04/11/2014, 00.00
VIETNAM

Vietnamese political prisoner Dinh Dang Dinh dies as a 'son of God'

Jailed for "anti-state propaganda," the teacher and famous anti-bauxite mining activist developed a tumour behind bars. The authorities eventually released him for medical care, but only when the disease was in its final state. As the end was approaching, he asked to be baptised and become Catholic. Saigon Redemptorists celebrated his funeral in front of a crowd of activists and ordinary people.

Ho Chi Minh City (AsiaNews) - Before dying from stomach cancer, he wanted to become, as he put it, a 'son of God' by joining the Catholic Church.

A few days later after his baptism, on the evening of 4 April, he died peaceful surrounded by the affection of his family, after spending his last two years in a Vietnamese prison.

The death of high school teacher Dinh Dang Dinh, one of Vietnam's best-known dissidents, caused great distress among those who knew and admired his courage and life story.

He was sentenced to six years in prison on 21 November 2012, the day after Teachers' Day, for allegedly engaging in "anti-state propaganda" and "abusing democratic freedoms."

Following his conviction, police threatened his family in order to cover up the affair whilst Dinh, held on death row with other prisoners waiting for execution, tried to help his fellow inmates by raising their spirits so that they could endure their own suffering and distress.

Dinh Dang Dinh, an activist historian and chemistry professor, has long been a true patriotic icon, devoting much of his life to the fight against bauxite mining in the Central Highlands of Vietnam.

For him, such activity could only have disastrous consequences for the environment, a view shared by General Giap, a national hero and symbol of Vietnamese resistance to Western colonialism.

Following an open letter protesting against the project, Dinh was quickly joined by some 3,000 prominent intellectuals and leaders.

In two years behind bars, he developed a stomach cancer. Despite repeated requests for release and a pardon to undergo treatment, the authorities always refused.

When he was eventually hospitalised, the situation had already deteriorated to the point that operating was no longer possible.

On 25 February, with the tumour in its final stage, the authorities relented, suspending his sentence. He was pardoned on 21 March when he was already dying.

In the last two weeks, he spent at home in Dak Nong, in the Central Highlands, Dinh Dang Dinh decided to become a 'son of God' and join the Catholic Church. For his daughter, the decision was the logical consequence of his life.

Like Nguyen Huu Cau, who was perhaps Vietnam's most famous political prisoner, he too decided in jail to become a Catholic. In order to imitate the former, a Redemptorist priest came all the way from Saigon to baptise him.

His wife said that as he left the hospital, he continued to pray and ask God to relieve his pain.

Last Sunday, his remains were moved to Ho Chi Minh City and buried in a Redemptorist chapel, a place that has become the object of a -ending stream of pilgrims - dissidents, activists and ordinary people - coming to pay tribute to his memory.

On Monday, a large crowd took part in his funeral, celebrated by the secretary-general of the Commission of Justice and Peace of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Vietnam.

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