Vietnamese activist Effy Nguyen’s speech at the 10th Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy

February 20, 2018

Ladies and gentlemen,

Thank you for the opportunity to share my story. My name is Nguyen Trung Trong Nghia, a Vietnamese national. And I am here today to tell you about a story of persecution against religious leaders, human rights defenders, and in general the whole independent civil society in Vietnam.

This is a story of the bravest man I have ever known. He has been a church minister, a human rights activist, and above all he is my father. Well, you can say that I am somehow biased over this, and it is true. However, perhaps because I was there to listen to him when hundreds of people stormed in our house at night cornered him up and demanded him to bow down before them and reject his God or to face a certain death; he said “I shall not kneel before any man, and I will never abandon my faith in God.” In 2006, when his church was under a tremendous persecution with a lot of pressure and death threats, upon receiving offer to seek asylum in the U.S, he thought about it for a while and then answered “I cannot forsake my church and my people right now If I leave who would lead and defend them.”

Earlier, in January 2011, my dad, Pastor Nguyen Trung Ton, was taken away from us and imprisoned for two years. The Vietnamese authorities charged him with “propaganda against the state” while everything he ever did was to write articles questioning the communist-formed national history of the Vietnam War and raising his voice about the human rights violations of our government. During that dark time in prison he was still able to deliver us hope through his poems to my mother saying “the letter I write in the communist dictatorial prison, longing to see you in the light of democracy.”

Upon his release in 2013, my father went home, continued his human right work and of course got persecuted many times again. In that same year, he partnered with other former prisoners of conscience such as Nguyen Van Dai and Pham Van Troi to form an organization called “Brotherhood for Democracy.” The aim of the organization is to advocate for democracy and human rights in Vietnam through civic education and civil society volunteer work.

On the evening of February 27, 2017, my father was abducted by a group of eight men while trying to reach Con Se Parish where many victims of land grabs needed his organization’s help. This group of men took off his clothes and belongings in a van, covered his head, and repeatedly beat him up with iron bars while he was tied up. Eventually, after three hours of beating my father, they tossed him out in a cold remote jungle to die, naked, tied up, and broken. Fortunately, with the help of a local person, my father was able to escape.

He survived but the damage was internal and severe. Five months after the abduction, with his broken knees and troubled heavy breathing, my dad cried to me saying “It hurts, it hurts so badly son.” In fact, his health was in such a poor condition that he felt like he was going to die soon. He told me: “Son, do not be troubled when you return and do not see me, just continue our fight for Vietnam’s freedom.” These are the few last words I heard from my father before he was arrested again on July 30, 2017 on charges of “attempting to overthrow the state.” And it was just 5 months after the abduction.

While my dad is in jail without any communication with our family, the police continued to harass my mother. Ignoring the fact that my mom has to take care of a broken family with my old and blind grandmother and two of my siblings who are minors, the police keep on summoning her for interrogation. Last year, when my sister was rushed to the hospital for urgent blood transfusion because of psychological depression caused by the social pressure on my family and my father’s dire situation. Fortunately, good people over the country donated money to help my mother shoulder the hospital fees. However, the police interrogated and threatened her saying she received money from terrorists. My mother denied the outrageous accusation which led the authorities to shut down her bank account. Luckily, with much social and international pressure, my mom was able to recover the account.

While in jail, my father has been denied a lawyer. And it was only a few weeks ago, after 6 months, that my mother was able to see meet my dad. Everybody busted out in tears as my 10 year-old brother started crying because he sees dad. My mom couldn’t hold her tears, thinking of what has been happening for our family for the past 16 years. Ever since, we started to be different, ever since we started to stand for what is right, ever since we started to say “enough is enough”. Our country must be run by rule of law, not the police, and human rights must be the foundation of a humane society.

Dear fellow participants of the Geneva Summit,

I urge you to please raise your voice as a human rights defender. Please exert pressure on the Vietnamese authorities through every international mechanism. The United Nations Universal Periodic Review should bring up cases like this so the Vietnamese government cannot lie any more. They cannot persecute patriots and human rights defenders and still expect to be welcomed by the international community.

Please save my father who has exhausted his mind and body for the cause of freedom and democracy. Please save my mother, a political prisoner’s wife who struggles to sustain the family. My family is not the only one suffering this plight. There are hundreds of other families like us in Vietnam who need your help. Within the Brotherhood for Democracy alone, at least 13 people are arbitrarily detained, including Nguyen Van Dai, Pham Van Troi, and Truong Minh Duc. Other peaceful activists, such as Nguyen Van Oai, Hoang Duc Binh, and Nguyen Van Hoa have been unfairly sentenced to prison bye kangaroo courts in Vietnam.

Innocent children are deprived of their parents, elderly parents are deprived of their children, husbands and wives are separated for years; the breaking up of families and community has caused a huge injustice with a tremendous consequence for the society.

At this Summit, I see men and women with great courage and relentless compassion. And I pray that all of you may never get tired of fighting. Because the fight for human rights is a good fight. May the values of liberty shine up the world in this troubling moment! This is the very moment for us who are human beings to step up and say “the time is up!” The authority’s lies and abuses have to stop. Universal human rights must be upheld, dedicated men and women who stand for these principles deserve to be protected.

Thank you so much.