Do Thi Minh Hanh, a young Vietnamese labor activist, was released from prison on June 27 after serving four years of a seven-year sentence for leafleting in support of footwear workers striking for better working conditions and higher wages. During her imprisonment, she suffered repeated beatings at the hands of prison guards and other inmates. Following her release, Hanh told RFA’s Vietnamese Service that her fellow female political prisoners served as an inspiration to her and helped her to stay strong throughout her ordeal:
In all the prisons that I was held in, there exists a burning patriotism among my fellow activists. I was impressed the most in Tra Vinh prison, when three of us encouraged one another with our spirit and perseverance, and I think that was wonderful. At the same time, I was terrorized in all of the prisons, both physically and mentally. They beat me. They used other inmates to beat me and disrespect me. They locked me up in a van to show people that they were treating me like an animal.
I felt lucky when they transferred me to Xuan Loc prison. Although I was beaten brutally, I still felt happy because I could meet other female political prisoners who were very brave … I’m very proud of them … When I was in Xuan Loc prison, all political prisoners were [initially] kept separately. They did not let other political prisoners meet with me. However, after a riot, they let all political prisoners stay in one room together. After about two months, they transferred us to another section, separate from the regular prisoners. We worked together there, trying to ignore [the horrible conditions] around us.
In prison, I and a lot of others were sick … But illness was only a small problem. [My health] is not as important as my spirit. So I could overcome whatever happened. Not only myself, but many other prisoners who were very sick, were very brave. They gave me the strength to face torment in prison … [The guards] tortured me for protesting [for my rights in prison], even though I was very polite to them. Before it happened, I asked to talk to the prison managers to present my ideas directly and to show my goodwill. But they would not meet me. They forced other prisoners to stand in the sun and tortured them, which made them mad and turn against me.
I’m very happy to be free because I see changes and that our society has begun to move in a more positive direction after my four years, four months and three days in prison. Additionally, there are more people joining the fight for our country, especially young people. This makes me very happy. Their development is encouraging me and giving me a stronger belief in the path that I have chosen … I hope that our fight for the people of Vietnam will develop and spread throughout the country so that it will shine more brightly. That is my dream and my desire.
Reported by An Nguyen for RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.