Translated by Lê Anh Hùng
(Defend the Defenders)
Hai Phong, 19 March, 2013 – When I pose that question to you, I don’t mean that I expect you or any other Vietnamese to go through what I have experienced. It is simply that I expect your sympathy. I believe that life will be much interesting and lively when we assume ourselves in others’ circumstances and think and feel by their hearts. Those circumstances I suggest here may make you feel bad and think that “Wow, its so unlucky.” If so, just stop reading them. However, I still want you to take part in this “funny test” in order to let me understand you more. Just let me know your feelings so that we could come close together. And below this are situations that you are likely to encounter if you were I.
In just nearly 6 months after your release from prison, you received more than ten summonses from the local authorities. Repeatedly, they came to your home to annoy you with various reasons: checking registered residence, questioning, or just paying a visit. These self-claimed people’s police would knock strongly on the door if you did not let them in. It was no pleasure at all when they chose while you were away to terrify your near-eighty mother time and time again. Even more, in late night and during power cut, they opened your house gate arbitrarily and forced your mother to open the door to let them “check registered residence.” A whole pack, uniformed or not, shone the torch all over the house, from private rooms to toilets. You went back from prison in exhaust; you needed to go to hospital for treatment but the local authorities kept thwarting you. You asked: “If, unfortunately, I had a severe disease which needs emergency aid or otherwise I risked my life, whereas the hospital is located in other ward and other district. According to “your laws,” still I have to write a petition to submit to you at the ward level, and wait for you to submit to the district level and continue to wait until you reply, then I am permitted to save my life myself. What happens if, unfortunately, I die then?” And you would receive the answer from the mouth of the Vice-Chairman of People’s Committee of the Ward: “When it comes to laws, it must be enforced. No other way!”
Your private house were always blocked, guarded and surrounded by the police in order to terrify your mind and hinder your freedom to travel. Moreover, they caused public tumult at night, affecting your family’s as well as your neighbours’ sleep.
On 5th day of the Lunar New Year, the police came to your home to “recommend” that you do not go anywhere and then guarded your house right away, making your guests and friends anxious and scared.
When you paid a visit to one of your acquaintances, just braced yourself for a sudden raid by the police. They then took you to several public buildings at their fancy and questioned you for hours. After all, you would be “granted” a fine worth 1.5 million VND for the so-called “breach of regulations on obligations of persons under surveillance punishment.”
And the story I want to share with you is as follows.
I have went through 4 years in prison under the laws of the “Socialist Republic of Vietnam” and returned home in very poor health. Never have I accepted the sentence as well as other illogical laws that the authorities enforced on me. This means I will face so many difficulties, even accepting those risks that I cannot anticipate. Too nervous, my mother advised me to “write a petition” to inform them of my trip to Hanoi for medical examination. Previously, she had been “reminded” by the police that if I went on my own free will, they would bear no responsibilities in case I experienced any “incidences” during the trip. Then I… wrote a petition, informing them of every necessary details they required. And the answer was: At 23h30 on 3rd October 2012, a group of policemen (Dong Hai 1 ward) rush to my house to “check registered residence”, just several hours after I submitted my petition. They gave me “oral command” that I stay put at home. Besides, they told me that my petition was “wrong” because there was no word “DON XIN” (a humble word asking for favours) as well as no “Socialist Republic of Vietnam/Independence – Freedom – Happiness” at the head of the petition letter.
To enjoy my apparent right, I had to manage by myself, taking into account every possible ways to get to the hospital unthwarted. The doctors at the Viet Tiep Hospital concluded that I only had a sore throat, with no risk at all, whereas I frequently had a slight fever and they failed to give an explanation on this as well. An ophthalmological doctor diagnosed that I had acquired a papilloedema and degeneration of purpurogenous membrane. He also gave me a prescription. My illness didn’t ease up but got more severe, however. I went to a very well-known and prestigious doctor in Hanoi. She diagnosed that I had acquired an aesthenopia and “optic atrophy at temple’s side.” Following her method of treatment, I felt my illness easing up apparently. Nearly 2 months later, however, I felt the pain again. Time and again, I felt my eyes were about to blow up, very uncomfortable. Worse, accompanied with this was a slight fever that persisted from day to day. I was really worried. I needed to go to Saigon for medical examination and treatment.
Again, for the second time, I wrote a petition. It was not that I compromised with that “lawless laws” but that I did not want them to take my absence as a pretext to terrify my mother. Moreover, the right to medical services is self-evident for anyone to enjoy (without permission). No normal government or state would want their citizens to be ill or sick. With that in mind, I was sure that they would let me go. I was wrong!
