(A summarized translation)
Many splendid flowers of youth have blossomed early at the beginning of the 21st century in Vietnam's democratic movement, including Phạm Hông Sơn, Nguyễn Vũ Bình, Lê Chí Quang, Trần Khải Thanh Thuỷ, Nguyễn Khắc Toàn, Đỗ Nam Hải, Nguyễn Chính Kết, etc… In particular, the democracy trend in 2006 was enthusiatically followed with fresh and bright figures of young activists for Freedom, Democracy, and Huam Rights, of which the most outstanding were lawyers Nguyễn Văn Đài and Lê Thị Công Nhân (LTCN).
LTCN is a young democracy activist, born in 1979 in a well eduated family and brought up by an intellectual mother who raised her in both the Vietnamese ethical traditions and the modern world’s concepts of freedom and democracy. Despite her socialist schooling under heavy communist indoctrination and mind control, she has developed at an early age an independent viewpoint on freedom and democracy and a deep compassion for her people whose human rights and freedom have been denied by the authoritarians. At the age of 24 and a successful but responsible lawyer unable to tolerate social injustices and corruption, LTCN decided to commit herself to the tough and risky fight for huamn rights, freedom and democracy. On 4-8-2006, she bacame a signatory of the ‘Declaration of freedom and democracy for Vietnam 2006’, the first such document in history openly made by 118 non-violent democracy pioneers against the Vietnamese communist party (VCP) and its dictatorship. Very soon afterwards, she joined the 8406 Bloc and became the spokesperson for the Vietnam Progression Party, a political party fighiting peacefully in public for democracy. In 10-2006, she participated in the Alliance for Democracy and Human Rights in Vietnam, an assembly of democratic intellectuals, parties and organizations in Vietnam and overseas.
Being a clever, serious and responsible lawyer working fearlessly for the protection of the oppressed, mainly workers, she was invited late in 2006 to Warsaw, Poland, to deliver a speech at the Conference in support of an Indepedentent Labor Union in Vietnam. She was prevented at the last minute by the Vietnamese authorities from boarding her plane; however, her speech was read, showing her claim that the state-controlled Vietnam's Labor Union was merely a pro-employers agency that has tried to disregard the workers’ rights in accordance with the VCP policies. In an interview with the Doi Thoai (Dialogue) Online in 12-2006 concerning the Vietnamese Premier’s memorandum No. 37 CT-TTg of 11-29-2006, she explained that it was just another measure of suppression against the media, actually a repeated but complete ban of private newspapers, directed by the VCP politburo that, in reality, controls over all 3 branches of government. “The memorandum was totally unconstitutional,” she added.
Together with other analytical writings criticising the regime, she became the target of the Vietnamese police harrassment through continual interrogation. Early in 12-2006, a seminar held by her and lawyer Nguyễn Văn Đài was labeled by the government as a training class for anti-party dissidents, resulting in their names removed from the list of Hanoi lawyers. She sensed that her arrest was unavoidable and near; however, on 2-26-2007, she made a sincere report of the trouble she had had with the police in her capacity of being the last of four members of the Progression Party, and asserted that, whatever happened to her, she would keep fighting to the end for her own human rights and those, together with freedom and democracy, of her Vietnamese people. She advised the VCP never to expect her surrender, and challenged it to keep the Vietnamese people and their descendants in darkness and poverty against their will. For her part, she told the VCP that her family and herself had prepared for the worst, and nothing could change her determination.
On 3-6-2007, she was arrested in Hanoi. Two months later, she and lawyer Nguyễn Văn Đài were brought to court where they both admitted no guilt, arguing that the reason they were detained was because they had voiced what they believed, in opposition to the VCP and its government. Despite her claim of peaceful fighting, she was sentenced to 4 years in prison and 3 years under house arrest.
Upon their appeal, lawyer Nguyễn Văn Đài’s and her case was re-examined on 11-27-2007 by the Hanoi High Court among international uproars in their support. Their voluntary defense lawyers, nevertheless, were banned from coming to Vietnam. And, despite logical arguments by lawyers in Vietnam, the court only lowered her previous sentencing from 4 to 3 years in prison, with no change in her house arrest.
In prison, LTCN kept fighting. Vietnamese prisons have been notorious for their worst living conditions, physical, mental, as well as spiritual. She had to labor hard every day and share her narrow space of detention with criminals who kept abusing her orally, usually on secret order from the communist prison wards. As her digestion was upset by dirty and spoiled foods, together with the confiscation of her ‘Bible’ against a promise made by a high ranking police official to allow her to keep it, she decided to go on a hunger striike in protest beginning on 12-27-2007. She was left uncared for 7 straight days then moved in a tightly close small truck to another prison 225 km away despite her dangerous weakness. At her destination, she was thought to have died. But thanks to her strong determination, supported by her admiration of Vietnam's two heroic sisters Trung Trac and Trung Nhi and other brave patriots, she still survived. She became the pride for Vietnamese youths who look up to her for their aspiration for a free and democratic Vietnam.
The news of her being honorably nominated for the South Korea’s 2008 Gwangiu Human Rights Prize by the Vietnam Human Rights Network, who offered her its 2007 Human Rights Award, caused speical joy among democracy activists in and out of Vietnam who wholeheartedly wish her the best. The honor is a great inspiration for LTCN as a political prisoner, also a remarkable consolation for her own mother, and for the intellectual youths in their non-violent fight for freedom and democracy and human rights for the Vietnamese people. It is indeed a powerful encouragement for the democracy movement to move ahead following the recent ruthless suppression by the VCP and its subordinates.
Let’s pray for LTCN to be the winner of the 2008 Gwangju Prize!
Nguyễn Minh Cần