The little house sits on the side of a narrow but paved country road in Phú Quý hamlet, Tam Phú Village, about two miles North of the city of Tam Kỳ. It is probably one of the smallest houses in this proud but not so prosperous corner of the central coastal region of Vietnam. It has just two tiny and sparsely furnished ten feet by ten feet rooms bordered by a covered veranda that also serves as living space. Put a dozen or so people in any one of these two rooms, and the risk of suffocation becomes real, even when the windows are wide open. The windows appear to be always open, as there are no visible signs of any working window doors that would help close them, or at least shield the occupants of the house from prying eyes (1).
Into this little house at 8:00AM on November 8, 2011 swarmed fifty uniformed and plain clothed members of the Public Security Forces (PSF) and the Provincial Information & Communication Department (PICD) of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. These men – and women too – practically filled every nook and cranny of the little house. At the same time, fifty other members of PSF blocked the North end of the road leading to little house while fifty others blocked the South end of the same road. Yet another fifty took their positions around the little house and spilled into the neighboring ones.
Altogether, close to two hundred members of the PSF and the PICD came to the little house. None smiled as one of them videotaped the entire proceeding from beginning to end. Together, they created a dragnet so tight that, as the saying goes, not even a tiny field mouse could escape. But that was exactly what the men of the PSF wanted. Men of the PSF are serious people and they were on a very serious and important mission.
The mission was simple: serve a search warrant on the occupants of the house and gather the evidence needed to prosecute them later to protect the State of Vietnam against “reactionary” ideas that could “undermine national unity.” (2)
And so, who are the occupants of the little house whose ideas the State fears so much?
They are Mr. Huỳnh Ngọc Tuấn, 58, a frail widower and internationally known writer and contributor to numerous overseas websites and who had served 10 years (1992-2002) in jail because of his writings in the post-1975 era in Vietnam, his daughter Huỳnh Thục Vy, 26, and his son Huỳnh Trọng Hiếu, 22. Both the daughter and the son are also writers and celebrated bloggers on their own right. The family’s income is meager, and to help out, daughter Huỳnh Thục Vy also teaches English to children on the side.
Writer Huỳnh Ngọc Tuấn Blogger Huỳnh Thục Vy
Writer Huỳnh Ngọc Tuấn described below what happened during the raid when reporter Thanh Quang of Radio Free Asia interviewed him on Tuesday 11/08/2011. (3)
Thanh Quang: As you related to us, what was your reaction when the PSF representative reads the search warrant and accused you of disseminating on the web writing that opposed the party and the state?
Writer Huỳnh Ngoc Tuấn: I told them that my writings reflect my personal point of view and thus are fully compliant with the spirit of Article 69 of the Constitution which stipulates that all citizens have the right to think and to speak freely. I did nothing wrong and I did not act against the Constitution, and certainly what I did was fully compliant with International Conventions on Civil Rights and Political Rights. Regarding your presence here to confiscate the tools we use to study, to work, what you did is against the Constitution, the laws, and of course if you did so you will be held responsible. They confiscated two desktop computers, a Canon laser printer, two small computer speakers, an USB memory stick, and three small notebooks.
Thanh Quang: And how about your two children, Huỳnh Thục Vy and Huỳnh Trọng Hiếu, with both being bloggers who have received a lot of attention on the web, what happened to them?
Writer Huỳnh Ngoc Tuấn: They forced Thục Vy to sign and acknowledge some of her writings, and they also forced Hiếu to acknowledge some of the texts he wrote. Vy and Hiếu did so but about her writings my little Vy stated that “the contents of the articles I wrote are good. I protest the conclusion that these articles have bad contents”. They then proceed to disconnect the equipment…
Thanh Quang: OK. So how much time elapsed between the time they came to search the house and establish the Search Record, and the time they left the premise? How long did it take them to do that?
Writer Huỳnh Ngoc Tuấn: Yeah. It lasted until 10AM, or from 8AM to 10AM or 10:30AM.
Thanh Quang: In these two and a half hours or so, did they conduct themselves in a heavy handed or impolite manner in any way? Could you please tell us?
Writer Huỳnh Ngoc Tuấn: Sure. They used very foul language, especially the gentleman named Quang Thái; he is the leader of Quảng Nam Province PSF in this house search. He was really careless in the way he speaks. He was highly abusive and critical and he displayed a total lack of manner and culture. My daughter demanded: “Guys, be quiet. Do not use abusive and critical language. Do not be disrespectful.”
Thanh Quang: Did they request that you and the members of your family go to the PSF Station?
