Torture of Vu Hoang Hai (August 5-8, 2006)
Back in April this year, a group of 118 persons signed the so-called “2006 Manifesto for Freedom and Democracy for Vietnam” spearheaded by Father Nguyen Van Ly in Hue and Phuong Nam Do Nam Hai in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City). Since then, nearly two thousand more people inside Vietnam have added their signatures to the Manifesto, which is also widely supported outside of Vietnam. The group has since renamed itself the “8406 Bloc” (“8406” standing for “8 April 2006”).
The authorities at first did nothing about this group but when VPA (Vietnam People’s Army) veteran Tran Anh Kim in Thai Binh (home of an anti-corruption mini-rebellion back in 1997) succeeded in gathering 50 signatures from Thai Binh Province, several of these people were called up for interrogation.
The most recent cases of retaliation against the 8406 Bloc people include the denial (on July 29) of an exit visa to Pham Ba Hai, who has been living in India having a business (Mayur Uniquoter, Ltd.) over there and who just happened to visit Vietnam when he was shown in a picture with some of the 8406 Bloc signatories; the summoning of Du Lam, a writer in Da Nang, to several “working sessions” because of his writings on the Dan Chim Viet website in Poland, among other; and especially, the case of Vu Hoang Hai, 41, who was not only interrogated in Saigon (at the police station of Ward 18, District 4, Ho Chi Minh City) but also tortured from August 5 to 8.
According to a letter which he sent abroad, on August 4 he received an invitation to go to the police station the next day for a “working session.” He arrived there at 8 a.m., was brought into a room where “a great many people were there, un-uniformed people, showing very cold faces. They all looked at me intensely, took my picture before asking me to sit facing them.”
He was shown a copy of the 2006 Manifesto and a number of articles attributed to the “Bach Dang Giang Foundation.” Asked whether he brought along a tape recorder, he answered No but was still searched and his cell phone taken away. They then opened the cell phone address book and asked Hai about each and every person found in it. They were especially insistent on the cases of former refugees who came back to visit Vietnam. When he protested, an older police officer walked up to him and started cursing. Hai said that was uncalled for, he immediately received a hard punch on his left face that left him reeling. And this treatment went on and on, he is punched or hit in the back each time his answers were deemed to be unsatisfactory. This went on until 6 p.m.
When he complained and said that he had hypertension, Hai was told: “If you die we would be even happier.” In the meantime, his wife was outside the police station crying and holding their young infant. Other police were dispatched to his home to tell his family that they had better cooperate, otherwise they would in bad trouble.
The next day (August 6), he was ordered to go back to the station. He was not beaten up as on the first day but interrogation went on all day, with the police officers taking turns. When he could not stand it any more, they would yell and said that he must stay awake and answer them. He was not released until 6 p.m. The same treatment went on on the third day (August 7) and he had to tell them in every detail what he did ever since his refugee days.
On August 8, he was interrogated from morning till night without much food or drink. The police alternated threatening him and cajoling him, which left him so tense that he felt totally exhausted. Fortunately, friends of his came and rushed him to the hospital so that he could be taken care of because of the beatings he received on the first day. That was how he escaped further interrogation and torture.
The tortures in Bac Giang
The situation of the Unified Buddhist Church is not much better. Not only was there an attempt by the police to set fire to Phuoc Buu Temple in Xuyen Moc district, Ba Ria-Vung Tau province, on two nights, August 3 and 5, simply because the resident abbot and priests refused to quit the UBC and join the state-sponsored Buddhist Church. How do we know that it’s the police work? Very simple, normally there would be a bevy of police 24 hours a day in front of the temple to take note of who comes in and out. But on the said nights, somehow the police simply disappeared as by magic.
In Khanh Hoa province, the abbot nun Thich Nu Thong Man of Dich Quang Temple, Ninh Ha township, Ninh Hoa district, was expelled from her temple on June 1, 2006, because she agreed to be a Unified Buddhist Church representative in the province. After this, she and her temple were harassed in many different way with the police telling all sorts of rumors about her being a bad element. On May 28, about ten mafia types came into the temple and made a ruckus, using crude and irreverent language. The next day, Mr. Lac, head of the Religion committee of the district, even asserted: “The ruckus the other day was the doing of the chief of Thuan Loi hamlet. And we will keep on until Nun Thong Man leaves Dich Quang Temple.”
But the worst case was the revelations that came out in a trial in Bac Giang province north of Hanoi. Falsely accused of stealing Buddhist statues, a group of Buddhist priests and their faithful followers in the province were taken in, coerced to confess to crimes that they did not commit, then finally were found to be innocent in a famous court case. In the meantime, the resident abbot was tortured to death in 1978. But the case did not go to court until June 2006, twenty-eight years later.
Here is what transpired in the court proceedings:
“… I had to yell, ‘Blood, blood, please Mr. Tuc, help! (Hearing me,) they replied unanimously: ‘We’ll beat you to death for it is our charge to beat you. If you die you will be buried by the hospital people. The law is on our side, you know that?’
“I was stripped naked. They tied me up by my elbows, then hung me up on the ceiling. Tuc, who was smoking at the time, kept boring his burning cigarette into my behind, disregarding my cries as I tried to avoid them and then finally passed out. When I woke up, they used a thread to tie up my testicles and jerk them, causing me intense pain. It was not just physical pain but the pain went up to my brain as I realized that they only considered me like an animal. When I was near death because I thought my organ was about to be torn off from me, they only laughed: ‘You are a monk, what need do you have for that? You might as well throw it away, let us help you.” (Thich Tam Thuong, lay name Le Van Thuong, writing in his complaint letter to the court)
“… They had me without food or drink, then hung me up and down, then took turns hitting me in my stomach. For six months I was like a mental case, being whipped constantly, with feces oozing out of my anus, my mouth bleeding, exactly like in the Middle Age.” (Duong Phuc Thien’s declaration in court)
“They stamped all over you making you throw up, yet you have to eat what you just threw up, otherwise they would beat you to death.” (Declaration of notice Thich Dao Son, born Nguyen Quy Doan)
“You had to eat dead rats, dead cockroaches, because if you don’t they would torture you, pulling out your tongue some ten inches out of your mouth.” (Declaration of Layman Duong Phuc Thinh)
“In just this one case alone, there was no evidence whatsoever but the behavior of the investigators towards the defendants is enough to show that the Bac Giang legal authorities were acting to the detriment of the people, totally against their interest: they would beat the innocent until they confess to being criminals, the reasoning behind the charges is opaque, roundabout and even irrational, the setting up of false testimony (each person was paid 500,000 dong per testimony), and the running of the trial, using police forces in strength, including the use of German shepherds…”
For more information, please contact
Vietnam Human Rights Network:
Nguyen Ngoc Bich at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Nguyen Thanh Trang at: email@example.com