Political Dissidents Still Held By Communist Vietnam
Amidst the ongoing mainstream rehabilitation of Communist and supposedly former Communist nations (i.e., the media studiously avoids mention of the c-word), Communist countries continue to persecute political dissidents.
The most obvious case was the extrajudicial detention of artist and architect Ai Weiwei by Communist China. Arguably China’s most famous and accomplished artist, AI Weiwei has long been a critic of China’s government. Earlier this year, he was detained and held without trial by China’s Communist government proving to many that while China may have allowed liberalization of some parts of the economy, the country still operates a substantial police state apparatus.
Vietnam, another Communist nation now largely rehabilitated in the eyes of western media organs, also continues to detain dissidents and, according to one human rights organization, engages in torture of detainees.
In one egregious recent case, Truong Van Suong, a dissident held as a political prisoner for 30 years, died in prison on September 12. Speaking to London’s Guardian newspaper, Phil Robertson, the deputy director of Human Rights Watch for Asia pointed out that Suong was very ill.
“By locking him up again in such terrible health, the government of Vietnam essentially condemned him to die alone, separated from family and friends,” Robertson said.
It is no surprise that Suong was imprisoned by the Communist country. As an opponent of Communist tyranny, Suong reportedly has a resume of long-time principled opposition. According to the Guardian, he “had been a soldier in the former South Vietnam” and after the war he was sent to a so-called “re-education” camp for several years. Fleeing tyranny, he escaped to Thailand “and joined an anti-communist group.” Upon returning to Vietnam, in 1983, he “was immediately arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment....”
Suong was not the only political dissident to perish in a Vietnamese prison this summer. The Guardian reported that dissident Nguyen Van Trai died in prison in July. Other critics of the Communist regime remain victims of its police state apparatus.
One of the most high-profile dissidents held by the Communist regime is Catholic priest Thaddeus Nguyen Van Ly who has been imprisoned for 15 years.
Father Ly began criticizing the Communist regime in the 1970s and was first jailed as a result in 1977. He remained in jail, off and on, for several years. Recently, in 2006, Father Ly collaborated on what is called the Bloc 8406 manifesto that calls for multiparty elections and for respect for the inalienable rights of the Vietnamese people.
The Manifesto also points out that the Communists took power in the country through deception. According to the document [PDF]:
In the August 1945 Revolution, the entire Vietnamese nation made a choice for national independence and not socialism. Vietnam’s Declaration of Independence on September 2, 1945 did not contain a single word about socialism or communism. The two mainsprings behind the success of that Revolution were the Vietnamese people’s aspiration for national independence and also the desire to fill the power vacuum that existed after the Japanese surrender on August 15, 1945, following their overthrow of the French colonial administration on March 9, 1945.
It is thus clear that the Vietnamese communists had abandoned the main objective of the August Revolution. As a result, the Vietnamese peoples’ aspiration for self-determination was disregarded. There have been two occasions, one in 1954 in North Vietnam and the other in 1975 in all of Vietnam, when there were good opportunities for the Vietnamese nation to set a new course towards a true democracy. Sadly, the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV), failed to take advantage of those opportunities. This failure is due to the well-known fact, as propounded by Lenin, that once a dictatorship of the proletariat has been installed, its very first function is to foster violence and repressive terror! [emphasis in original]
Those undersigned to the manifesto went on to call for fundamental change to the Vietnamese political system:
The highest objective in the struggle to fight for freedom and democracy for the Vietnamese nation today is to make sure that the present political regime in Vietnam is changed in a fundamental way, not through incremental “renovation” steps or, even worse, through insignificant touch-ups here and there. Concretely speaking, it must be a change from the monolithic, one-party, non-competitive regime that we have at the present time to a pluralistic and multiparty system; one in which there is healthy competition, in accordance with the legitimate requirements of the nation, including at least a clear separation of powers among the Legislative, Executive and Judicial branches of government. This would be in tune with international criteria and the experiences and lessons Mankind has learned from highly respected and successful democracies.
This is, if anything, a call for establishment of a republic fashioned on neo-Madisonian principles. Consequently, those supporting the manifesto would face increased scrutiny from the Communist internal security apparatus and, in the case of Father Ly, whose very religious affiliation is an affront to Communism everywhere, imprisonment as a political dissident.
As a result of his principled opposition to tyranny, in 2007 Father Thaddeus was sentenced to eight more years in prison for “very serious crimes that harmed national security.” According to the Catholic News Service, Father Ly bravely “refused to stand before the court and at one point yelled ‘Down with the Vietnamese Communist Party.’”
Today, Father Ly, now 65, has had three strokes and walks with a walker. He was released on medical parole in 2010 but was incarcerated once again in July, according to Human Rights Watch.
Human Rights Watch condemned the imprisonment. “Father Ly was convicted solely for expressing peaceful political beliefs and he should never have been imprisoned in the first place,” Phil Robertson said. “We are concerned that his return to prison when he is so ill is putting his life at grave risk.”
If other findings from Human Rights Watch are correct, and there is no reason to doubt them, then the concern is well founded.
In a new report, “The Rehab Archipelago: Forced Labor and Other Abuses in Drug Detention Centers in Southern Vietnam,” torture and abuse is rampant in Vietnamese prisons.
According to the report, “Drug detention centers form part of a broad system of detention centers for administrative violations in Vietnam.” Describing the findings of the report, Human Rights Watch noted: “People detained by the police in Vietnam for using drugs are held without due process for years, forced to work for little or no pay, and suffer torture and physical violence....”
Given the conditions and abuse victims held in drug detention centers in the country experience, it is reasonable to wonder how much worse political prisoners like Father Ly and others are treated.
Morally, this raises severe questions for Americans as the country has done increasing amounts of business with Vietnam (and China, of course) over the last 15 years. Currently, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the United States imports more than $1 billion in goods from Vietnam each month.
While each individual American citizen and each American company should be free to trade with any other party as they may wish, morally, that trade supports a corrupt police state that imprisons dissidents like Father Ly should, it seems, be reconsidered.