Haiphong-based rights activist Pham Thanh Nghien, 36, was detained in 2008 after co-signing a request to organize an anti-China rally. She was charged with conducting propaganda against the state for writing online articles on human rights and democracy and criticizing official corruption. Under Article 88 of Vietnam’s Criminal code—a provision critics say Hanoi routinely uses to silence dissent—she was given four years in prison and another three years of house arrest.
Shortly after her release in September 2012, she told RFA’s Vietnamese service how police continue to harass her by preventing her from going to the doctor, following her, and visiting her home to check her registration documents:
As you as you know, health conditions not for only me but for all released political prisoners are not very good after we return home—some take with them diseases they contracted while in prison.
After returning home, I thought about going to see a doctor for a check-up because I knew I was not well.
However, local officials have not only told me that they will not allow me to go away [to seek help], but in their actions toward me they have been totally unlawful.
They are stomping on my human rights—me, a human-rights activist!
A specific example of this was last night [Oct. 3] at 11:00 p.m., when they came to my house to harass us by demanding to check our household registration documents.
Second, they told me that if I want to go away for medical treatment I will need a permit from their local district and only then will I be permitted to go.
For several days now, every time I leave my house for the market or the supermarket, they have followed me.
Right now, there are some secret police walking back and forth in front of my house.
There is one standing outside, a few houses away from us. That means that they have set up a guard post.
A late-night visit
I told them [when they came to check our household registration documents last night] that coming to check the registration and counting the number of people in the house at 11:30 p.m. is completely unlawful.
I told them that they cannot do it. I repeated it many times and asked them more than ten times to leave the house. But they just sat there and showed their documents.
My mother and I refused to show them the household registration documents. If we showed them that, that would mean that we were helping them to break the law and create an opportunity for them to put pressure on us.
I was determined not to show them the papers. They told me that if I don't show them the papers, they would write an official report. I told them that even if they write a report, I still won't sign it. Two policemen wrote a report about me and they had the area leader, or the block leader or something like that, sign it. They don't need the signature of the head of household.
After we protested for a while, they explained that they completely follow the laws, and I have to obey the laws.
I told them I only obey rational laws and I am willing to break the unjust laws.
I only serve for the benefit of the nation – the people – but not for benefit of the Vietnamese Communist Party or the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. Just by using the name of Socialist Republic of Vietnam, they cannot force me to this or do that.
Last night, I saw my mother in a state I had never witnessed before – she was panicking and angry that they had come to harass us at nearly midnight.
After they wrote their report, then they left.
I have not met directly with [other rights activists] since my release, but I have talked by telephone with some friends and elders, in the country and also overseas—mainly inquiring about their health, after four years of being apart.
We exchanged [information about] some of the events that developed in the country and elsewhere. I think this is only completely normal, not only for a prodemocracy activist, but also for a person that had to be away from everyone for four long years.
I think this is normal behavior. I don't understand why after four years, the secret police still do not accept this and they still try to be meddlesome in ways that I cannot accept.
I have to say I'm ashamed to admit I’m not very up-to-date on information [since my release two weeks ago]. I still have not caught up with outside life and the daily activities of my family.
I still do not get much information because it's hard to connect on the Internet and such things. In the past several days, I've read newspapers, but still do not have enough necessary information as I want to be able give exact or objective observations on situations in the country or overseas.
However, the trend I see is that the government is getting more and more intense in terrorizing, arresting, and at the same time tightly controlling the activities of people who are fighting for human rights in the country.
And we are facing big difficulties in the fight to bring to Vietnamese society a society that is free, with justice and democracy—and in the process of democratizing the country.
Reported by Gia Minh for RFA’s Vietnamese service.