VietnameseCommunists’ Fear Factor is Rising

By Michael Benge

As a Libyan protester said, “After we saw Tunisia and Egypt, wethought that we can do it too;” their “fear wall broke” and thepeople of Libyano longer feared their corrupt and brutal dictatorship.  In contrast, theprospect that the Middle-East pot might boil over into their region hasdramatically increased the fear factor of Vietnam‘s and China‘scommunist rulers.  Since the Middle-East uprisings began, in fear ofpopular uprisings, they have reacted with increasingly brutal crackdowns and arrests of possible dissidents, with Vietnamfollowing China‘slead. 

Vietnam‘s pucker factor must have ratcheted up several notcheswhen the UN approved a No-Fly Zone over Libya, a strong show of internationalsupport of the democracy advocates there.  Libya‘s brutal dictatorship and thecommunist regime in Vietnamhave a lot in common.  Could it be that the Vietnamese peoples’ “wallof fear” might also crumble? 

In Chinademocracy advocates called for people to start a peaceful “JasmineRevolution.”

In Vietnamlongtime human rights and democracy advocate Dr. Nguyen Dan wrote an online challenge to the People of Vietnam:

Let’s standup and declare: Living free or living in shame.Let’s taketo the streets to bring an end this corrupt and exploitative dictatorship andto demand jobs, food, shelter, education and healthcare.”  Despitethe clampdown on the Internet andother media, he was joined by other democracy advocates also calling for peacefulchange, perhaps ” Revolution.”

As a sop for the masses and damage control, Vietnam‘scommunist regime occasionally attempts to currydomestic and diplomatic favor by employing a policy of catch and release;”an iron fist covered by a velvet glove.”  Dr. was arrested, but in fear of “blowback”fueling popular protests, he was quickly released and put under strict housearrest — incommunicado — and his computer and other forms of communicationwere seized.  Later when all the turmoil dies down, the communistauthorities will again arrest Dr. and inflicttheir “iron fist” policy.  Recently the communists have dealtwith other prominent dissidents in a somewhat similar manner by delaying trialsof those arrested and temporarily releasing others who were imprisoned; but allare kept under strict house arrest.  The goal is to relieve politicalpressure for the time being while neutering the dissident movement.

The Vietnamese regime has also responded with a show offorce, mobilizing their vast state-security forces and deploying uniformed andplainclothes agents as well as their government paid parastatalthugs (MặtFatherlandFront).  Hundreds of political activists and internet users have been jailed or areunder house arrest, and further restrictions on both foreign and indigenouspress are being enforced.  Internet blackouts and blockages of access tosites that contain certain phrases and words, such as “Libya,””democracy” and “protest,” are commonplace and furtherinternet controls have also been imposed, especially on Twitter-likemicro-blogging sites. 

Vietnam is grappling with rampant corruption, double-digitinflation, food shortages, electricity blackouts, a recent rise in petrolprices (18%), currency devaluation, and an increased cost of importedfuel.  All this, coupled with increased security crackdowns and policebrutality, could create more public outbursts of unrest.  One example tookplace in July 2010, when thousands protested in northern Giang province after ayoung man was killed by police. Labor strikes have increased as well, includinga recent one at a Japanese car plant by three thousand Vietnameseworkers.  However, in many places, unions are communist-controlled inorder to prevent strikes.  Unlike other countries, Vietnamprovides very limited access to trouble spots and protests by foreign media,fearing that they may stir a boiling pot of unrest into a revolution.

Vietnam, a nation of 86 million, has 3.6 million Communist Partymembers, and maintains a police fore estimated at 1.2 million.  Inaddition, there are military police and special security and secret policeforces, including government paid parastatal forces,the religious police, and special killer units such as “Luc Luong 04″ that are used against the ethnicminorities. 

Vietnam‘s communist regime has recently intensified its repressionof activists and dissidents, cracking down harshly on the freedoms of expression, association, andassembly.  In January alone, Vietnamese police arrested and detained 1,500offenders in raids to tighten control over security for the 11th Congress ofthe Communist Party of Vietnam in North Vietnam

In Vietnam,bloggers, human rights and religious freedom lawyers, workers and land rightsactivists, democracy and anti-corruption campaigners, journalists, pastors,priests, Buddhist monks, Christian house-church members and other religiouslay-persons, are labeled as dissidents by the regime.  All faceintimidation, arrest, beatings, torture, imprisonment, and some even death atthe hands of the government.

