Writer Recounts 'Brutal' Jail Term

Vietnam's communist government is slammed for imprisoning a dissident on groundless charges.

Writer Tran Duc Thach in court in Hanoi, October 8, 2009.

A Vietnamese writer released from imprisonment on Tuesday said that he was "brutally" mistreated in jail but vowed to continue his long campaign to push for political reforms.

"My health is not good after these three years because of the brutal mistreatment in jail," Tran Duc Thach told RFA after he walked out of jail, having served nearly three years on a charge that criminalizes peaceful dissent.

"I don't know what is going on inside my body, but it is very painful," said Thach, who has written a novel, hundreds of poems, and articles and reports that condemn corruption, injustice, and human rights abuses.

He said he would rely on his family and relatives to help him recover from the ordeal.

Thach did not show any lack of fire in him despite the harsh jail term, lambasting Vietnam's communist rulers for throwing him in prison on "baseless" charges. 

"This communist party and state are seriously wrong for accusing me of any crimes or violations," he said.

"I'm a writer and always concerned about my country's interest. I display my conscience [through the pen]. It's cruel of them to punish me like that, it's totally wrong to do this to someone who is a patriot."

'Too weak'

Thach, who is in his 50's, and another dissident, Nguyen Van Tinh, were the only political prisoners among more than 10,000 prisoners granted amnesty by Hanoi to mark the country's National Day on September 2.

The 69-year-old Tinh told RFA he was "too weak" to give an immediate interview, assuring that he would talk at a later date. 

Those granted amnesty included people arrested for a range of crimes, such as murder, drug trafficking, trafficking women, and bribery.

Tinh was jailed for hanging democracy banners and committing "propaganda against the state."     

Thach said he was released 14 days before his jail term was due to end.

"I was surprised when they called me up this morning and told me I was being released," he said.

His prison mates were also surprised by his early release, "as I was evaluated by the authorities as being bad [although] I never admitted to committing any crime, any violations."

Thach said he found it ironic that convicted murderers were released as part of an amnesty while those who held peaceful protests and with good behavior in jail remain imprisoned.

"The Vietnamese law is something extremely ironical and absurd."

Repeatedly harassed

Thach's 1988 novel, Doi Ban Tu (Two Companions in Prison) describes the arbitrary nature of Vietnam's legal system and the inhuman conditions in Vietnamese prisons, Human Rights Watch said.

Thach has been repeatedly harassed since 1975, the group said.

In 1978, the pressure became so harsh that he set himself on fire and was badly burned, it said.

Since then, he has been arrested 10 times and brought to court four times, each time released for lack of evidence until his latest jailing.

In 2009, the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention determined that he had been wrongfully and arbitrarily detained after his arrest in September 2008.

Despite this he was sentenced to a three-year prison term to be followed by three years of house arrest.

Reported by RFA's Vietnamese service. Translated by Viet Long. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.


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