Former prisoner of conscience Nguyen Viet Dung flees Vietnam

‘If I stayed in Vietnam, I would have faced a lot of difficulties, and could be rearrested at any time.’
By RFA Vietnamese
2023.11.27
Former prisoner of conscience Nguyen Viet Dung flees Vietnam Former prisoner of conscience Nguyen Viet Dung says authorities in Vietnam had threatened to arrest him again and were not allowing him to get medical treatment he needed.
Facebook/Nguyen Viet Dung

UPDATED January 26, 2024 at 1:37 p.m. E.T.

Vietnamese former prisoner-of-conscience Nguyen Viet Dung fled his homeland this month shortly after completing a six-year prison term because authorities threatened that he could be arrested again.

“They said the third verdict is waiting for me, and it would not be as light as the one I received six years ago, and it could be rather long,” Dung told RFA Vietnamese, referring to a Nov. 3 meeting he had with police over his post-prison social media activity. He has been in prison twice, including a one-year stint that started in 2015. 

“At that moment, I thought they were not kidding,” he said of his decision to flee.

Nguyen Viet Dung, was most recently arrested Sept. 27, 2017, on “anti-State propaganda” charges. He had posted seven articles on his personal Facebook page that were found to be “distorting the policies and guidelines of the Party and State, distorting history, and smearing leaders in order to oppose the Vietnamese state.”

Additionally he made four flags of the Republic of Vietnam, the government of South Vietnam before it lost the Vietnam War to the communist North in 1975, which he flew at his home in Yen Thanh district, Nghe An province, and several public places.

On April 12, 2018, Dung was sentenced to seven years in prison and five years probation. His appellate trial on Aug. 15, 2018, reduced the sentence to six years of imprisonment but upheld the probation time.

Dung had already served a year in prison on charges of disrupting public order for his involvement in a 2015 tree protection campaign in Hanoi.

Third case developing

On Sept. 27, Dung, 38, completed his sentence and returned to his home, where he was supposed to spend the next five years on probation.

Since then he was active on Facebook, and his posts attracted the attention of police, who called him in to verify that he had made the posts on Nov. 3.

The Facebook posts discussed three major stories:  A post about the deteriorating health of prisoner of conscience Vu Quang Thuan, who was one of Dung’s fellow inmates while he was in prison; a poll about lingerie model Ngoc Trinh, known popularly as the “Underwear Queen,” who was arrested for “disrupting public order” after she posted photos on social media of herself riding a motorcycle unsafely; and an interview with RFA on him being abducted and tortured by Nghe An Police and Ho Chi Minh City Police before his arrest in 2017 as well as him being in solitary confinement and maltreated in prison.

Dung said that after the meeting, he realized that his freedom of thought would not be guaranteed if he continued to stay in Vietnam, even though this freedom is enshrined in the current Vietnamese Constitution and recognized by international conventions, that Vietnam has signed.

“With those pressures, I realized that if I continued to stay in Vietnam, I would not have freedom of thought,” said Dung. “I would not be able to speak what I think and express my ideas in a peaceful way.”

Medical needs

Dung affirmed that he was totally healthy before he went to prison for six years, but now he has medical problems and he was not able to receive proper treatment while incarcerated. 

He said that during the time he was a prisoner, he received many beatings by the police and spent two years in solitary confinement, resulting in him having bone and digestive problems.

Since his release from prison, he has not been allowed to go to larger cities like Hanoi or even to smaller ones like Vinh City in Nghe An province for proper medical treatment.

“They said that on the one hand, I wanted to go to a [proper] hospital to get medical treatment, stabilize my life, and find a job, but on the other kept putting up such posts on my Facebook account. How come they can let me go?” said Dung.

RFA contacted the district and provincial police agencies to verify the information provided by Dung, but the officers who answered the phone said they could not provide a response unless a reporter came to their offices in person with a letter of introduction from RFA.

“If I stayed in Vietnam, I would have faced a lot of difficulties, and could be rearrested at any time. Therefore, I decided to leave Vietnam as soon as possible,” Dung said. “I have left Vietnam and am currently living outside the territory of Vietnam.”

According to Dung, representatives from the local authorities have come to his home many times to summon him since his departure, saying that if he refuses to show, a warrant for his arrest could be issued.

He said that his immediate goal was to get medical treatment and improve his health. Next, he plans to continue to fight for inmates rights and democracy in Vietnam by establishing a political organization which he will call the Republican Party.

“I hope one day, the Vietnamese people will wake up to the truth,” he said. “Activists cannot take action alone, and freedom cannot come to Vietnam without the joint efforts of its people.”

Translated by Anna Vu. Edited by Eugene Whong and Malcolm Foster.

Update removes information about Dung's current location for safety reasons.

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