Do Hoang Diem knows the exact date when the Viet Tan democracy movement that he leads came of age.
“It was 29 March 2007,” he said. “Viet Tan was established in the early 1980s, but for more than two decades the Vietnamese Government just ignored us.
“Then on that date out of nowhere an article appeared in a Government newspaper attacking us, and since then there have been hundreds of articles, in newspapers and magazines, on television, radio and online.”
Diem is the international chairman of Viet Tan, or Vietnam Reform Party, which has the aim of replacing Vietnam’s single-party Communist system with a pluralist democracy. He says the attacks are the best thing that has happened to his organisation.
“Suddenly we have a profile,” he said. “People around the world now know we exist and we are getting a lot of attention from inside Vietnam as well.
“We have been broadcasting a radio program into Vietnam for the past 20 years, but since the attacks the feedback we have been getting has doubled. People are writing in saying they support us and offering comments and that is good.”
Viet Tan was originally formed among members of the Vietnamese Diaspora who fled during and after the fall of South Vietnam at the end of the war in 1975, but Diem says the membership is now much wider. “We operate both inside Vietnam and in countries around the world,” he said. “I would say the average age of our Vietnam-based membership is mid-30s, mainly professionals and students but with a good sprinkling of factory workers and farmers - it’s a fair representation of Vietnamese society.
“Around the world we do have many members who were associated with the former South Vietnamese Government, but also young people of 16 and 17 who had nothing to do with the war.”
The Vietnamese Government brands Viet Tan as a terrorist group and claims it has implemented “violent disturbances and terrorists acts against the Vietnamese Government”. However, these acts and disturbances are rarely documented although one report does state that activists were arrested for distributing “reactionary propaganda leaflets” and writing articles against the Vietnamese Government.
Diem says members inside Vietnam are routinely persecuted. “Article Four of the Vietnamese Constitution states that there should be only one lawful political party and that is the Communist Party, so our members keep their identities a secret. If they are discovered they usually find themselves under 24-hour surveillance, they are harassed and even jailed,” he said.
Viet Tan aims for a peaceful transition to democracy. “We would not have anything to do with a violent uprising. There has been enough violence in the past,” he said.
“If we are terrorists, then why was I invited to the Oval Office to meet President George W. Bush, why have Viet Tan representatives been asked to testify before the Australian Parliament?”
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About the Author
Graham Cooke has been a journalist for more than four decades, having lived in England, Northern Ireland, New Zealand and Australia, for a lengthy period covering the diplomatic round for The Canberra Times.
He has travelled to and reported on events in more than 20 countries, including an extended stay in the Middle East. Based in Canberra, where he obtains casual employment as a speech writer in the Australian Public Service, he continues to find occasional assignments overseas, supporting the coverage of international news organisations.