Vietnam Cracks Down on Dissent

Police are using checkpoints, interrogation, and threats to quash protests in Vietnam.

Vietnamese plainclothes police arrest student demonstrator, ending a brief anti-China protest on 29 April 2008.  (AFP)

HANOI, Vietnam: Vietnamese plainclothes police arrest student demonstrator, ending a brief anti-China protest on 29 April 2008. (AFP)

BANGKOK—Authorities in Vietnam have detained dozens of rights activists and anti-Chinese protesters in recent days, interrogating some while confining others to their homes or neighborhoods.

Several activists, including writer Nguyen Xuan Nghia, college student Ngo Quynh, Pham Van Troi, and Nguyen Van Tuc, have been arrested. Others, including Phan Thanh Nghien, poet Tran Duc Thach, Nghe An, and schoolteacher Vu Hung, have been continually summoned to “working sessions” with police.

“Presently, police are installing checkpoints and cordoning off my home to prevent me from attending a demonstration,” activist Nguyen Ba Dang said.

‘Working session’

Meanwhile, democracy activist Do Duy Thong was also summoned to a “working session” last weekend, his wife Ho Thi Ba said from the couple’s home near the capital, Hanoi.

“On Sept. 13, more than 10 men from the Thuong Tin district police department under Ha Tay province arrived at our home to demand that my husband report to a ‘working session,’” she said. “He had been previously forcibly taken in for questioning. His camera and mobile phone were confiscated [without being returned].”

Protesters had planned to march to the Chinese embassy Sept. 14 to protest Beijing’s claim over the Spratly and Paracel Islands.

“Around 11 a.m., when I just finished cooking I asked them to allow him to have lunch before leaving, but he was instructed to report immediately to the session and have lunch later. I pleaded to them that because the meal was ready he should be allowed to have lunch. Also, he wasn’t guilty and he wouldn’t finish the session until late in the afternoon,” Ho Thi Ba said.

‘Accident’ threatened

Nguyen Ba Dang, based in the northern province of Hai Duong, said he had been threatened with arrest if he left his neighborhood and with attack through a road “accident” staged by criminal gangs.

He said he had been approached by officials right up to provincial government level.

“It’s the Nam Trung village police, then the Nam Sach district police, and finally the Hai Duong province police. Also, it was the staff of the Information and Indoctrination Department of Hai Duong province that came to my home with a threat that I not leave my locality,” he said.

Hanoi-based Nguyen Phuong Anh reported a similar experience.

“What happened to me was that they threatened to cause me a traffic accident if I left tomorrow, Sept. 14,” to attend a demonstration outside the Chinese embassy over the territorial dispute surrounding the Spratly and Paracel Islands, Anh said.

“My son, a fourth grader, was later hit in a staged motorcycle accident around 4 p.m. this afternoon, Sept. 13,” he said.

“It was the police who advised me not to leave home. They’ve already threatened me as they did to poet Xuan Quynh-Luu Quang Vu. Look! There are six, seven men being posted in front of my house,” he added. The condition of his injured son wasn’t immediately known.

Hospitalized

Ha Tay-based Vu Hung, who was dismissed from his job as a high school physics teacher two months ago because of his contacts with Vietnamese democracy activists, was sent to hospital after his “working sessions” with police.

“Now I am very exhausted from being constantly interrogated by the police. Presently, they’re keeping a tight lid on the information about me as I am closely guarded,” Vu Hung said.

“All that I want to say in these difficult circumstances is that everyone, college students in particular, should focus on carrying out the demonstration plan successfully. I won’t be allowed to leave home even I really want to.”

Protest was trigger

Students who planned to attend the Sept. 14 demonstration said it was the trigger for the arrests.

“They arrested and detained the people fighting for democracy and human rights as these people were preparing for the protest on Sept. 14,” one student said.

“This action goes to show that the state is afraid of the subject of democracy and freedom in Vietnam. The Vietnamese authorities’ action goes against the constitution of Vietnam. But that is not unusual in Vietnamese society.”

“They don’t want the activists to have the opportunity to inform the people how the state is being oppressive and totalitarian, of what democracy and human rights mean for Vietnam,” the student said.

“These actions actually made us youth more determined to attend the protest to let the state know that we, the younger generation, are not cowards. We don’t bow to force, and we don’t accept the humiliation of losing our land and our territorial waters,” he added.

Rights criticism

Overseas rights groups slammed the detentions, which coincided with the visit of U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte for bilateral talks on security issues, economic ties, and human rights.

“Vietnam’s government is well-known for having zero tolerance for free expression,” Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement on the group’s Web site.

“The current wave of arrests of democracy activists is a thinly veiled effort by the government to silence independent bloggers, journalists, and human rights defenders in Vietnam,” she said.

Human Rights Watch called for the immediate release from prison of a prominent internet writer and activist, Nguyen Van Hai, known by his pen name Dieu Cay, who was sentenced to 30 months in prison on Sept. 10.

Following Dieu Cay’s closed-door trial, police detained and interrogated at least a dozen other democracy activists, bloggers, and human rights defenders, it said.

Many of the activists detained this week, like Dieu Cay, have participated in protests against China’s claims to the disputed Spratly [in Vietnamese, Truong Sa] and Paracel [Hoang Sa] islands.

Original reporting in Vietnamese by Viet Hung and Hien Vy. Vietnamese service director: Diem Nguyen. Written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.

Vietnam Cracks Down on Dissent

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