Writer Huỳnh Ngoc Tuấn: No. This time they didn’t make that request. They came at 8:00AM, stayed until 10:30AM, and didn’t ask us to go to the PSF Station. They confiscated equipment, gave us the Search Record, and then they left. After their departure, I went to my brother’s house to let my friends know what happened but internet access at my brother’s house has already been cut. At my house, internet access has also been cut. I took a computer home to test my internet connection and I couldn’t connect either. The phone on my desk is also dead, its line cut off.”
With phone and internet access in his home and the home of people close to him cut off, writer Huỳnh Ngọc Tuấn did what anyone would do in his situation. He and his son hopped on a motorcycle and headed for the nearest internet café in town. He had barely enough time to sit down, log in, and fired off an email to Ms. Mạc Việt Hồng, the editor of the www.damchinviet.info website that publishes most of his articles to alert her of his situation, when members of the PSF barged in.
They demanded that he showed them the email he just sent. More ominously, they demanded that he and his son follow them back to the local PSF station. A verbal dispute ensued with writer Huỳnh Ngọc Tuấn refusing to go while PSF personnel insisting that he must. The dispute quickly spilled onto the street in front of the internet café and it was there that something hitherto unknown, something hitherto unheard of, something wondrous, happened.
The people came.
The people listened.
The people spoke.
And the people successfully defended him.
This is how it all played out. Somehow, miraculously, and clearly quicker than anyone could have imagined, as the dispute inside the internet café between writer Huỳnh Ngọc Tuấn and PSF members proceeded and spilled onto the street, a crowd of more than six hundred people had quietly formed on the street in front of the internet café. The crowd far outnumbered the PSF men who were surrounding and disputing with writer Huỳnh Ngọc Tuấn. The crowd also prevented two military trucks full of PSF men that were rushed to the internet café from reaching its front door. Instead, these trucks were parked few hundred meters away from the internet café at both ends of the street.
Standing now on the street in front of the internet café and addressing the crowd directly, Huỳnh Ngọc Tuấn told the assembled people about his writings on loss of Vietnamese territorial waters, the loss of the Hoang Sa and Truơng Sa Islands, the loss of the border land to the Chinese, the cowardice of the Communist Party of Vietnam in their dealings with China, how the party sold the country down the river to the Chinese, and last but not least, about the impending and entirely illegal attempt by the PSF to arrest him without a warrant of any kind. He finished his impromptu speech by looking directly at the people and asking them to protect him. Roars rose from the crowd as the people responded in appreciation. And it was from the crowd, from the heart of people, that a voice was heard loud and clear:“It is utter nonsense! It is unreasonable to arrest anyone without a court order! Don’t you go anywhere! Just stay here!”
As writer Huỳnh Ngọc Tuấn spoke and as the people reacted, members of the PSF came out of their trucks and moved into position on the street. But there were too many people on the street and the road was entirely blocked so that no trucks, no cars, no motorcycles could even pass through. And so, after a few tense moments, and on whose orders no one knew, the men of the PSF climbed back on their trucks and the trucks drove away.
But the harassment didn’t end there.
As the father and son pair got on their motorcycle and made their way home, barely 200 meters outside of the town center, they were suddenly stopped by six uniformed members of the Quảng Nam Provincial Traffic Police. The stop happened on a small and rickety bridge along an isolated section of the road. The traffic cops asked the two to produce all their papers and they complied. All papers were found to be in proper order, yet the cops still found a problem. The motorcycle registration was under the name of Mrs. Nguyển Thị Quang, the mother-in-law of writer Huỳnh Ngọc Tuấn. Despite protestations from Huỳnh Trung Hiếu that Mrs. Quang gave the motorcycle to him, her grandson, for how else could he have on him the registration paper for the motorcycle, the traffic cops overruled him and ordered the father and son pair to follow them to the Provincial Traffic Police Station.
And again, a second miracle happened.
The people came.
The people listened.
The people spoke.
And the people successfully defended him.
Here is how it all played out, again. Out of nowhere, more than 300 people had appeared. They got on little bridge and surrounded Huỳnh Ngọc Tuấn, his son, and the cops. For an instant, as he later related to RFA interviewer Thanh Quang, writer Huỳnh Ngọc Tuấn feared that the rickety-looking bridge would collapse under the combined weight of all the people who stood on it.
In any case, all traffic stopped, the people listened to what Huỳnh Ngọc Tuấn had to say, and the people got into arguing with the cops. One of the people said: “How dare you stop and arrest these two people when they have all the proper papers?” Some event taunted the cops: “If you guys have any guts, why don’t you arrest the big cars out there?” And as the crowd swelled and surged, the traffic cops relented and writer Huỳnh Ngọc Tuấn and his son were finally allowed to go their way.
