Vietnam Prominent Prisoner of Conscience Plans Long-lasting Hunger Strike, Rejecting to Live in Exile in U.S.
By Vu Quoc Ngu, May 17, 2016
Tran Huynh Duy Thuc, a prisoner of conscience serving his 16-year term, has announced that he will start long-lasting hunger strike on May 24 to demand rule of law and the country’s referendum on political system in Vietnam, said his family members.
He announced his decision at a meeting with his family on May 14 at the Nghe An province-based Prison No. 6, saying he will not give up until his requests are fulfilled.
Mr. Thuc, an 50-year-old engineer, entrepreneur and human rights activist, has rejected the Vietnamese government’s proposal to live in exile in the U.S., declaring that he will stay in the country to fight for the removal of Article 79 of the Penal Code, under which he was sentenced to 16 years in prison and additional five years under house arrest.
Mr. Thuc was arrested seven years ago and accused of carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the administration under Article 79. After the unfair trial in 2010, he was held in Xuyen Moc Prison in the southern province of Ba Ria-Vung Tau. On May 5, he was transferred to Nghe An as the communist government has sought to persuade him to accept their suggestion to leave for the U.S. on the occasion of the visit of President Barack Obama to the Southeast Asian nation.
Thuc said during the transfer, he was handcuffed and gagged.
In his farewell letter to his father and family, he apologized for his decision of taking hunger strike, but he said he cannot live in the country which has no rules and human rights.
Mr. Thuc , one of the London-based Amnesty International’s prisoners of conscience, was the founder and president of EIS, an international internet and telephone line provider. He opened EIS as a computer shop in 1993 which assembled its own computers, and by 1994 the brand dominated the home PC market in Ho Chi Minh City. Later on it became an internet service provider, and in 1998 became the first Vietnamese ISP to branch out from dial-up to an integrated services digital network.
His EIS started providing Voice over IP services in Vietnam in 2003. They developed subsidiaries, One-Connection Singapore, One-Connection USA /Innfex, One-Connection Malaysia and One-Connection Vietnam, to provide internet access and telephone lines internationally. One-Connection Vietnam’s operation license was withdrawn following Thuc’s arrest.
He began blogging under the pen name of Tran Dong Chan after he received no response to letters he had written to senior government officials. In 2008 he started co-writing “The Path of Viet Nam”, which assessed the current situation in Vietnam, with a comprehensive set of recommendations for governance reform focused on human rights.
He was arrested in 2009, initially for “theft of telephone wires”, and later for “carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the administration” against the state. He made a televised confession but later recanted, saying he was coerced.
His sentence was the longest ever passed on a Vietnamese dissident. His imprisonment was condemned by then British Foreign Office Minister Ivan Lewis and U.S. Ambassador Michael W. Michalak. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights concluded his detention was arbitrary and requested the Vietnamese government to release him and provide compensation. Amnesty International declared him a prisoner of conscience and called for his release.
During his serving in Xuyen Moc Prison, he and other fellows had conducted a number of hunger strikes to protest the prison’s inhumane treatment against political prisoners. The prison’s authorities punished him by putting him in solitary cell isolated from other prisoners.
Vietnamese communists have ruled the country for decades and they vow to keep the country under a single-party regime. The government has applied zero tolerance policy with local political dissidents, social activists and human rights defenders, using a number of controversial articles such as 79, 88 and 258 to silence critics, along with deploying many measures to harass and intimidate local activists.
According to the New York-based Human Rights Watch, Vietnam holds over 100 political prisoners. Hanoi has rejected the accusation, saying it imprisons only law violators.
Sometimes, Vietnam releases prisoners of conscience but forces them to live in exile in the U.S. in order to exchange for economic supports from the Western countries. In 2014-2015, it brought legal expert Cu Huy Ha Vu, bloggers Nguyen Van Hai (aka Dieu Cay) and Ta Phong Tan from prisons to international airports and forced them to take international flights to the U.S.
Well-known land rights activist Bui Thi Minh Hang was reportedly to reject such proposal and decided to remain in the country.
Vietnam has intensified political crackdown before and after the 12th National Congress of the ruling communist party. In the last ten days of March, it imprisoned eight dissidents and bloggers, including prominent blogger Nguyen Huu Vinh (aka Ba Sam). Hanoi also arrested human rights lawyer Nguyen Van Dai on December 16 last year without bringing him to court.
In the last three weeks, security forces have violently suppressed peaceful demonstrations on environmental issue. Police have arrested hundreds of environmentalists and severely beaten many of them during the detention and in custody.
Security forces in Ho Chi Minh City still hold dozens of activists who participated in the protests on last Sunday. Freed activists claimed that police have used electrical batons during interrogation.
Vietnam will conduct the general elections for the country’s parliament and People’s Councils in the provincial, district and communal levels on May 22. The vote is formal since the communist party already appointed its officials to key posts in the central agencies in April and in lower levels in late 2015.
Vietnam will also host U.S. President Barack Obama on his first and final visit on May 22-25. Human rights issue will be one of main topics for talks between Obama and the host leaders.
Prior to his trip to Vietnam, many politicians and human rights activists have called on Obama to request Hanoi to improve its human rights records in order to boost bilateral economic and security ties.
The U.S. should not lift its ban on lethal weapon sale to Vietnam given the country’s severe human rights violations, said American activists, saying the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam holds a monopoly on power for decades and restricts basic rights such as freedoms of speech, opinion, press, association and religion, often through physical intimidation and harassment. The nation’s Penal Code also criminalizes the exercise of many basic rights.