The parents of two Vietnamese political prisoners held for speaking out against the government are in the United States to muster international pressure for the release of their sons, saying they risk imprisonment and official harassment themselves by making the visit.
Pro-democracy blogger Tran Huynh Duy Thuc’s father Tran Van Huynh and activist Dinh Nguyen Kha’s mother Nguyen Thi Kim Lien met with U.S. State Department officials and rights groups this month to seek their help in the campaign for their sons’ freedom.
The two parents said that their families have already faced harassment and intimidation by the authorities but that that would not stop them from fighting for justice, maintaining that the two men are “innocent.”
Thuc, a 47-year-old businessman-turned-activist, is serving a 16-year prison sentence over blog posts calling for social and economic reforms in Vietnam while Kha, 25, is serving a four-year sentence for “conducting propaganda against the state” over leaflets he distributed at a protest over territorial disputes with China in the South China Sea.
Huynh said he is urgently seeking support from the U.S. government and the overseas Vietnamese community to lobby for the release of Thuc because his son had been in deteriorating health since being transferred to a different prison earlier this year.
“My son is innocent and I am seeking his freedom by reaching out for support from both inside and outside the country,” Huynh told RFA’s Vietnamese Service.
Thuc, a founder of the pro-human rights “Vietnam Path Movement” of online dissidents, was transferred in June from Xuan Loc prison to Xuyen Moc prison, where he is subject to more stringent restrictions than before and is kept in a separate section with other political prisoners, his father said.
Family members have only been allowed to bring him food and daily necessities once per month at Xuyen Moc, and he has had to buy food from the prison, which has affected his health, Huynh said.
“Conditions there are very difficult and that affects his health,” his father said.
Thuc was arrested in 2009 along with several other activists—including prominent jailed rights lawyer Le Cong Dinh—with whom he had started writing a book on “Vietnam’s path” toward better protection for human rights, according to rights groups.
All of them were convicted of “activities aimed at overthrowing the administration” at a trial in 2010, with Thuc receiving the harshest sentence.
Huynh said the family would face retaliation after returning from the U.S. to Vietnam, where police surveillance and harassment is a common experience for dissident bloggers and their families.
“They know we made this trip and we will certainly have difficulties when we return, but we accept all of it,” Huynh said.
“We’re making this trip as any parent would for their children, so we accept whatever happens to us,” he said.
Kim Lien said she too feared she would face harassment for her efforts to drum up support abroad for the release of her son Kha.
“I accept any danger. I might be imprisoned when I return, or my family could be harassed,” she told RFA’s Vietnamese Service.
Kim Lien is also campaigning for freedom for her other son, Dinh Nhat Uy, who has been convicted of “abusing democratic freedoms” in Facebook posts calling for his brother’s release.
Uy was released from prison in October after receiving a suspended sentence and is subject to strict surveillance under probation.
“My sons just expressed their patriotism, but they have had to suffer such injustices,” she said.
“I think there are many other mothers like me all over Vietnam.”
Kim Lien said that police arrived at her home in southern Vietnam’s Long An province as soon as she left the country for the U.S. earlier this month.
“Long An police sent two people to guard my house every day since December 3rd. They follow my husband and mentally terrorize him.”
“But I accept all that. I’m seeking freedom for my sons because they are still young, and if the government and organizations here can save them, then the young people of Vietnam will know what path to follow to seek democracy and freedom.”
Reported by Hoa Ai for RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Viet Ha. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.