Vietnamese Citizens Join in Mass Calls for Political Freedom

Living in a police state, the Vietnamese democracy movement has tended to operate underground. Until recently, public calls for political freedom were made by courageous individuals speaking out alone or in very small groups. Collective action was hindered by government restrictions on communication, travel, public meetings—not to mention persecution.

Despite the obstacles, on April 6, 2006 the Vietnamese democracy movement took a step forward when 116 citizens publicly signed an Appeal for Freedom of Political Association. Two days later, 118 citizens joined together to issue the 2006 Manifesto on Freedom and Democracy for Vietnam. These two documents address the root causes of the country’s political stagnation.

The Appeal for Freedom of Political Association lays out the reasons why Vietnamese citizens must seize the initiative: Freedom of association is a basic right enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (which Vietnam is a signatory) as well as the constitution of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. The reality is that the Vietnamese Communist Party cannot be expected to voluntarily relinquish its monopoly on power over institution such as the National Assembly, the courts, and the military and security forces. To challenge this monopoly and attain a free political environment Vietnamese citizens must organize political parties that operate openly.

The Manifesto on Freedom and Democracy for Vietnam, also known as the 2006 Manifesto, declares:

“The highest objective in the struggle to fight for freedom and democracy for the Vietnamese nation today is to make sure that the present political regime in Vietnam be changed in a fundamental way not through incremental ‘renovation’ steps or, even worse, through insignificant touchups here and there. Concretely speaking, it must be a change from the monistic, one-party, non-competitive regime that we have at the present time to a pluralistic and multiparty system, one in which there is healthy competition, in accordance with the legitimate requirements of the nation, including at least a clear separation of powers between the Legislative, Executive and Judicial branches of government.”

The 2006 Manifesto affirms that this struggle must be undertaken by the Vietnamese people themselves though peaceful, non-violent means.

The Vietnamese citizens who signed the Appeal and Manifesto include not only many of the prominent political and religious dissidents who have garnered international attention, but also numerous teachers, doctors, and engineers who have been anonymous until now. The signers come from around the country, from Hanoi to Hue to Saigon. To date, hundreds more citizens have signed these two documents.

Like the organizers of Charter 77 in Czechoslovakia, those behind the Appeal for Freedom of Political Association and the 2006 Manifesto have demonstrated the power of the powerless in Vietnam by taking the political debate into the public sphere. As more Vietnamese overcome fear and join this growing movement, they will withdraw the power of the regime and return it to the people.

You can support the Vietnamese democracy movement by:

- joining the tens of thousands of people who have signed petitions in support of the 2006 Manifesto, such as:

http://www.petitiononline.com/UNGHO118/petition.html (Vietnamese)
http://www.petitiononline.com/Proj118/petition.html (English)

- lobbying parliamentarians and other world leaders to support the Appeal for Freedom of Political Association and the 2006 Manifesto.
- defending the courageous signers of the two documents by protesting attempts by the communist authorities to persecute these activists.

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