When attorneys Nguyen Van Dai (Nguyễn Văn Đài, right) and Le Thi Cong Nhan (Lê Thị Công Nhân, 2d row left) were tried and sentenced in 2007 under Article 88 for allegedly conducting propaganda against the Socialist Republic, it signaled to the world that Vietnam was dropping any pretense of respecting people’s rights and tolerating dissent: It was the year the communist government achieved its two main foreign policy goals — hosting the APEC Summit and accession to the WTO. Dai is a devout Christian, an outspoken lawyer, and a winner of the Hellman/Hammett grant for persecuted writers from Human Rights Watch in 2007. After serving his sentence, Dai is still a fearless activist, advocating for human rights. Vietnamrightnow.com held the following exchange with Dai over the internet.
VNRN: First, a very practical question. As you are under constant surveillance by police and security agents, are you afraid that your activism will land you in prison again?
Nguyen Van Dai: The fact is, nobody wants to go to prison. But when I continue to commit to the strugle for human rights and democracy in Vietnam, I have determined that I don’t fear going to prison again. If I’m afraid I would not have fought for human rights and justice because the Vietnamese government can imprison people any time they want.
VNRN: How would you evaluate the human rights situation in Vietnam, from the time you were released in 2011 to now? Has there been improvements, or is it getting worse?
Nguyen Van Dai: There has been no improvement in the human rights situation. What the government has done is to change the form and format of repression. Instead of arresting, prosecuting, judging and imprisoning people, they’re switching to more of unjustified harassment, confiscation of passport, restriction on travel, on assembly, and especially more physical attacks and beating of human rights and democracy activists very brutally. They’re also putting more pressure and threats on family members to stop acitivism among students and others who are still dependent on the family.
If we see strong opinions being expressed on blogs and and Facebook, that is because the government is losing their grips on control, not that they want to improve human rights.
VNRN: Recently, blogger Truong Duy Nhat was sentenced to 2 years in prison for having “Another Point of View” — as his blog is named. This kind of cases, do they cause people to be afraid of having a different point of view?
Nguyen Van Dai: Certainly people who are actively advocating for human rights and democracy and bloggers will not be afraid, to the contrary there will be people who will speak out more.
We can note that, starting from the late 2006, the Vietnamese government continuously arrest and imprison hundreds of people, but still every day more and more people are speaking out more strongly than before. That’s proof that the more the government supresses and imprisons, the more there will be people advocating publicly.
VNRN: So, bottom line, why is the Vietnamese government so afraid of freedom?
Nguyen Van Dai: The nature of the Communist Party of Vietnam is to have power and have power absolutely. They do not want the people or other forces of society to keep a check on their power. Because with absolute power, they have unfettered discretion to give away, sell, exchange, and use national resources to serve the leadership and their family members.
When the people have freedom, the Communist Party will not be able to fool the people, their incompetence will be exposed and they will lose their power in a fair and free election. That’s why they’re afraid of freedom.
VNRN: What can Vietnamese who live outside the country do to help improve human rights in the country?
Nguyen Van Dai: Overseas Vietnamese can help with a lot, such as lobbying the government and politicians where they live to be more concerned with human rights in Vietnam.
They can urge their governments there to leverage their political, diplomatic and commercial relations as well as foreign aid, to pressure the Vietnamese governemnt to improve human rights.
They can also give moral and material support to groups and individuals who are fighting for human rights and democracy in the country.
Overseas Vietnamese communities should stay unified so that they can be a strong supporter of groups and individuals in the country.