Masked assailants in Vietnam detained and beat a dissident lawyer and his fellow activists after they led a class to educate residents of Nghe An province about their human rights, he said Monday, upon returning to his home in the capital Hanoi.
Lawyer Nguyen Van Dai told RFA’s Vietnamese Service that security personnel had been monitoring the class of around 60 participants he led with three young colleagues early on Sunday in Nam Dan district before ordering them to stop.
“After about half an hour, police and security forces came and demanded that we end the class and began checking people’s IDs, but everyone protested,” Dai said, adding that the activists invited the authorities to attend the talk—one of several activities he organized ahead of International Human Rights Day on Thursday.
“They sat and listened to the whole class through the morning. We only discussed human rights protections in our constitution and some articles in the penal code.”
Following the conclusion of an afternoon session, Dai and his fellow activists Ly Quang Son, Vu Van Minh and Thang organized a taxi to return to Hanoi and were advised by supporters that “security personnel [were waiting nearby with] a van without a license plate,” some of whom were dressed in “plain clothes and wore masks.”
“After about 10 kilometers [six miles] we saw two motorbikes carrying four security personnel, but we thought they were only escorting us out of [the] area and would not do anything to us,” he said.
“But about one kilometer [two-thirds of a mile] out of [provincial capital] Vinh, a car began chasing us at high speed … After another two kilometers [1.25 miles], two more cars and four or five motorbikes joined them. When they had enough people, they stopped us.”
According to Dai, “more than 10 people wearing masks and holding wooden clubs” then began to kick the taxi’s doors.
“They took the four of us out, and also the driver, and began to beat us all. They hit me in the shoulders and thighs, and then dragged me into their car. They continued beating others, but I don’t know what happened to them after that,” he said.
“Inside the car, one guy told me that he would break my left arm but when he was about to do so he saw my ring with the [Catholic] cross and stopped. Another guy held my head in one arm and hit me in the face with his other fist. They continued hitting my face all the way to [nearby] Cua Lo [township].”
Dai told RFA his captors took his cell phone, wallet and even several items of clothing, before forcing him out onto a beach and leaving him behind.
“Fortunately, a vendor lent me his cell phone to call people in Vinh and they came and brought me back there,” he said.
Supporters in Vinh provided Dai with medical assistance and helped him get onto a bus to Hanoi, but local authorities discovered he had returned to the area and tried to intercept him, he said.
“They were waiting [along the route] for our bus to come, but before it arrived, my friends discovered the trap,” Dai said.
“We all got off and returned to Vinh, where we hid and waited for another bus [which left early on Monday]. We took that home to Hanoi without any incident.”
Passersby ‘dared not interfere’
Nguyen Van Dai teaches residents about their rights in Nghe An province, Dec. 6, 2015. Credit: Nguyen Van Dai
Photo courtesy of Nguyen Van Dai
Ly Quang Son told RFA he had been riding in the backseat with Vu Van Minh and Thang when the taxi was stopped, and that four or five assailants had pulled them out of the vehicle after another group assaulted Dai and the taxi driver.
“They beat Minh on his legs several times until the club broke, and before they could get another one to hit him with, he escaped,” he said.
“I saw Thang was beaten brutally—I wanted to rescue him but they had too many people, so I had to run.”
Son said he and Minh ran in the direction of Hanoi as some of their assailants followed them with motorbikes.
“We ran and shouted ‘we’re being robbed’… expecting people to help us, but they only looked on and dared not interfere for fear of revenge,” he said.
Some passersby directed them to a nearby village where they hid behind a tomb near a rice paddy, according to Son, who said the two were forced to strip off their shirts to pretend they were local buffalo herders while authorities continued to look for them.
Eventually, they borrowed some clothing and walked another four or five kilometers (2.5 or three miles) to a medical clinic in Nghi Loc district, where they received treatment before a group of supporters from Vinh came to meet them.
Son said that when he and Minh were given a ride to a nearby bus station to return to Hanoi, “about 20 security personnel rode after us on motorbikes, but we were fortunately able to cut them off.”
He said that while the two of them returned safely to the capital on Monday, neither has been able to contact Thang and were unclear of his whereabouts.Frequent harassment
Dai, who had previously been imprisoned for his work on political cases, said he had suffered a similar attack in May last year and several other incidents of assault since, though none of the cases were ever resolved by police. He said he had no intention of reporting the latest attack to the authorities.
He told RFA he believes he was targeted because the government has been unable to stop him and his supporters from campaigning for human rights, adding that Sunday’s incident would not dissuade him from carrying out his work.
“This is my cause—this is the path that I have chosen—and next time I will be better equipped to deal with this kind of situation,” he said.
“We will never give up until all Vietnamese people are able to enjoy their human rights, as dictated in the various international charters our government has signed.”
Last month, lawyers Tran Thu Nam and Le Van Luan, who had advised the family of a young man who died in police custody, were brutally attacked in Hanoi by a group of thugs wearing masks, leaving them bloody and bruised. At the time, Dai told RFA that the government may have ordered the attack to set an example for others who might try to challenge the authorities.
Activists in Vietnam are holding several events, including forums in Hanoi and the country’s commercial capital Ho Chi Minh, in the lead-up to International Human Rights Day. Sources say security personnel have interfered in all of the activities, which began on Dec. 5.Report by Chan Nhu for RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Viet Ha. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.