A further blow to freedom of expression is a new law,Decree No. 2 that arbitrarily levies fines and imprisonment against journalistsand publishers for vague infractions.  These include publishing articlesin print, as well as on the internet, that are “not in the interest of thepeople,” revealing “state secrets”, and exposing”non-authorized information” (e.g., articles on corruption and humanrights abuses). The Decree authorizes any official or petty bureaucrat in thecommunist government and military to determine what constitutes an infraction,and requires journalists and publishers to disclose their sources ofinformation.

Vietnam‘s State media recently reported that Prime Minister NguyenTan Dung has called upon the police to ensure that no alternative politicalparties are formed that might threaten the control of the communist government.

Of Vietnam‘s86 million people 29 percent are aged 15-29.  One strategy the CommunistParty uses to keep the lid on the pot is by sending young, restless, potentialtrouble makers overseas to earn money to send home to their families and helpthe economy.  Last year, as many as 85,546 Vietnamese workers were sent towork abroad; the regime’s goal for this year is 87,000. 

Not only does Vietnam‘s repressive regime monitorand exercise strict control over the media, internet, blogs, social networksand other postings, but thanks to technology provided by US and UK companies,it is now able to closely monitor cell phones and “land lines” ofsuspected dissidents and advocates of democracy, human rights and religiousfreedom.

Phones that might be used by Montagnardsare especially scrutinized.  Despite the terrorist tactics of Vietnamesecommunist regime and the knowledge that their phonecalls will be monitored, Christian Montagnardsin Vietnam continue to call their relatives in the US, and vice versa, in anattempt to exchange information on the continued persecution and brutaltreatment of Montagnard Christians, particularlythose who defy authorities by failing to join communist-controlledchurches. 

CompassDirect reports that last year”communist authorities slammed the doors on Christmas celebrations in twoof the Vietnam‘slargest cities” and in over 10 provinces “in what probably was thehighest profile move recently to step up persecution of Christians.”Authorities also banned Mgr. Michael Hoang Duc ,Bishop of Kontum from celebrating Christmas Mass withfaithful Christian Montagnards.

Human Rights Watch’s Phil Robertson recently stated that”Vietnam‘scrackdown on religion is systematic, severe, and getting worse by theday.” 

And the band plays on:

On December 1, 2010, three MontagnardChristians, Nay, and ,who belonged to a house-church in Lai Province,were detained and charged with “undermining Vietnam’s national unity”by proselytizing for an unauthorized church.  They were presented withpapers to sign renouncing their belief in God.  When they refused, policeofficers Thinh and Tuan beat the three severely andagain ordered them to sign the papers; however, they had been beaten so badlythat the police officers had to guide their hands to form their signatures. 

In November 2010, Montagnardpastors Y-Du and Y-Co of the Vietnam Good News Mission (VGM) in Yen Province were arrestedand charged with conducting illegal Christian house-church services,proselytizing, and possession of cell phones — actions seen as”undermining Vietnam‘snational unity.” They were sentenced to six years imprisonment and fouryears house arrest, and four years imprisonment and two years house arrestrespectively

In July 2010, , a Christian Montagnard andan Elder in a house-church, was arrested by police in Lai province.  Because he had a cell phone in his possession he, too, wasaccused of “undermining Vietnam‘snational unity.” was beaten, tortured andthen dealt a fatal blow to the back of his head.  Just before he waskilled, his brother-in-law, Thai , in Charlotte,NC, received a phone call from Vietnam at one A.M. and heard the sound ofsomeone being beaten who was moaning in pain in the background.  Thecaller had found Thai’s number in Bih’s cell phone. He identified himself as a Vietnamese police officer and told Thai to listenwhile they tortured .  Thai replied that hehad no idea what they were talking about and hung up.  The policemancalled again at 2 am andtold Thai that had died, and for him to call hisrelatives in Vietnamand notify them to pick up his body.  The next day the body was foundalongside a road several kilometers from his village. 

In January 2010, religiouspolice fromHanoi arrested two brothers in Lai Province whowere practicing Christians, Cop and Nay, and ordered them that they must renounce theirbelief in God.  When they refused to do so, police Capt. Pham took a police dog fromits cage and commanded it to attack them.  They were bitten several timeson their legs.  They were later released after being threatened that ifthey did renounce their belief in God, they would be arrested again and hewould let the dog kill them.

Human Rights Watch says Vietnam has imprisoned more than300 Christian Montagnards since 2001 for the”peaceful expression of their religious or political views.  However,Montagnards in Vietnam report that the actualnumber is well over 500.

