Hà Sĩ Phu
Translated by Jasmine
Few could replicate Dieu Cay’s actions, for the price to pay for such unyielding determination is no less than their own life. After a month on hunger strike, the four shrimp noodle packets the wardens threw at him remain untouched - they could not waver his soldier’s spirit. The prisoner has been starved and exhausted. He cannot walk, nor sit by himself. Whilst his honor is undiminished, his body is falling to pieces - needing the support of two skinny arms to prevent from collapse ...
Dieu Cay’s case: many crucial questions still unanswered
Dieu Cay’s broad daylight abduction displayed the questionable legitimacy of the government, and how disturbingly common the practice of lying is amongst its ranks. Upon his arrest, the claimed charge was “drug trafficking”, yet at the trial this was changed to “tax evasion”. Tax evasion: a “petty crime” that thousands of businesspeople commit daily, each one liable for prosecution if only the government were so inclined.
At the conclusion of his 30 months imprisonment, Dieu Cay was immediately rearrested on charges of “conducting a propaganda campaign against the state” (Article 88). This is quite illogical; seeing as the conduction of an antigovernment propaganda campaign could not have occurred during the last 30 months whilst he was imprisoned. So why was Dieu Cay not previously thus charged, and instead sentenced for tax evasion?
The following sentence of 12 years was undeniably heavy, but more significant is the methodical, abusive treatment and harsh conditions Dieu Cay is subject to. Visiting practises are extremely limited, often with many arbitrary obstacles created to prevent relatives from being able to visit inmates at all. The government’s mistreatment of Dieu Cay has not only demonstrated a complete disregard for the law, but has been excessively cruel and demeaning.
Whilst none believe in the false evidence offered by the government, many instead question the true motives behind the government’s decision to hand an unbearably cruel punishment to a long standing citizen, former soldier, and now a veteran of its regime. Of what nature was the "crime" committed that resulted in such a fate?
In reality, Dieu Cay’s “crimes” must have been the most serious, and the most hated by our government. These crimes are wide-ranging, from actions that potentially harmed the “16+4 Friendship”, to his bravery in daring to establish the independent, liberal association “Free Journalist Club”. Dieu Cay’s final crime lies in his stubborn perseverance, determination to maintain his stance, conscience, and honour, and his refusal to concede. These three most severe “crimes” Dieu Cay all committed, particularly the first – in his actions against “Chinese naval aggression”. (However, it would not be such a tragedy should such “crimes” – patriotism, bravery and perseverance – be more common amongst government leaders.)
This picture of Dieu Cay and fellow citizens raising the multilingual slogan “Paracel - Spratly belong to Vietnam” in front of the HCM city theatre should elicit patriotism and a desire for justice in all Vietnamese. There is no doubt China has noticed. Is there any doubt this is the heart of the Dieu Cay case?
Dieu Cay’s consistently conscience-driven work and the vicious treatment he has received at the hands of the Vietnamese government have not gone unnoticed. He was paid homage from the U.S. President Barack Obama, who raised his case in his statement on the 2012 World Press Freedom Day: "We must not forget [journalists] like blogger Dieu Cay, whose 2008 arrest coincided with a mass crackdown on citizen journalism in Vietnam."
Following these events, why have prison officials suddenly chosen this moment to aggressively force Dieu Cay to sign a confession of guilt? For his determination in refusing to sign, he has been punished by imprisonment in a solitary confinement for three months, finally leading up to his horrific hunger strike – lasting now over a month.
It is not a coincidence that “Dieu Cay’s case” has exploded at the same time as two notable appointments of the Vietnamese President’s - to China and to the U.S. Imagine the President of China, Xi Jinping’s contentment upon learning the news – the Vietnamese dissident who dared protest against Chinese aggression, suppressed. And, all the better if that prisoner of conscience should have signed a confession of guilt!
Moreover, if on the trip to the U.S, such a confession paper was presented to the U.S. President, informing him that the prisoner he paid homage to and protected was in actuality a criminal who violated the law and was carrying out activities against the State – a confession supported by Dieu Cay’s own signature – this would certainly undermine President Obama’s actions. Such a confession letter would indeed be a slap in the face to the US government, invalidating Obama’s stance on this issue. Could this compromise Obama’s future involvement in human rights issues in Vietnam? It is questionable whether the influence of the North has had a hand in this, or if it is our own Government’s doing.
The situation is extremely grave.
However, despite all, Dieu Cay has refused to sign any documents. Thus, through his bravery, he has actually saved a political game for our country, and for his friend Obama. How can we value highly enough the merit of this unyielding prisoner of conscience, Dieu Cay Nguyễn Văn Hải?
It is likely that Dieu Cay has not had any news from the outside world, and that he was not aware of those particular repercussions of his actions. If so, his refusal to sign a confession is purely due to his determined personality and strong conscience. It is apparent he could never “confess” - betraying his country, his peers or himself. Yet even if he had feigned a confession, amongst conditions so harsh, none would have cast him blame.
Few could replicate Dieu Cay’s actions, for the price to pay for such unyielding determination is no less than their own life. After a month on hunger strike, the four shrimp noodle packets the wardens threw at him remain untouched - they could not waver his soldier’s spirit. The prisoner has been starved and exhausted. He cannot walk, nor sit by himself. Whilst his honor is undiminished, his body is falling to pieces - needing the support of two skinny arms to prevent from collapse.
His own son could not believe the body before him was truly his father’s. Any Vietnamese who still have but a shred of a conscience suffer along with him. As time passes and his suffering persists, Dieu Cay and his sacrifice maintain a place within the hearts of his people.
That precious body may leave us forever with each passing minute. What can we do to ensure that cruel possibility does not come to pass?
A heart-rending question indeed!
Đà Lạt 22/7/2013