As the Vietnamese Lunar New Year approaches, some victims of injustice who live temporarily in Hanoi where they demonstrate daily in front of key government offices will not be able to celebrate the holiday or make traditional pilgrimages home because they say they have no money and nowhere to go.
Tet Nguyen Dan, which literally means the “feast of the first morning of the first day” and is known simply as “Tet,” is the most important celebration in Vietnamese culture, marking the arrival of spring based on the Vietnamese variation of the Chinese lunar calendar. It runs from Feb. 17-20 this year.
During Tet, the Vietnamese visit their relatives and temples, have family reunions, clean family graves as a sign of respect, shop, decorate their homes, cook traditional holiday foods, and try to pay off their debts before ringing in a new year.
But some of the thousands of people gather almost daily outside various government offices in the capital Hanoi, hoping to get a chance to talk or submit letters to petition officials about the homes they have lost in illegal confiscations. Some raise the cases of relatives who have been wrongly imprisoned in the authoritarian, one-party state.
Many have sold their possessions and homes to go to Hanoi to try to plead their cases with officials, who largely ignore them.
But because many have sold their homes and possessions to relocate to Hanoi, they do not have homes to return to during the Tet holiday. Instead they said they pass the time by lighting incense sticks on temple altars in the run-up to the holiday.
“I have not had any New Year [celebrations] for many years,” said one such person who had lost her home and has spent the last two decades in Hanoi trying to seek justice after a bank wrongly sold her house.
The woman told RFA’s Vietnamese Service that after she put up her home in the northern coastal city Hai Phong as collateral to get money, the bank said it lost her paperwork and later sold her home and retained the proceeds. She declined to be quoted by name.
“It’s been 20 years. Tet comes, but I can’t go home because I have no home,” she said. I can only go back there to visit my grandparents’ graves. Whenever I pass by the house I lost, I can only sit in the street at a vendor’s stall [across from the house], then leave.”
The family of Nguyen Van Chuong, a laborer from Hai Phong, has been seeking justice for eight years in Hanoi for their wrongly imprisoned son who faces a death sentence for the killing of a police officer, although he has insisted that he’s innocent.
Chuong’s parents told RFA that they have not celebrated Tet for nearly a decade because they sold their home to be able to go to Hanoi to seek justice for their son, and now have no money.
“We can’t celebrate Tet when my son is suffering,” Nguyen Truong Chinh, Chuong’s father, told RFA. “We are destitute. We lost all our land and home. We had to put up the house as collateral, so we could borrow money.
“We went to Hanoi to ask for justice for our son, and we received support from other victims of injustice there. They have helped us with money to live every day. We have nothing now.”
Chinh said he and his wife were happy when they read in the state-owned newspapers that officials had granted their son a reprieve at the end of last year.
Yet, Chuong remains in prison, and his parents have not received any official notice from authorities about the reprieve.
Furthermore, Chuong has not been allowed to send letters to his parents as of last December, Chinh said.
Chinh said he and his wife are worried about Chuong’s situation because authorities previously allowed him to send them letters every month.
In the meantime, Chinh said he will remain in Hanoi during Tet to try to seek justice for his son.
“I will stay here until I got an official letter,” he said. “I have to fight for his life. Our desire is to receive the right decision from the court and the state’s president regarding my son’s case. We want the answer for Nguyen Van Chuong so we can have a real Tet without worry.”
Eleven-year-old Ngo Thi Cam Hieu from Binh Phuoc province in southeastern Vietnam said she has been in Hanoi trying to seek justice for her parents who had challenged local authorities after they had taken their home away from them. Her parents later were arrested and given a three-year prison sentence.
“I will take some square cakes [of sticky rice] and cookies to my parents at the prison,” she told RFA. “When they were still here, they went out with me to celebrate Tet. I was sad last Tet. I just wish they could come home for this Tet.”
Many civil society organizations have emerged in Hanoi to help the families of those who are victims of injustice.
Ly Quang Son and some of his friends have formed a group called Rice for Victims of Injustice last September to help such people.
“Our group is the only group that provides rice for them,” Son told RFA.
The group usually delivers about 150 to 200 meals once a week to land-requisition victims from Duong Noi on the outskirts of Hanoi, where local farmers were jailed last year on charges of disturbing public order after they resisted land grabs to make way for urban development projects in their village.
The government started confiscating land in Duong Noi several years ago after farmers there refused to transfer their land rights to Nam Cuong Group, a Vietnamese company developing the area for a complex of residential and office buildings, hotels and schools.
The farmers say the land seizures were illegal and they weren’t compensated fairly.
Those seeking justice for the land grabs demonstrate outside the Vietnamese Communist Party Central Committee building and the state public relations center in Hadong, an urban district of Hanoi.
“About 200 meals should be enough,” Son said. “We also give them bread. We provide about 150 to 300 loaves. We try to provide them with enough. We plan to bring them square cakes before New Year’s Eve.”
Two other organizations—Support for Victims of Injustice and Rescue Victims—give 1.2 million Vietnamese dong (U.S. $56) each week to Rice for Victims of Injustice to cook lunch for the families of victims of injustice, who are staying in Hanoi.
With the cold weather in Hanoi, many people who demonstrate on behalf of the victims must spend the night at party’s central committee offices in Hadong, where they sleep in makeshift camps on the pavement because they don’t have enough money to rent rooms.
But thugs have been destroying many of the makeshift camps during rainy nights, sources said.
The victims believe that the local government is allowing the thugs to destroy their camps, so they cannot remain there during Tet, they said.
Reported by Hoa Ai Tran for RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.