Nguyen Ngoc Quang, a prominent Vietnamese activist based in Vietnam’s southern Ho Chi Minh City, was assaulted by police in the evening on Sept. 18 as he traveled to the home of a fellow dissident.
Quang, 49, is a member of Bloc 8406, a coalition of political groups calling for democratic reform in Vietnam.
“I got a message from a person in my group telling me to send them some documents. I left home with my son. We rode a motorcycle,” Quang said.
“Just about 1.5 km from home, two Hondas approached me. One made me fall and the other ran me over.”
Quang said he had been attacked before.
“This kind of thing has happened to me four times since I was released from prison on Sept. 3 last year,” Quang said.
“The most serious attack occurred on Feb. 19 during the Tet (New Year) festival …They pushed me off of the Prenn mountain pass,” he said.
“This is the second serious attack. The other two times, they only hit me to just send a warning, but didn’t cause me any injuries.”
Quang was detained by public security officers on Sept. 2, 2006 after meeting with fellow Bloc 8406 members in Vietnam’s central Hue city and was eventually sentenced to three years in jail for “spreading propaganda.”
Intimidation by authorities
Quang said Vietnamese authorities often intimidate opposition members.
“This government uses gangster acts to suppress dissidents. They think that by using these kinds of terrorist tactics they can make us stop doing the work that we do,” he said.
He said he has received messages accusing him of belonging to U.S.-based Vietnam Reform Party Viet Tan and warning him not to associate with them for his own safety.
“[The authorities] told my landlord not to let me rent my house in Saigon,” he said, referring to another name for Ho Chi Minh City.
“They won’t let my child study in Saigon. My child has to study in another school in Dong Nai [province]. We had to move to Dong Nai.”
Quang said he doesn’t know who has been sending him the warnings and threats.
"They send the messages via the Internet. That’s why I can’t track down who did it. I don’t have the tools to do it—only the police can do that,” he said.
But he said that even if he could find the culprit, he would not necessarily know who had ordered the threats.
“In Vietnam, the police don’t get involved directly in attacks. They use gangsters and criminals to carry out the attacks for them,” Quang said.
“They promise to give such criminals clemency, let’s say for two or three years. These criminals have no heart and the government uses them to carry out the attacks,” he said.
“I don’t have the evidence to sue anybody. But when I was in prison, I talked to some prisoners and they told me that they were sometimes hired to do such things in exchange for clemency.”
‘Debating is endless’Quang was originally arrested in June 2006 and subjected to several interrogation sessions related to his membership in Bloc 8406.
Following a second round of interrogations by security police in early August, recordings of the sessions were posted on the Internet.
While the recordings shed light on the harsh treatment Quang received at the hands of Vietnam’s Public Security Bureau, they also drew the ire of the authorities, who targeted Quang in connection with the recordings’ release.
Quang has denied making the recordings and has said that police thoroughly searched his person before all of the interrogation sessions, making it impossible for him to have brought in a recording device.
During the interrogation an unnamed security officer tells Quang that to form an organization is a “violation of the law.”
“I must tell you that it is unconstitutional. Being unconstitutional is extremely dangerous,” the security officer says in the recording.
The officer tells Quang to “admit that what you have done is wrong” and to “admit that it is against the Constitution.”
The officer then tells Quang that he has “no time” and “no obligation” to debate freedom, democracy, or Vietnam’s one-party system, and that Quang should write down his frustrations and file them as an official complaint with the ruling Communist Party.
“But I must tell you that debating takes a lifetime. It is, in fact, endless,” the officer added.
On Sept. 2, 2006, Quang was arrested by public security officers after meeting with fellow Bloc 8406 members Pham Ba Hai and Le Tri Tue as he waited to take a bus from Vietnam’s central Hue city to Quang Tri in the north to see his family.
He was detained in Ho Chi Minh’s B34 Prison without charges until his trial on April 24, 2008 when he was finally sentenced for “spreading propaganda.”
Quang said that during his time in prison he was kept with others classified as “political prisoners.”
“Vietnam says they don’t have so-called ‘political prisoners’ but, in fact, they do. The label on our food that they delivered everyday said ‘political section,’” Quang said.
Quang said political prisoners were barred from contact with the other prisoners and suffered discrimination.
“We didn't have the right to study. They didn't let us have any books sent from outside, or join any of the cultural or sport activities,” Quang said.
“We were mentally terrorized. They used gangsters to keep us in line. Our letters to our families were read and censored. Our families didn't receive our letters because [the prison security] trashed them all,” he said.
Quang said he was kept with another 14 prisoners in a small cell only 42 square meters and 3.5 meters high, with only four small windows.
He said the cell was extremely warm and stifling, but the prisoners weren't allowed outside.
Original reporting by An Nguyen for RFA’s Vietnamese service. Translated by Hanh Seide. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.