Hundreds attend funeral of Vietnam pro-democracy activist Hoang

HANOI — Hundreds of Vietnamese relatives and supporters on Saturday attended the funeral of veteran pro-democracy activist Hoang Minh Chinh, a politically charged event held under heavy police scrutiny.
Several dissidents in the one-party state were able to attend the ceremony for the Communist Party veteran-turned-activist who spent much of his life in jail or under house arrest for advocating a multi-party system.

“Today is a big event for democratic activists because Professor Chinh is one of our most renowned activists,” said another prominent critic of the government, Pham Hong Son, who has also spent years in prison.

“His passing away is a turning point for our movement,” said Son, wearing a white funereal headband usually reserved for relatives of the dead.

At least 500 people attended the ceremony, including family members, dissidents, writers and poets — but also scores of undercover police, who photographed and videotaped mourners but did not obstruct foreign media.

Pro-democracy activists said police had prevented at least six dissidents from attending the funeral of Chinh, who died this month aged 87.

Buddhist monk Thich Quang Do, deputy head of the outlawed Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV), who cannot leave his Ho Chi Minh City pagoda, dispatched monk Thich Khong Tanh to perform the funeral rites.

“Professor Chinh’s family requested that monks from the UBCV conduct the funeral,” said Thanh. “His ashes will be spread in rivers, over mountains and in the ocean so he can return to his homeland.”

The ceremony was interrupted when an activist unfurled a banner for the banned “Victims of Injustice” group. Police removed her from the hall but soon allowed her back in on the family’s request.

U.S. Ambassador Michael Michalak sent a diplomat and said in a statement he was “saddened” to learn of Chinh’s death of prostate cancer on Feb. 7, calling him “a true patriot” and a man of courage and dignity.

“A key leader in Vietnam’s struggle for independence, he continued that struggle throughout his life to have the voices of his fellow citizens heard.”

Chinh was born on Nov. 16, 1920 and as a teenager joined the fight for independence from French colonial rulers, who jailed him for five years.

After Vietnam declared its independence in 1945 he became head of the Democratic Party of Vietnam (DPV), which was then supported by the revolutionary Viet Minh and was finally dissolved in 1986.

Trained in the Soviet Union, Chinh served as dean of the Institute of Marxist-Leninist Philosophy in Hanoi, but he fell out of favor in the 1960s, in part for opposing armed struggle in U.S.-backed South Vietnam.

In 1967 he criticized the Communist Party in a paper, which earned him the first of several prison terms that would add up to at least 12 years.

“Hoang Minh Chinh came to communism with the brave, undaunted heart of a patriotic young man, yearning for the nation’s independence,” said lawyer Tran Lam. “He also abandoned communism with the heart of a patriotic intellectual.”

Chinh had been under house arrest since 2001 but was released briefly in 2005 to seek treatment for cancer in the United States.

While there, he testified before a Congress Committee about Vietnam’s political situation, for which he was attacked in Vietnam’s state press and, upon his return, pelted by a mob with tomatoes and eggs.

On April 8, 2006 he became one of the first signatories of the “8406” pro-democracy manifesto and in June that year relaunched the still-banned DPV.

His daughter Tran Thi Thanh Ha played a message Chinh recorded before he died, in which he said with a weakened voice: “I wish you success in the struggle for freedom and independence and happiness for all Vietnamese people.”

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