It makes strategic and economic sense for the United States to pivot toward the Asia-Pacific region and to deepen our ties to Vietnam. But we shouldn’t back away from our core principles to do so.
The case of Nguyen “Richard” Quan, a pro-democracy activist from Elk Grove, is a test of that resolve.
Nguyen, 59, a U.S. citizen, was arrested as soon as he stepped off the plane in Ho Chi Minh City and has been languishing in prison for more than six months.
He was first charged with planning terrorist activities during celebrations commemorating the fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975. He’s now accused of plotting to overthrow the communist government.
Nguyen is no terrorist, according to his supporters. Rather, he is a disciple of Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi who has called for widespread, but nonviolent, protests against the Vietnamese government.
Nguyen also spent six months in Vietnamese prisons in 2007 and 2008 after handing out fliers on civil disobedience.
He is an adherent of Viet Tan, an international reform party that has strong support in the Sacramento-area Vietnamese community but has been branded a terrorist group by the Vietnamese government.
The state news agency claims that Nguyen has admitted involvement in criminal acts, but his wife denies he has confessed. The shifting allegations and supposed confession are hallmarks of a political prosecution by a totalitarian government.
Nguyen’s plight has the attention of human rights groups and of Congressman Dan Lungren, who has urged Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to secure his release and who sponsored a unanimous congressional resolution calling on Vietnam to respect human rights. Others have gone further – too far, in our view – calling on President Barack Obama to dismiss David Shear, the U.S. ambassador to Vietnam.
The spotlight being shined on Vietnam seems to be having an impact.
U.S. officials in Ho Chi Minh City told The Bee’s Stephen Magagnini that Shear, Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta have raised Nguyen’s case with top Vietnamese officials. They want Vietnam to “quickly and transparently resolve this case.”
“We believe no one should be imprisoned for peacefully expressing their political views or their aspirations for a freer, more democratic and prosperous future,” a spokesman said.
Here in the United States, some citizens may be suffering from “voter fatigue” after being inundated with political mailers and television commercials. We should remember that, in many countries worldwide, democracy activists are risking prison or worse for seeking rights that far too many of us take for granted.