Published June 24, 2011
SAN FRANCISCO – A pro-democracy activist who was released from prison in Vietnam and deported to the United States vowed Friday to continue her campaign for human rights in her homeland.
Tran Khai Thanh Thuy, 50, arrived in San Francisco with her teenage daughter on Thursday, a day after Vietnam released the dissident writer on humanitarian grounds after she spent more than a year in prison in Hanoi.
In an interview with The Associated Press, she said she was thrilled to be free and grateful to the U.S. government and overseas Vietnamese community for advocating for her release.
"Most definitely I will continue to write and advocate for human rights," Thuy said through a translator. "I will use my experience in jail to expose the human rights abuses in Vietnam, both in greater society and within the prisons."
U.S. Embassy spokesman Beau Miller praised Vietnam for releasing her, saying, "We continue to urge the government of Vietnam to respect internationally recognized human rights."
Thuy, a journalist and novelist, is among a small circle of dissidents in Vietnam who have promoted a multiparty system, which is not tolerated by the Communist government.
Thuy has been active in the dissident community since 2006, when she started organizations to help workers and assist farmers whose land had been confiscated by the government. Thuy worked for many years in Vietnam's state-controlled media before writing for an online pro-democracy newspaper and publishing a blog.
The New York-based Human Rights Watch last year honored Thuy and five other Vietnamese writers with its annual Hellman/Hammet award for their courage in the face of political persecution.
Last year, Thuy and her husband, Do Ba Tan, were convicted of assaulting two people in October 2009, after one of them complained that Tan's motorbike was blocking the alley outside the couple's home in Hanoi. She was sentenced to 3½ years in prison and he received a two-year suspended sentence.
In the interview Friday, Thuy accused the authorities of fabricating the charges to punish her for her political activities.
"The case against me was completely set up by the government," Thuy said. "The reason for my arrest is because the government wanted to silence me. Because they wanted to avoid a political case, they invented a criminal case."
Thuy said she was jailed with common criminals at Hanoi's Hoa Lo Prison, which was dirty, overcrowded and unbearably hot.
Thuy, who suffers from diabetes, said she was denied medical care, which led to bad headaches, circulation problems and other health ailments. She was twice beaten by other prisoners — attacks she believes were arranged by prison officials to punish her for sending unauthorized letters, she said.
Thuy, who had never left Vietnam before this week, was reunited with her younger daughter and sent to resettle in San Francisco, where she has friends and relatives.
The activist said she plans to continue writing and speaking out against Vietnam's authoritarian government, but fears for the safety of her husband, who remains under house arrest in Hanoi and could face retribution for her pro-democracy activities.
"I am worried about my husband, but human rights abuses like this must be brought to light," she said. "People need to understand what's happening in Vietnam."