On Monday April 7th 2014, the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights held a meeting to discuss the Freedom of Expression in Vietnam.
Hoi Trinh, a Vietnam-Australian lawyer and also the Executive Director of VOICE, started the discussion by telling us a story about a Vietnamese teacher, Din Dang Din. Din was sentenced to serve six years in prison in Vietnam in 2012 for spreading propaganda against the state, which states in article 88 in Vietnam’s criminal law. What propaganda did he spread? Hate speech? Perhaps he was uttering terroristic threats? No, his crime was writing about democracy and freedom.
After his closed trial, which lasted for a mere 45 minutes, Din was sentenced to six years in prison. Besides his short trial, he had no read legal representation. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which Vietnam is apart of, could not offer help with his release.
However, Din was released on March 21, 2014 – less than three weeks ago. His condition was already on the decline before he was imprisoned and he increasingly grew worse because of a terminal illness he was battling. While he was in prison, he did not receive medical attention. When his family requested medical help for him, they were denied and harassed. Unfortunately, Din passed away on April 3 2014. After he passed away, one of his daughters quit school so she could help support the family,
This story was told to show that the civil society in Vietnam is rising and people, like Din, dare to speak up. Din was a father, a husband and a provider. He was imprisoned senselessly and lost precious away from his family for speaking his mind; a right that he was given, but within limitations.
Overall, the story of Din shows the changes in Vietnam. Rather, it shows the potential of change. It shows that people are willing to speak up for the good of themselves and the benefit of others. But on the otherhand, it shows the Vietnamese government’s unwillingness to change. Instead of listening to their citizens, the power that they possess and don’t want to give up supersedes the interests of their people. Din’s willingness to speak out and sacrifice his personal life for the sake of his political beliefs is commendable. People like him, the Vietnamese advocates and many others, should be praised. Unfortunately, Din’s story as well as others imprisoned will be censored to the Western world because of the laws and practices in place by the Vietnamese government. But, now that we know, we shouldn’t remain ignorant, but we should educate ourselves and take action, much like Din did.