Ho Chi Minh City (AsiaNews) - "In the communist prison, I always kept my faith. I prayed and God blessed me. I was treated cruelly in prison, but I never cried in front of them. My heart was full of pain and sorrow on hearing my mother's self-immolation because of my judgment": These were the first words spoken by the Vietnamese Catholic dissident and blogger Maria Tạ Phong Tần, after having landed last Sept. 20 at Los Angeles airport after the flight from Vietnam who has led in the United States.
The 47-year old Tan has spent three of the 10 years in prison for "propaganda against the state" (Article 88 of the Criminal Code), in relation to her blog Cong Ly v On That (Justice and Truth). The space was dedicated to "human rights abuses and corruption among the police and the justice system."
Maria Tạ Phong Tần Tan - former policewoman, converted to Catholicism as an adult - is a member of the Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam (Ijavn) and promoted online campaigns in defense of the territorial integrity of Vietnam in the South China Sea. The activist also launched initiatives in defense of human rights and democracy in the country.
She was arrested along with the founder of Ijavn, journalist Nguyen Van Hai (released about a year ago and also moved in the US), better known as Dieu Cay, and other activists and bloggers. In the past, her family had denounced the intimidation and psychological terror she was subjected to in prison from cellmates. The other prisoners also insulted her mother, Dang Thi Kim Lieng, who died from self-immolation itself three years ago to protest against the charges against her daughter.
Her early release seems to be the result of diplomatic pressure exerted by Washington. As stated by the activist, it was not a real release, but rather a "temporary suspension" of the judgment, that on 19 September allowed the woman to leave the Thanh Hoa prison (in north).
"This is not about expulsion" from Vietnam, adds the Catholic activist, who promises to "continue to fight for democracy and human rights" in the country. In these first days as a free woman, Maria also wants to thank those who worked for her release: The US Embassy in Hanoi, the Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City, all NGOs, Reporters without Borders), RSF) and the Redemptorist Fathers in the former Saigon. "All these people - she says - have helped me in communist prison in order today I can go to here. I will continue to struggle for justice, truth and democracy in Vietnam. I wish that Vietnam government will have changes to help people have freedom of speech, real democracy accordingly with the democracy trend of the world today. Vietnamese people have lived in fear for so long (70 years). The communist government has not respected the basic human rights of the people. So, they would not let the people have other rights. If the communist regime has no democracy changes, someday the people will stand up to replace for the regime."
For several years, Vietnam has seen a harsh campaign by the government against dissidents, bloggers, religious leaders (including Buddhists), Catholic activists or entire communities.
Last year for example, media and government carried out a smear campaign in the Diocese of Vinh against the local bishop and faithful.