Every once in a while, the battered body of a Montagnard Christian is regurgitated from the Vietnameseprison system.  If the appearance of the body isn’t too bad, the prisonpolice will notify the family to pick it up for burial in their village. Similarly, families are sometimes allowed to take tortured Montagnardswho are on the brink of death back to their villages to die.  This is doneto terrorize the families and villagers at home.  However, if the prisonerwas too badly beaten the remains are buried on the prison grounds and thefamily may be notified.  If not, the family is just left with a memory oftheir loved one.  This is how Christian Montagnardssimply “disappear” in Vietnam‘sbrutal prison system; tortured and killed by 2 generation prison guards in the tradition of those whohoned their skills of torture on American POWs during and after the VietnamWar. 

On September 6, 2010, ,a Christian Montagnard, died from torture in Sao prison in Ha Nam province. He had been arrested on May 14, 2004 because he was preaching in ahouse-church in Lai province and refused to jointhe government controlled Southern Evangelical Church of Vietnam (SECV. Two weeks later, he was tried in a kangaroo court, charged with”undermining Vietnam‘snational unity,” and sentenced to 7 years imprisonment.  While inprison, became the spiritual leader of the many Montagnard prisoners there, but on August 22, 2008, the security policeput in solitary confinement and began torturinghim, trying to force him to renounce his belief in God.  On September 7, 2009, theVietnamese security police informed Tino’s familythat he had died.  Tino’s wife and mother wentto the prison to claim his body; however, they were told that ” has not yet finishedhis prison term so we must hold his bones until his prison term is completed;then you can come and pick them up.” 

This was not an isolated incident; e.g.; March 11, 2010, MontagnardChristian Lot died from internal injuries,repeated beatings and torture while in prison in Yen province, as did Montagnard Christian Y- on August 17, 2010.  

On November 18, 2010, Simon Roughneen reported in theAsia Times Online that “Secretary of State Hillary Clinton praised Hanoi for signing the UNConvention Against Torture during a November 2010press event with her counterpart Khiem.”   

And the band plays on. 

Vietnam‘s communist regime should well remember the 2001 protestsby Christian Montagnards that shook the Party to itsroots.  The peaceful protesters were petitioning the government to ceasehuman rights abuses, to grant them freedom of religion without governmentcontrol, and for the return of Montagnard farmlandsconfiscated by the regime.  Instead of solving the problem peacefully, theregime ordered the police and the army to attack the protesters with tanks andaircraft.  During this brutal crackdown hundreds of Christian Montagnards were arrested, killed or”disappeared” and many are still imprisoned today.  Although theMontagnards number only 750,000 in a population of 85million Vietnamese, and although only a small portion of their numberparticipated in these protests, they shook the communist regime to the core andcaused the removal of the General Secretary of the Communist Party.  Ifthe persecution continues, the Montagnards‘”wall of fear” might again crumble; and this time the persecutedVietnamese may well join in. 

As if thumbing their nose at the US, on January 5this year, Christian Marchant,anAmerican Envoy and political officer for human rights and democracy at the USEmbassy in Hanoi,was manhandled and beaten by a crowd while police stood by doing nothing. He had obtained permission from Vietnamese government to visit a dissidentRoman Catholic priest.  Since it is illegal to congregate, it is highlyprobable that the crowd comprised government paid parastatalthugs, a tactic the communists use to claim plausible deniability.  A USState Department spokesman said, “The harassment is ‘unacceptable’and we have and will continue to express our deep concerns.”  Atypical “paper tiger” response to human rights abuses that thecommunist regime continues to ignore while it’s business as usual with the US“worshiping at the altar of trade”

And the band plays on.

Myth: The U.S.needs Vietnamas a buffer against China  Much of ourmisguided foreign policy toward Vietnamis based on using Vietnamto contain China‘samoeba-like intervention in SE Asia. Whoever professes this myth needs to take remedial math: i.e., Vietnam has anestimated population of 85 million while China has over a billionpeople.  Not only does Chinahave more people, they have more money than the US with no restrictions on bribinggovernment officials in S.E. Asia.  Vietnam’s Communist Party has showntheir true colors by recently electing Nguyen Trong, as the country’s most powerfulpolitical figure — the new general secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam(CPV) — and he is considered to be pro-Chinese

