Detained for defending human rights in Viet Nam
Vu Minh Khanh hasn’t seen or heard from her husband Nguyen Van Dai, since police arrested him in December 2015. This is her story.
I am not an activist. Before my husband’s arrest, I was volunteering at our church in Hanoi. Because of his arrest, I am forced to fight for his freedom.
My husband was arrested at our home on 16 December 2015. He was just about to leave for a meeting with European Union representatives about human rights in Viet Nam, when he was taken away to an unknown address. Half an hour later, about 30 security officers escorted him back home. They had a search warrant, and stormed our house without warning.
They said they were arresting Dai for “conducting propaganda against the State,” but they gave us no evidence. They confiscated books on human rights and anything that had human rights logos on it. They took his computers, USB sticks, cameras, phone, and even videos and CDs containing teachings on our Protestant faith.
There is no easy way to describe how it feels to have 30 people bombard your house like that. They even forbade us from talking to each other without their permission. I was in complete shock.
With my husband gone, I have lost my companion in life.
Teaching others to understand their rights
My husband used no weapons; he has always carried out his activities in a non-violent way. In his writing, Dai never called for an uprising to overthrow the Vietnamese government.
All his activities are for freedom of religion, freedom of assembly and freedom of speech. He wrote articles about the rule of law to help others understand their rights. He also devoted much of his time to helping victims who had lost their homes or their land.
He has done nothing to threaten society or national security, yet he has been detained incommunicado – with no contact with his family or the lawyers we hired.
Not his first arrest
This is not the first time they took my husband. He was first arrested in 2007. His lawyers were only granted permission to represent him seven days before the day of the trial itself. He did not have a fair or open trial.
I spent the first two years of his imprisonment writing over 100 petitions and complaints. I sent them to the President, Prime Minister, Secretary General, National Assembly leaders, various Ministries as well as to news outlets. I received no response.
This time around, I was not willing to wait for the Vietnamese government to respond. I needed to take action as he now faces between three and 20 years in jail. So, I’ve turned to the international community for support.
Viet Nam is trying to build its relationships internationally, especially with US President Obama coming at the end of May. Pressure from the USA is important, but it is crucial that other countries also put pressure on Viet Nam to improve its human rights record. The more countries speak up in unity, the more Viet Nam will feel compelled to change.
The more countries speak up in unity, the more Viet Nam will feel compelled to change.
Attacked, followed, bugged
Dai and I were constantly under surveillance. There was always a camera in front of our house and people outside waiting for us.
On 6 December 2015, my husband led a human rights training course in Nghe An Province, about 300km from our home in Hanoi. I was on edge, as I always was when he left for meetings like these, because I never knew what might happen to him. During the training course, security officers tried to force my husband to stop, but he refused, instead inviting them to join the meeting.
Dai and three of his colleagues were heading home afterward when they were cornered and beaten by approximately 10 masked men. The men attacked them with sticks and batons, then threw Dai into a car and drove him to a location 30km away, beating and choking him throughout.
It was winter, but they removed his coat, stole his wallet, and left him on an isolated beach. When my husband was finally able to call his friends for help, the police continued to chase after him. He escaped into the jungle and through small alleyways. With the help of his friends, he returned to Hanoi. Ten days later, with his wounds not yet healed, Dai was arrested and has been detained since.
Life companion lost
I agree with my husband’s activism because I know it is necessary and that it is the path he has chosen. But it worries me and emotionally, it has taken a toll.
Our family only consists of my husband and me. With my husband gone, I have lost my companion in life. The neighbors who are sympathetic to his cause are too afraid to share their sympathies and those who do not support his activities continue to judge us. It is heartbreaking that he has to endure so much pain and suffering for his activities.
Dai is a considerate, fair, and kind man. He always wanted to help others and goes out of his way to do so. My husband is concerned for and watches over other activists. His heart always wants to continue fighting for his people and for a better future for those in Viet Nam.