11 birthdays in a prison: Interview with the daughter of Vietnamese dissident Tran Huynh Duy Thuc

Tran Huynh Duy Thuc. Source: Facebook

This edited article is from The 88 Project, an independent news site covering Vietnam, and is republished on Global Voices as part of a content-sharing agreement.

Mr. Tran Huynh Duy Thuc is one of the most prominent political dissenters in Vietnam and has a comprehensive political reform vision for the country.

He is an engineer and entrepreneur from Ho Chi Minh City. He founded EIS, a successful Internet phone service company in Vietnam with two branches in Singapore and the U.S. It was the first Vietnamese company to invest in high technologies abroad. Thuc founded the Chan research group to study the economy, politics, and society of Vietnam and some other countries. He blogged about social, political, and economic issues in Vietnam under the pen name Tran Dong Chan.

2019 marks 10 years of Thuc’s 16-year imprisonment sentence, an absurd amount of prison time used to punish an intellectual and a successful business professional who cares for and fights for his own country. 29 November 2019 was Thuc’s 11th birthday spent in prison. The 88 Project had the opportunity to interview Ms. Tram Tran, Mr. Tran Huynh Duy Thuc’s daughter, to learn more about his current condition, his well-being, and the possible appellate procedure that the family and Mr. Thuc have been pursuing.

The 88 Project: Could you tell us more about Mr. Thuc’s health? Has the prison staff made any trouble for Mr. Thuc’s daily life in the prison?

Tram Tran: Currently, my father’s health is still stable. Even though he is in prison, he still tries to exercise, follow a vegetarian diet, and eat moderately in order to stay healthy. At one time, the time my father was allowed to spend outside of the cell and the time he was allowed to use electricity was reduced, so he did not have enough lighting for reading. But my family sent complaints and fought along with my father so that he could use a battery-operated flashlight to read books and to spend time outside. Thanks to the constant attention and voice of the community at home and abroad, now he has been able to use his flashlight and be outside his cell for the time allowed by the law. However, my father is still facing a lot of difficulties that hinder his mental wellness.

Ms. Tram Tran, Mr. Tran Huynh Duy Thuc’s daughter

The 88 Project: Has Mr. Thuc been able to stay informed of external information sources? Recently, a lot of activists, freelance journalists, or even civilians have been strongly oppressed by the local government because of their expression.

Tram Tran: Regarding the access to outside information, the prison rules still allow my father to watch three official news channels and read official newspapers during his daily activities time. In addition, my family has still been trying to buy more newspapers and books to send regularly to my dad in the monthly parcels. Every month, my father is allowed to call home for about five minutes, and everyone in the house tries to quickly update him the situation outside, then asks about each other’s health, but cannot exchange much more. So, in recent times, the family has not had the opportunity to know his comments about the situation of increasing persecution these days.

However, a long while ago, my father told the family that in 2019 the anti-Chinese movement will take place strongly and loudly. And up to the present time, people have seen that it is happening with the typical example of the current struggle in Hong Kong. He said that facing this present time, one cannot help but feel insecure and discouraged. But Vietnamese people who lost hope should keep their faith. This moment in time is like the freezing point – at 0.99 degrees Celcius the water still looks like water, but as soon as the temperature reaches 0 degrees Celcius, it will freeze immediately. The change of the world will happen in the same way.

The 88 Project: Can the family visit and contact Mr. Thuc properly? Is there any hindrance to update him on the political news and current oppressive climate in Vietnam? Can you still receive letters and articles written by Mr. Thuc?

Tram Tran: From the end of 2018 until now, letter communication between my father and the family has been repeatedly intervened in and restrained by the prison management. Before that, he could write letters and attach them with several commentaries and articles concerning the political conditions of Vietnam and the world.

However, in July 2018, when the authorities found out that these letters contained his opinions and ideas, they quickly intervened, unlawfully read the letters prior to postage, and reportedly destroyed every one of them. Not long after that, even letters that only concerned family matters were intentionally prevented from being sent.

Moreover, even letters and parcels that the family sent to Mr. Thuc were also subjected to heavy scrunity. The authorities opened the packages and read every information in the letter or the parcel. Letter communication used to be the most important form of communication between my father and the family. Many of his observations and opinions were well-received by Vietnamese public.

Since being repeatedly harassed, the family had to abandon this method of communication.

The 88 Project: How has the cassation (a type of appellate) review of Mr. Thuc’s sentence been? As far as we are concerned, only a state judicial agency, such as the People’s Supreme Court, the People’s Supreme Procuracy, the High People’s Court, or the High People’s Procuracy can initiate the cassation review?

Tram Tran: The appeal for the cassation review has been sent to all competent authorities for a long time, but our family has not received any response from them up until now.

This legal fight is not strictly a cassation matter either. On 7 July 2018, my father made a “Request for remission of remaining penalties,” based on Article 63 of the Criminal Code 2015’s new approach to national security crimes, which only punishes a person who intended to commit the crime of overthrowing the people’s regime with one to five years of imprisonment.

We believe that the Criminal Code 2015 has created a very important right on the path of demanding justice for those who have been wrongfully convicted of “overthrowing the people’s regime,” especially in the case of my father. He already made a formal request for legal assistance from attorneys to carry out necessary procedures in accordance with the 2015 Criminal Procedure Code.

On 8 April 2019, my grandfather – Mr. Tran Van Huynh – sent a petition to the Standing Committee of the National Assembly and the Chairperson of the National Assembly to ask them to perform the function of supervising the implementation and application of laws in accordance with the Constitution.

The 88 Project: What is the goal of the appeal? Is Mr. Thuc aware of the appeal, and what is his opinion?

Tram Tran: Our objective is to require the regime to abide by the laws and legislations enacted, which must be applied and respected in practice. That is why my father strongly opposed the biased and arbitrary judgment, and our family will consistently use the law to protect his rights and demand justice. Whether by appeal for cassation review or by a resubmission request, we will fight until his release, to ensure that human rights are honored in Vietnam.

The appeal for cassation review and resubmission of penalties was actually carried out in accordance with my father’s wishes. This is his way to fight for democracy: protect human rights through the rule of law. The family and my father have learned about many special amnesty opportunities for him. My father understands the values ​​of this method, but he still wants to fight and be freed by using the law. He believes that, only then, his case can become a precedent and a premise for the law to be truly respected. That, in turn, will bring the chances of freedom to many other prisoners of conscience, who were also punished because of their fight for human rights.

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