Nevertheless, the cops still couldn’t leave writer Huỳnh Ngọc Tuấn and his son alone. Instead, they followed them in their own vehicles until the pair got back into their home, a little house that sits alongside a nondescript country road in the central coastal region of Vietnam.
In the days and months to come, if the State of Vietnam is anything but true to its dark and evil form and given that it had so promised it its official propaganda newspapers, there will be one, or several, closed door trials where no one, not even impartial international observers, will be allowed in. These trials will be for writer Huỳnh Ngọc Tuấn, his son Huỳnh Trung Hiếu, and his daughter Huỳnh Thục Vy. It is not hard to imagine the outcome of these trials when considering the precedents, namely the arrest, trial, and sentencing (or lack of sentencing leading to indefinite detention) of dissidents such as lawyer Cù Huy Hà Vũ, blogger Điếu Cày Nguyễn Minh Hải, lawyer Lê Công Định, protesters Phạm Thanh Nghiên, Nguyễn Xuân Nghĩa, Trần Đức Thạch, Vũ Hùng, and countless others.
Yet, hope exists that these trials won’t happen and that courageous Huỳnh family from Tam Kỳ – the real First Family of Vietnam – will not be harmed.
Hope exists because, as writer Huỳnh Ngọc Tuấn said at the end of his interview with reporter Thanh Quang of RFA: “there is something called international public opinion that could and should be mobilized to help my children Huỳnh Trung Hiếu and Huỳnh Thục Vy”.
Writer Huỳnh Ngọc Tuấn is right.
It is our duty as concerned and freedom loving individuals to mobilize and build up the national and international public opinion that will be needed to save these three courageous people. We can do so by reaching out to government officials and political leaders of the countries in which we live and work and by asking them to intervene on behalf of writer Huỳnh Ngọc Tuấn, his son Huỳnh Trung Hiếu, and his daughter Huỳnh Thục Vy. The name and the mailing or email addresses of these officials and political leaders are just a mouse click, or a Google or Bing search result page away.
When writing to ask the aforementioned people to help support and defend Huỳnh Ngọc Tuấn and his children Huỳnh Trung Hiếu and Huỳnh Thục Vy, we won’t need to dream up flowery and ornate words, just simple and sincere words that will flow naturally from the bottom of our heart to the paper or the keyboard when we care enough. We can attach to the letter or the email we will write a link to this article if we wish to do so, or a link to any similar article that was written in a language that these officials and political leaders could read and understand.
The one thing we can’t do is to let the Huỳnh family down and not come to their aid in their hour of desperate need. Let’s all of us do what we can to help them and help move public opinion inside and outside of Vietnam in their favor. And let us be mindful that the force of our faith and the power of national and international public opinions are never to be underestimated.
There is also another and deeper reason for hope.
The reason is on November 8, 2011, something totally unexpected, something totally new, something wondrous happened not just once, but twice. On that day in November of the year 2011 the Vietnamese people decided to be fearless and to come out. They came out to listen to the truth. They came out to speak the truth. And they came out, hundreds of them Vietnamese people, to successfully challenge, defend and prevent the unlawful arrest of a frail widower, a caring father, a fearless former prisoner of conscience, a man whose only crime was to publicly profess his infinite and unyielding love for his children, his people, and his country.
November 11, 2011
1. Dân Làm Báo, November 8, 2011. “CA khám nhà, khủng bố gia đình nhà văn Huỳnh Ngọc Tuấn & bạn Huỳnh Thục Vy” (Public Security Forces searched home, terrorized the family of writer Huỳnh Ngọc Tuấn and Huỳnh Thục Vy”).http://danlambaovn.blogspot.com/2011/11/ca-kham-nha-khung-bo-gia-inh-tac-gia.html. An English version of this web posting is available here:http://www.vietthuc.org/2011/11/09/vietnamese-public-security-forces-raided-home-terrorized-writer-hu%E1%BB%B3nh-ng%E1%BB%8Dc-tu%E1%BA%A5n-and-his-daughter-hu%E1%BB%B3nh-th%E1%BB%A5c-vy/ .
2. Tuoi Tre News, November 10, 2011. “Man, two children caught acting against state”.http://www.tuoitrenews.vn/cmlink/tuoitrenews/society/man-2-children-caught-acting-against-state-1.50815
3. Thanh Quang – RFA, November 11, 2011. “Công an sách nhiễu gia đình nhà văn Huỳnh Ngọc Tuấn” (“Public Security Forces harassed the family of writer Huỳnh Ngọc Tuấn”)http://www.rfa.org/vietnamese/in_depth/police-crackdown-hntuan-fami-tq-11082011222324.html