Updated at 10:00 p.m. ET on 2013-06-10
Three activists calling for democratic reform in Vietnam have joined a hunger strike by jailed prominent dissident Cu Huy Ha Vu protesting prison conditions that have affected his health.
Former political prisoner Pham Hong Son, blogger Pham Thanh Nghien, and leading Viet Tan opposition party member Nguyen Quoc Quan told RFA’s Vietnamese Service that their hunger strike was aimed at drawing international attention to Vu’s plight and highlighting human rights abuses in Vietnam.
Vu, who had twice tried to sue Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung for abuse of power, is into his 15th day of hunger strike at No. 5 Prison in Vietnam’s northern Thanh Hoa province.
He began fasting on May 27, saying that his heart condition had worsened due to unsatisfactory prison conditions.
Vu said he had first raised the deteriorating conditions with the prison authorities in November last year after being jailed for trying to overthrow the government.
He had singled out a prison guard who he claimed had left windows open at night as part of a bid to sicken him, but said no action had been taken.
Son, a Vietnamese physician and businessman, said Monday that he had decided to hold a seven-day hunger strike at his home in Hanoi in solidarity with Vu after speaking with his fellow activist’s doctor at the prison.
“[Vu] started a hunger strike to protest the lack of humane treatment for him and his family,” Son said. “His hunger strike shows no sign of stopping.”
“Just last night, I contacted the prison doctor to ask about Vu's health issues and found that he completely dodged my questions. Vu risks serious danger to his health and even to his life.”
Son, who had once served three years in prison for posting essays about democracy online, said that the Vietnamese government was increasingly “authoritarian in nature” and was “trampling the human rights of not only dissidents, but also ordinary people.”
“In that spirit, I, as a citizen will contribute to the hunger strike from June 10-17,” he said.
“My hunger strike will be held at home and I will continue to work normally, simply refusing food for seven days and seven nights to share in the spirit of Cu Huy Ha Vu in prison.”
Son was arrested in April 2011 for “causing public disorder” while attempting to observe Vu’s trial and was reportedly beaten by police. He was released without charge about a week later.
Son was joined in his support for Vu by blogger Nghien, who has been under house arrest in the northern city of Haiphong since her release in September 2012 after four years in prison.
Nghien was among activists who organized protests last month to highlight the need to protect human rights in Vietnam.
"We all know that we were born with human rights but our rights are violated in Vietnam every day," Nghien had said.
Quan, a Vietnamese-American, told RFA that he began a three-day hunger strike in front of the White House in Washington Monday afternoon to draw international attention to Vu’s case.
Quan was deported to the U.S. by Hanoi in January after being detained for nine months without trial on charges of subversion and of being a member of the Viet Tan opposition group—banned in one-party communist Vietnam.
“I'm very sympathetic to Dr. Pham Hong Son’s thoughts on the oppressive treatment of people for their own personal views,” Quan said, adding that he had also suffered for expressing his own opinions in Vietnam.
“I would like to thank Son for his brave decision. His act inspired me to join with him in the struggle for democracy in Vietnam and to highlight the case of Dr. Cu Huy Ha Vu.”
Quan said that as a U.S. citizen he is proud that Washington has worked to promote democracy around the world, but called on the U.S. State Department to “do more to pressure Vietnam to solve its human rights problems.”
Quan, who received his doctorate in mathematics from North Carolina State University, is a former high school teacher in Vietnam.
The democracy activist held three hunger strikes during his latest detention.
Vu was detained in November 2010 after he filed a lawsuit against Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung for allegedly violating laws on environmental protection, national security, and cultural heritage by approving Chinese-built bauxite mining projects in the Central Highlands.
He was convicted five months later and sentenced to seven years in jail. He lodged an appeal, but it was rejected in August 2011.
Vietnamese authorities have jailed dozens of political dissidents, activists, bloggers, and journalists since launching a crackdown on freedom of expression at the end of 2009.
Reported by Mac Lam for RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Mac Lam. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.