On 19 February 2013, I submitted my petition to ask for permission to go for medical examination.
On 22 February, I felt unwell and had to go to a clinic for tonic injection. The doctor asked me to go on treatment the following days.
On 23 February, the police began guarding my house. The treatment was then disrupted.
On 24 February: In the morning, the police came to my house to give me a summon which required that I go to the headquarters of the People’s Committee of the Ward to hear “the answer for your petition.” In the afternoon, unable to go to the former clinic, I had to go to a smaller one near my home. My blood pressure as checked here did not reach 80/50 levels. While I was on bed for tonic injection, the police guarded outside the room.
On 25 February 2013, while I was on bed for tonic injection, the policeman in charge of my neighbourhood went right to the spot for “inspection” and then called his superior to report the situation.
In the morning of 26 February, I went for working sessions with the local authorities. The police at ward, district and municipal levels all informed me that they had received my petition and promised to address it. I requested that they reply in written form as stipulated by the laws. Both Mrs La Thi Thu Thuy, representative of the Hai Phong Municipal Public Security, and Mr Nguyen Van Ky, Vice-Chairman of the People’s Committee of Dong Hai 1 Ward, promised me to reply in written form.
At 10am on 28 February, the police of the ward came to my home to give me a summons, requesting my presence at 10h15am the same day to hear their official answer. I asked them to cite whatever legal stipulations which authorizes the police to summon a citizen just before 15 minutes (the time to open the gate and listen to their explanation alone already exceeds 15 minutes). They got back to their office and minutes later came back with another summons, which requested me to go to the headquarters of the People’s Committee of the ward the next day “for a working session.”
On 1 March 2013, I went for a “working session” with “authorized agencies”, which include:
1) Mr Nguyen Van Ky, Vice-Chairman of the People’s Committee of Dong Hai 1 Ward;
2) Lieutenant Colonel Luu Van Thi, Deputy Head of Dong Hai 1 Ward Public Security;
3) Mrs La Thi Thu Thuy, Team Head, Political Security Department (PA67), Hai Phong Municipal Public Security;
4) Captain Nguyen Manh Tung, Head of Criminal Sentences Enforcement Team, Hai An District Public Security, Hai Phong;
5) Lieutenant Colonel Mac Tu Khoa, Team Head, Criminal Sentences Enforcement Department, Hai Phong Municipal Public Security;
6) Do (or Dinh) Van Thuan, Head of Dong Hai 1 Ward Public Security;
7) A policeman not in uniform and not introduced himself;
8) A policewoman from An Hai District Public Security, not in uniform, named Nga.
These “authorized agents” orally replied me as follows: You are not permitted to go (for medical examination); if you go deliberately, you will be arrested. The justification for them to prohibit me was that I was a “special target,” quoting Mrs La Thi Thu Thuy’s words verbatim. When I asked them to deliver their promise and also to abide to (their own) laws by replying me in written form, Captain Tung answered: “We have explained very clearly, you can remember yourself. No need for written documents.”
Mr Luu Van Thi asked me to pay… “the debt” (fine) worth 1.5 millions VND. He also said that, because I did not go to the ward authorities to “show up and report your observance of regulations of surveillance” every month, even tore a summons before the police, so from this April 2013 on, even if I want to go to the headquarters of the People’s Committee of the ward, I have to call to “ask for permission” in advance and wait for their assent before “showing up”. Otherwise, I just wait for their summonses to arrive home and go as specified by the summonses. He did not forget to “reprimand” me for daringly using the word “Don yeu cau” (Letter of Request) instead of “Don xin” (letter asking for permission) when writing the petition.
I don’t want to tell more about the conversation between I and these people. But I remembered telling them before going home that, “You do not give me any reason to respect you. If you want others to respect you, respect yourself first.” Glancing up at certificates of credit (which state “heroic forces…”) hung on the wall, I said: “Hanging these certificates of heroism doesn’t turn you into heroes right away. Rather, getting them down will make you feel ashamed less.” Then I stood up, pushing the chair aside forcefully and going to the door. The policewoman named Nga rush towards me: “Let me take you home, sister Nghien.” I reluctantly expressed my gratitude and went home on foot. Until 5March 2013, after 12 days guarding my house, they quit.
When I type these letters, my eyes are still awfully painful. Slight fevers still follow me persistently, and how awfully I wish one day I could get rid of these chronic, constant headaches!
Thank you so much for your patience in reading my incoherent and uninteresting story. And, after all, just let me know: What will you do to remain a free man?
Hai Phong, 19 March, 2013
Phạm Thanh Nghiên