Recently, US Representative Alan Lowenthal, representative of District 47, California, shared at a seminar on human rights in Vietnam that he was implementing the procedure to officially adopt young prisoner of conscience Nguyen Van Hoa.
“I am very impressed with what Mr. Hoa has done,” he said.
Mr. Nguyen Van Hoa, a young journalist and collaborator of Radio Free Asia, reported and video images of the protests against Formosa company causing environmental pollution in Ha Tinh in 2016. In 2017, Mr. Hoa was sentenced to 7 years in prison and 3 years of probation for “conducting propaganda against the state.”
“His videos played a big role in showing the world what happened in Vietnam. I want to stand with him, a voice for him, and let Vietnam’s communist regime know that we are watching them very closely. Every time they want to interact with the US government, the prisoners of conscience’s adopters like me will speak up asking them to release those prisoners of conscience.”
Nguyen Thi Hue, Nguyen Van Hoa’s sister, said she and her family were excited to hear the news of Congressman Lowenthal’s plans. She said his intentions are also what Hoa is waiting for.
“Hoa’s most wish is the concern of the Vietnamese community, as well as the UN and other countries, to have a voice for him. Hoa’s wish for a long time, nearly 2 years, is to have the foreign diplomats to visit Hoa in prison once so that Hoa has a chance to speak up. There are aspirations that Hoa needs to let outsiders know more, but if by letter, it will be suppressed. That information they do not give out .”
Ms. Hue said that the sponsorship from the congressman was necessary because since June, when the Covid-19 epidemic broke out again at the epicenter in Danang, near An Diem prison where her brother was held, her family no longer has access to visit and raise, and every month, Hoa sends a lot of letters asking for medicine.
The prisoners of the conscience sponsorship program, known as the Freedom Protection Project, is one of the main programs of the US Congressional Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission.
According to Rep. Lowenthal, this sponsorship will allow him to oppose Vietnam’s arrests and imprisonment, and request information about the victims of the accidents through official lines:
“Once we accept as a sponsor (for Hoa), I will contact the US Embassy, let them know Hoa is my sponsor, asking them to inform the Vietnamese government that I sponsored him. I’m going to ask the embassy, ‘Tell me about his status, how is he? Can the Ambassador visit him? ‘There are so many things we can do, once we are the sponsor of Hoa.”
The Tom Lantos Committee was established in the House of Representatives in 2008, with the aim of encouraging the US congressman to actively participate in human rights issues. Rep. Lowenthal is one of six members of the bipartisan committee.
He said, when he learned of the case of blogger Nguyen Van Hoa, he applied to the Tom Lantos Committee, nominating this prisoner of conscience, and he had to fully present his situation before the Commission decided to accept sponsorship.
“The Freedom Protection project is really a way for our Congressmen to tell the prisoners of conscience that we are protecting them, we don’t forget them. We are shoulder to shoulder with them.”
The PoC sponsorship program of the US Congress is not the only program, but also many similar programs by other organizations and agencies in the US and other democratic countries.
Attorney Anurima Bhargava, vice president of the US Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) since the end of 2019 has sponsored prisoner of conscience Nguyen Bac Truyen, through the Commission’s Project of Prisoners of Conscience of Religion.
According to USCIRF, the Vietnamese government detained him for his efforts to speak up and protect Hoa Hao Buddhists and other former prisoners of conscience.
Commissioner James Carr commented on Mr. Truyen’s case:
“He is a follower of Hoa Hao Buddhism. His work focuses on providing legal support to families with prisoners of conscience and persecuted religious communities. As you know, he was arrested in 2017, and on April 5, 2018, he was put on trial. He was sentenced to 11 years in prison. I have a lot of friends from Vietnam. Vietnam can behave better. They are not such a weak government that it has to arrest someone like him and imprison him for 11 years.”
Former prisoner of conscience, human rights lawyer Nguyen Van Dai, has been twice in prison for campaigning for democracy and human rights in Vietnam. During his detention, he was intervened by the office of Congressman Alan Lowenthal and the representative of the National Assembly of Germany, Congressman Marie-Luise Dött.
From Germany, Ls. Radio said, these sponsorship programs are extremely precious. Sponsorships, he said, could change daily life in prison and beyond.
“It affects a lot. The first is that I am in prison, at that time I also feel the change, from the treatment of the guards, to the treatment of the investigator. For example, before such sponsorships, the prison guards’ attitude was very humble, meaning that they wanted to prolong our time in prison, even though they knew they had to release us, but when a congressman or senator sponsors us, their attitudes change dramatically. For example for me personally, on n July 30, 2017, police officers told me that they want to keep me for at least 2 years before they released, but after 3 months, they hurriedly said ‘we don’t keep you here anymore, we are done. Quick file, handle you then let you go to Germany because now the pressure from Germany or America and other countries is very great for us. We can’t hold you anymore.’ It was from the security guard they told me.”
Lawyer Dai was expelled on June 8, 2018 and sent to Germany. He currently resides in Hanau. He met his patron, member of the German Parliament, Marie-Luise Dött, and found out how concrete sponsorship played out:
“First, she wrote my name on the desk. And every time she calls, she calls each month to the German Foreign Ministry, or to the German Foreign Office, she asks if there are any Vietnamese and German delegations working together next month. If so, she will ask for a meeting or a letter to the Vietnamese side. And at the same time every two to three months, she calls the Vietnamese Ambassador she puts pressure. Then she said she would hold a meeting, introduce the investment conference, and she invited the Ambassador of Vietnam to meet. And when they met, the issue of asking Vietnam to release me was also the first issue before talking about economic issues. When the congressman sponsors them, they will do everything they can in the relationship between that country and Vietnam, to put pressure on our release.”
He said, in the case of Nguyen Bac Truyen or Nguyen Van Hoa if they want to settle in the US, the patronage of the congressmen has a great effect so that the Vietnamese government will soon release them.
According to him, no prisoners of concience wants to leave the country because they want to contribute to democracy and human rights right from the country. But in terms of personal experience, Dai said that if he had to temporarily leave Vietnam, especially with too high sentences such as Mr. Truyen, 11 years in prison, Mr. Hoa, 7 years in prison, the prisoners of conscience can still continue to fight effectively from abroad:
“So the fact that we have to temporarily leave Vietnam is more beneficial for the person himself to escape the prison. Second, if we go out and know how to make good use of our time, and know how to use social networks effectively, fighting is even more beneficial than in the country.”
Rep. Alan Lowenthal said that the Committee for Human Rights Tom Lantos will have a decision on adopting Nguyen Van Hoa in the coming days.