Interview: 'His Resolve is Unflinching'

Interview: 'His Resolve is Unflinching'

As Vietnamese dissident lawyer Nguyen Van Dai enters his third year of pretrial detention, his wife voices fears for his health.

Dissident Vietnamese lawyer Nguyen Van Dai is shown after he was attacked by government-linked assailants, Dec. 6, 2015.

Vietnamese dissident and lawyer Nguyen Van Dai, founder of the Committee for Human Rights in Vietnam, was taken into custody in December 2015 after leaving his Hanoi home to meet with European Union representatives who were researching human rights abuses in the one-party communist country. Authorities have extended Dai’s time in detention since then, and he remains behind bars without having been brought to trial. On Monday, Jan. 29, Dai’s wife Vu Minh Khanh visited her husband in prison, and later spoke to RFA’s Vietnamese Service.

Vu Minh Khanh:  Yesterday, Jan. 29, we spoke for 30 minutes using phones and separated by glass. I am very worried about him because I know he is under a lot of stress after eight and a half months in the detention center. He is not allowed to tell me what sort of stress he is under, though. I just asked him if he was stressed, and he said, “Of course, it’s a prison. It goes without saying.”

At present my husband has many health problems of concern. First, he suffers from bone pain because he has to sleep on a cement block while the weather in Vietnam changes dramatically with the seasons. This winter especially has been very cold, while the upcoming spring is expected to be very wet. It is now as cold in his cell as it is outside, because there are two windows through which the wind comes in.

The prison is designed in an evil way to torture the prisoners. It is very cold in the winter and very hot in the summer. He always has to suffer from such extremes. Besides that, the prison is very close to the highway, so that every night he has a hard time trying to sleep because the passing trucks make the whole building rumble and shake. They also do things like cut off the water to add additional indirect distress. My husband also suffers from constant intestinal pain, and I am worried because his skin seems to be getting darker and darker.

RFA: At the end of last December, you said that your husband has refused to have a lawyer appointed to represent him. The media also reported on this. Have you begun the process of inviting a lawyer to defend him?

Vu Minh Khanh:  My family has solicited three lawyers since Dai was arrested, and all of them have completed the required procedures, including sending a letter to the authorities once every four months asking permission to be his lawyers. But the authorities have denied these requests on the grounds that the investigation is still ongoing. We were assured that the authorities had a good relationship with the lawyers and that they would be appointed to defend him when the investigation concluded.

But sadly, on Dec. 12, 2017, when the investigation was over, they did not inform my family that it had been completed, and another lawyer was appointed to defend him without our knowledge. I have filed many complaints, but none of the authorities ever responded. I also wrote a letter of refusal to the appointed lawyer, and I sent another letter saying that I myself want to represent him as his lawyer, but I have yet to receive a response.

RFA: What have the three lawyers said about this?

Vu Minh Khanh. They are still waiting for a response. They live in Saigon, so it’s very inconvenient for them to travel. The lawyers for the other defendants in this case, such as Nguyen Trung Ton and Pham Van Troi, can visit their prison more easily and more often. However, the court neither responded to the lawyers nor granted them access to the files.

Lawyer Nguyen Van Mieng will go to the court in Hanoi tomorrow to ask for more details.

RFA: During your short 30-minute meeting with your husband, did he send any messages to the people who care about him?

Vu Minh Khanh:  His resolve is unflinching. Even when the police interrupted us while we were talking, he spoke out against them and even scolded the guards. The police absolutely forbid us to talk about any other activists outside, even those related to his case.

Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Emily Peyman. Written in English by Richard Finney.