Trial to begin in Vietnam for Sacramento-based activist

By Stephen Magagnini –

Friday, May 9, 2008

After six months in a Vietnamese prison, Sacramento pro-democracy activist Nguyen Quoc Quan will finally get his day in court Tuesday.

The news of Nguyen’s long-awaited trial was met with a combination of relief and anxiety by his wife in Elk Grove, Ngo Mai Huong, because Nguyen — held initially on immigration charges of entering Vietnam using a false passport — will be tried in Ho Chi Minh City for terrorism.

“When I received the news I couldn’t sleep the whole night, I’m so nervous,” Ngo said. “I felt happy, but I’m worried they’re going to put him in jail for a couple of years.”

Nguyen, an engineer and father of two sons from Elk Grove, went to Vietnam last November as a member of Viet Tan, the Vietnamese Reform Party labeled a terrorist organization by the Vietnamese government.

Nguyen, 54, and other Viet Tan members had planned to distribute 7,000 two-page leaflets promoting non-violent protest in the spirit of Mahatma Gandhi and the pro-democracy movements that transformed Eastern Europe.

The Vietnamese government confiscated the pamphlets and said in a statement that Nguyen “…was assigned by the Viet Tan … to conduct anti-government activities in association with other elements.”

Angela P. Aggeler, first secretary for press and cultural affairs at the American Embassy in Hanoi, told The Bee, “We understand that Dr. Quan’s trial will begin on May 13. We were disappointed to learn that the charge against him is terrorism as we are unaware of any information that would support such a charge.

“U.S. officials both here in Vietnam and in Washington have repeatedly called for the release of any individual for peacefully expressing his or her views and we have urged them to release Dr. Quan and that he be allowed to return to the United States as swiftly as possible,” Aggeler said, adding that U.S. consular officials in Ho Chi Minh City plan to attend the trial.

Angelina Tang Do, a Viet Tan activist based in Sacramento and Washington, D.C., said the best-case scenario is for Nguyen to be deported to the United States, which the Vietnamese government has done in similar cases. But a prominent Viet Tan activist based in Vietnam got eight years, Do said.

Viet Tan’s ultimate goal “is to rebuild Vietnam, which has suffered much political and economic backwardness,” Do said. “Viet Tan holds that the Vietnamese people must solve the problems of Vietnam. Change, therefore, must come through the power of the people in the way of grassroots, peaceful means.”



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