A taxi driver in southern Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City has gone into hiding after he was briefly held and questioned by police for delivering politically sensitive books for a clandestine publishing house.
Vu Huy Hoang, already known to police after an earlier protest against a rise in fuel prices, was detained on Oct. 15 at the police station of Ward 6, District 3, where he was questioned and beaten for 12 hours, Vu told RFA’s Vietnamese Service on Friday.
After being freed, he went into hiding to prevent police harassment of his wife and family, he said.
“I have never considered myself an activist,” said Vu, adding that book delivery is only one of the many jobs he does. “I just do what I can in a very small way to help make this a better society.”
“As a taxi driver, I come into contact every day with people from various walks of life, and I see many things that are unjust,” Vu said.
“This authoritarian regime doesn’t want people to understand anything about democracy or human rights so that they can keep control. They want to hang on to their monopoly on power in order to govern.”
Speaking to RFA, Vu said that a Nov. 30 posting on his Facebook page explaining his reasons for going into hiding had for now stopped authorities’ harassment of his wife, who had been called several times for questioning by the police.
“In fact, I understand how the security agencies work after having to deal with them many times in the past,” he said.
“If you show them a meek face, they will try to dominate you even more. But if you show that you know what they are up to, and take control of the situation, they will step back, do nothing more, or find some other way to talk to you.”
Politically sensitive books
In their questioning, Vu said, police had tried to force him to confess that he works for the Liberal Publishing House, a group that publishes and distributes works considered politically sensitive by the Vietnamese government.
On Feb. 9, 2018, copies of the publishing group’s Politics For Everyone were seized by customs agents in the central coastal city of Danang when they were shipped into the country from abroad.
Dissident blogger Pham Doan Trang, the book’s author, was later detained by security officers who asked her about her book and other activities and held her for 23 hours before returning her to her home under house arrest, fellow activists told RFA in earlier reports.
Paris-based media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) later awarded Pham its 2019 Press Freedom Prize in absentia, citing her work which “has led to concrete improvements in journalistic freedom, independence and pluralism, or to an increase in awareness of these matters.”
Vietnam has been consistently rated “Not Free” in the areas of internet and press freedom by Freedom House, a U.S.-based watchdog group.
Dissent is not tolerated in the communist nation, and authorities routinely use a set of vague provisions in the penal code to detain dozens of writers and bloggers.
Estimates of the number of prisoners of conscience now held in Vietnam’s jails vary widely, with Human Rights Watch putting the number in October at 138. The rights group Defend the Defenders meanwhile puts the number as at least 240, with 36 convicted this year alone.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by An Nguyen. Written in English by Richard Finney.