Friday, July 23, 2010

Vietnam’s dissidents –are they absent from the American mind?

In my small voice as a blogger, I’ve been guilty of the same failing as the louder media -- I’ve been ignoring how Vietnam’s Communist Party/state apparatus has cracked down on the small but persistent pro-democracy movement in the country.

In its summer issue, Dissent magazine, published in New Yoirk, breaks the silence with an article titled “Vietnamese Dissidents: Absent from the Western Mind.” Dustin Roasa, a free lance writer based in Cambodia, describes the most recent chapter in the history of Vietnamese dissidents, which began on April 8, 2006, when a group of activists posted on-line a “Manifesto 2006 on Freedom and Democracy.”

More than 2,000 Vietnamese – lawyers, Buddhist monks, Catholic priests, ex-Party members, writers, and intellectuals from all parts of the country – signed the document. They became known as Bloc 8406, after the date it was posted.

In a visit to Vietnam in the winter of 2007, Roasa talked with several Bloc 8406 members and found their mood pessimistic. The movement was under siege and losing members to prison. It was not gaining the attention of the foreign media.

“The dissidents I know hope for foreign involvement in their cause,” Doasa writes . The hope was that media interest would pressure the Party to listen to dissidents like Nguyen Dan Que, who after 20 years in prison is under house arrest in Saigon and has refused offers of exile to the United States.

In the summer of 2008, the government quietly gave a multibillion-dollar land concession in the Central Highlands to a bauxite mining company in China, which brought in thousands of “guest workers” from China. General Vo Nguyen Gap, 98, criticized the concession. So did some bloggers. “Few issues unite Vietnamese than suspicion of their large neighbor to the North,” Doasa points out.

A new wave of repression followed. At least 60 pro-democracy activists have been arrested since last October. One was a 41-year-old lawyer and graduate of Tulane, Le Cong Dinh, who gained fame for representing the Socialist Republic of Vietnam in a trade dispute with the United State (over catfish dumping) and winning it. He also took on the job of defending dissidents in court, and began blogging about the bauxite mine and other government concessions to the People’s Republic of China.

On January 30, 2010, Le Cong Dinh was sentenced to five years in prison on a charge of conducting propaganda against the state.

Roasa writes: “As more Vietnamese become aware of the pro-democracy movement through the China issue, and as the crackdown against the dissidents continue to internsify, international support for the pro-democracy cause in Vietnam is crucial now more than ever.” He concludes:

“Imagine...if Solzhenitsyn’s accounts of the gulag had fallen on deaf ears. Or if Charter 77 had never been read beyond the borders of Czechoslovia. There are Solzhenitsyns and Havels in Vietnam right now. Will anyone listen?”

On July 22 U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton stopped in Hanoi to celebrate the 15th anniversary of U.S.-Vietnam relations. In a relatively brief talk, she said: “And the United States will continue to urge Vietnam to strengthen its commitment to human rights, and give its people say over the direction of their own lives. But this is not a relationship fixed upon our differences.”

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1 comment:

Jane said...

Hello, in response to this issue of Vietnamese dissidents lacking notice in the western media, I've created a website where their blogs would be translated into English and therefore, be available for dissemination to the rest of the world: I hope that their voices will be heard by those who care about human rights issues. I would like to get your opinion on how I can get more awareness on this matter. Thanks! Jane