The International Religious Freedom Act was passed by Congress and approved byPresident Clinton in 1998 to promote religiousfreedomforeignpolicy of the United States  It mandated the US government to engage foreign governments in promotingreligious liberty and to take punitive action where appropriate.  Punitiveaction, more often than not, was an attempt to embarrass countries by justlisting them as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) in the State Department’sannual report for gross violations of religious freedom.  However, in itspolicy of making nice with Vietnam,and in spite of the irrefutable evidence of Vietnam‘s gross violations ofreligious freedom, for the last few years the State Department has refused toplace Vietnamon its CPC list.   Now, the Act has expired, and as Ken Blackwell,former U.S. ambassador to U.N. noted in his recent article, State Is AWOL on ReligiousLiberties,The Obama Administration and State Department inparticular pay lip-service to this policy but through inaction they aid andabet the persecution of religious minorities the world over. Although the StateDepartment reported that religious liberties had “deteriorated” in2010, it has refused to list Afghanistan,and several other violators of religious freedom, as a Country of ParticularConcern.”  Vietnamof course was one of them.  

Even though the Act has expired, there are many otherpunitive actions that can be enacted if the President Obama and hisadministration have the moral fiber to do so.  Now that President Obamahas appointed David B. Shear as the new American Ambassador to Vietnam,replacing Michael Michalak, Obama and the Statedepartment have the opportunity change their policy toward Vietnam for itsegregious violations of religious freedom and other human rights abuses. 

Departed Ambassador MichaelW. Michalakwas an apologist for the communist regime’s dispicablehuman rights and religious freeedom violations andpandered to them by providing diplomatic cover for the communist regime. He did so under the guise that Vietnamwas fast-tracking the registration of churches and pagodas to enable theircongregations to “legally” practice their religion; however, suchregistration actually constituted putting them under communist control.

The communistregime has created facades of faux Catholic, Evangelic Christian,Buddhist and other religions institutions, churches and pagodas. Vietnamese and minorities who want to practice their religion must choosebetween communist-controlled churches and pagodas or harassment, land seizerand prison.  Foreign dignitaries and media are taken to these Potemkinchurches and pagodas to show them how the regime has progressed in improvingreligious freedom.  In reality, the communist regime is paranoid overorganized religion that it sees as a direct threat to their political religion,communism.  Religious persecution against all faiths is prevalent in Vietnam;Christians, Catholics, Buddhists, and those of other faiths, especiallyevangelic Montagnard Christians and members ofhouse-churches, have been, and are being, harassed, tortured, imprisoned, andmurdered (the latter often attributed by the regime to “unknown streetthugs”).  Confiscation of church land is a common practice by thecommunist regime.

By failing to take any punitive action, the US StateDepartment has been enabling the communist regime in Vietnam (who sees this as a sign oftolerance or tacit approval) to continue its religious persecution and humanrights abuses of their citizens. 

Dr. recently wrote,

“Only last summer, Vietnam and the United Statescelebrated the 15th anniversary of the reestablishment of diplomatic relations.The resumption of ties has proved very profitable for Vietnam. The United Statesis its largest foreign investor, and the countries have more than $15 billionin annual bilateral trade.”  The US has also substantially increasedengagement in South East Asia, and by doingso, provides diplomatic support for Vietnam in the region (e.g.,dispute with Chinaover offshore islands).  As Australian Defence Force Academy‘sVietnamanalyst Carl Thayer surmises, after 15 years “improved relations haveapparently not made an impression on Vietnam‘s Communist leaders. Theirapproach is clear: Take American trade and investment, but keep democracy andhuman rights at bay.”

Hanoi needs Washingtonmuch more than Washingtonneeds HanoiAt each juncture, Vietnamhas promised to respect human rights and comply with international law. Eachtime, however, Vietnamhas learned that it can reap all the benefits from the US, which theyview as a paper tiger, without honoring any of its promises. Plus change, plus c’ la chose.– “The more things change, the more they remain the same.”As charming as the Vietnamese people are, the communist regime remainsas deceptive, brutal and suspicious as ever, while US policy enables its repressionand treachery.

Vietnam‘sCommunist Party will continue to woo the US with even more promises if itfurther deepens bilateral relations.  A genuine partnership with the US means moreprofit for them from additional trade, military benefits and diplomatic supportfor them in the region.   In turn, the Obama administration professesto also desire a more “genuine partnership” with Vietnam;however, if the price of the partnership includes authentic improvements inhuman rights and religious freedom, they will not be easily obtained from therepressive communist regime.  The US should issue a cease-and-desist démarche to that regime that there will beno real partnership until Vietnam‘segregious human rights and religious freedom violations against its people arestopped. 

Will the band play on?

Michael Bengespent 11 years in Vietnamas a Foreign Service Officer, five years as a POW, and is a student of SouthEast Asian politics. He is very active in advocating for human rights andreligious freedom and has written extensively on these subjects.

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *