The trial of two broadcasters in Hanoi next week calls attention to an escalating campaign in Vietnam to suppress the practice of Falun Gong, adopted in response to pressure by the Chinese Communist regime.
Thirty-year-old tech executive Vu Duc Trung and his brother-in-law, Le Van Thanh, 35, are to stand trial Thursday, Oct. 6, for unauthorized broadcasting.
Their short-wave broadcasts into China aroused the ire of Chinese Communist Party officials because the two were downloading and airing Sound of Hope Radio’s (SOH) Chinese-language programming. SOH provides listeners in the mainland with an independent media voice—all media inside China are controlled by the CCP—and covers such topics as human rights abuses, protests, official corruption, and the persecution of Falun Gong.
A May 2010 memo from the Chinese Embassy to Vietnamese officials insisted that they arrest the broadcasters and stop the broadcasts. After the confiscation of their broadcasting equipment on June 10, 2010, the two were arrested on June 19, 2010. They have been in jail ever since, for 15 months.
International condemnation in the case has targeted both Vietnam and China. When the two were to initially be tried in April, Reporters without Borders said it was "worried by this latest evidence of Chinese influence over its Asian neighbors in matters concerning media freedom" and urged "the Vietnamese government to give Trung and Thanh a fair trial regardless of China’s pressure."
In early April, a Vietnamese court postponed their trial, a delay their lawyer believes was due to international pressure, according to a source close to the case.
The lawyer for Trung and Thanh has reiterated that the two are not guilty. He "strongly believes in their innocence—that’s why he’s doing it pro bono," said the same informant.
If Trung and Thanh are found guilty, they face a sentence of up to three years in prison.
Brutality and Harassment
Trung and Thanh are adherents of Falun Gong, a spiritual practice that involves doing meditative exercises and living according to the principles of truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance. Because the then-head of the CCP feared Falun Gong’s popularity and that the Chinese people might prefers its beliefs to communist doctrine, he ordered a campaign to “eradicate” the practice in July 1999, a campaign that continues to this day.
Vietnam is not China, where hundreds of thousands of Falun Gong practitioners are held in labor camps, are routinely subjected to brainwashing and torture, and may have their organs harvested against their will.
But according to practitioners inside Vietnam, a campaign that began in 2006 with police trying to persuade practitioners not to practice their exercises in public has in the last few months become much more sinister, with practitioners accusing police of torture.
In late August, three Falun Gong adherents in Vietnam’s northeastern Long An Province were taken away by police without a warrant while performing the Falun Gong exercises in a park. Police burned the hand and nose of one practitioner with a cigarette while he was in custody, and raided the homes of those who were jailed, confiscating Falun Gong books, CDs, and other possessions.
"The police came to bully us, and carried us to their station. While in detention, the police talked to us with an angry and malicious voice, using vulgar words," one of the three jailed practitioners who has since been released wrote in an open letter obtained by The Epoch Times through a trusted source. "They released insects onto our bodies, and physically tortured us."
State-run media, most likely at the prompting of higher officials, later reported that the arrests were because the practitioners were "illegally promoting" Falun Gong (also known as Falun Dafa), even though the practice is not expressly prohibited under Vietnamese law.
"They [Vietnam] don’t have any law saying practicing Falun Gong is illegal," the source told The Epoch Times. "They say you don’t have authorization."
Around 10 to 20 practitioners who gather outside the Chinese Embassy in the Vietnamese capital of Hanoi three times a week have similarly faced an uptick in harassment.
Since three to four weeks ago, swarms of police officers and also ordinary-looking Vietnamese have begun to harass the demonstrators while they silently protest the relentless persecution of Falun Gong in its northern neighbor.
"They come and pull and push and shove, physically assaulting practitioners," a practitioner in Vietnam told The Epoch Times. "At first, there were just a few of them. Now there are a lot," as many as 20, he said.
In Hanoi the practitioners suspect that those doing the beating are thugs for hire.
Vietnamese Falun Gong practitioner Ha Van Dung wrote in a testimony that he was a victim of "thugs" when he was abducted from a park in early September.
"I was badly beaten by thugs. Both sides of my arms were scraped. … One thug kicked me in the head so hard it caused dizziness," Dung said.
"Three safety police officers were standing in very close proximity and just watched me being beaten without intervening. … Those thugs repeatedly went to report to [the police] after beating me, then returned to beat me again."
Bowing to Beijing
The June 2010 indictment against Trung and Thanh made clear their arrests were in response to a memo from Chinese officials.
"The memo stated that the Police Department in China discovered radio signals coming from the Vietnamese territory containing the same content about Falun Gong as heard on the Sound of Hope radio station," the indictment said. "It was recommended that all illegal activities of Falun Gong individuals in the Vietnam territory must be charged and stopped."
The Falun Dafa Information Center (FDIC) has condemned the Chinese regime’s influence in suppressing the rights of Falun Gong practitioners and urged support for freedom of the press.
"We hope the Vietnamese authorities can resist the Chinese Communist Party’s arm-twisting and release them unconditionally," said Erping Zhang of FDIC. "Meanwhile, the international community should immediately advocate on their behalf and on behalf of the Chinese people who had an opportunity to listen to the uncensored news they broadcast."
With ongoing disputes with its much larger neighbor over territory and fishing and mineral rights, Vietnam has been susceptible to pressure by the Chinese regime.
And the Chinese regime has in several instances also sought to pressure other Asian nations to suppress Falun Gong.
"The pressure applied on Vietnam by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in this case is not an isolated incident," FDIC said in a statement. "Rather, it is part of a broader and disturbing pattern of the CCP leaning on East Asian governments to assist in suppressing Falun Gong practitioners and silencing Chinese people’s efforts outside the country to expose CCP abuses."