Catholic activist Tran Minh Nhat, 24,of Vietnam's Lam Dong province was arrested in August 2011 and sentenced to four years in prison plus three years’ controlled residence under a vague law that targets activities aimed at “overthrowing the government.” Nhat, who had joined protests against China's incursions in the South China Sea, told reporter Gia Minh of RFA's Vietnamese Service that since his release, police have constantly been harassing him and his family.
RFA: What prompted you to go public with an online plea for help?
Tran Minh Nhat: My current situation is alarming because they sprayed pesticides all around my residence. I could die inside my house because of the toxicity. Even when I stepped outside to take care of our chickens I wanted to throw up because of the smell. My house was locked during Tet. Our garden was damaged, but we saved it before it got burned completely. They threw stones at our window, breaking glass and light bulbs. People who watch my house always have their weapon in their vehicles. I'm very worried.
RFA: Besides yourself and your parents, do you have anybody else living in the house?
Tran Minh Nhat: Only my parents and myself. But I had to tell my dad to go live somewhere else for some time. My brothers and nephews and nieces visit the house during daytime. But most of the time only my mom and myself live here.
RFA: Did you report to the local government when your coffee and pepper plants were cut down before Christmas, and tell them that you and your family are being harassed?
Tran Minh Nhat: When the plants were cut down we did report it to the local government. They came to assess the situation but we have not heard from them since then. About the incidents during Tet when our windows were damaged and chickens were killed, we reported it but they have not yet come. When our house was set on fire, we called them but they hung up the phone on us. No policeman from the local government has ever come here to check on us or do any investigation. Maybe they do not want to meet with the other policemen watching us from outside.
RFA: Have you ever met face to face with the policemen who watch your house? Did they threaten you?
Tran Minh Nhat: Actually, to talk to them directly is not difficult. I can talk peacefully. However, they always curse at me when they see me. They even cursed at my dad, they cursed at my ancestors. They threatened to attack us, to burn my brother’s house. They are very young, in their 20s but they showed no respect to adults.
RFA: Do you have any neighbors? Do they have any comment on this situation?
Tran Minh Nhat: There is variety of neighbors. Not many people live around here. When our house was on fire, neighbors helped to stop it. But they did not want to say anything for fear of repercussions. I think they don’t like what they see happening to us.
RFA: You are a catholic active in the church. Do the priests say anything about this?
Tran Minh Nhat: They live far from here and maybe their lives are not safe, either, so they can't give us any specific support.
RFA: In this dire situation, what hope did you have when you wrote a letter to police minister, to priests in charge of Lam Dong church, and the committee for justice and peace of the Catholic Church?
Tran Minh Nhat: Besides a common letter sent to them, I also wrote separate letters to priests. I understand it is very dangerous for them to intercede but I still hope that they will voice some concerns when necessary because I am a Catholic. Our family and my life is in danger. It would be bad if I don’t receive any support spiritually. I hope they will have a response when they receive my letters.
RFA: Lawmaker Chris Hayes of Australia just presented your case before parliament. Have you heard about this? And how might it help you and your family?
Tran Minh Nhat: I thank Chris Hayes for presenting my case before the Australian parliament. When he presented my case he did not know what happened to me during Tet: fire, broken windows and poison. However, what they did before, like cutting down our plants, was horrible, so what he did was really a strong show of support for us. We thank him and wish to receive more support and voices condemning the harassment and protecting my family.
Translated by Viet Ha.