PARIS – A Vietnamese dissident who says he was arrested at his home in southern Ho Chi Minh City and forcibly exiled to France said he is determined to continue his activity as a pro-democracy blogger.
Pham Minh Hoang, a 61-year-old math lecturer, recounted his arrest and deportation in a phone interview Sunday with The Associated Press a few hours after his arrival in France. He said three police officers burst into his house on Friday and grabbed his arms when he refused to follow them while wearing only shorts, an undershirt and slippers.
"Once outside, I was horrified to see that there were not three, but a hundred policemen in uniform and in plainclothes around my house and in the neighboring streets," said Hoang, who was a dual French-Vietnamese national before he was stripped of his Vietnamese citizenship last month.
After being detained in front of his wife, Hoang said he was driven to a detention center two hours away, where he spent 24 hours and was visited by the Consul General of France. He said Vietnamese authorities forced him on a plane to Paris on Saturday night.
Hoang's deportation came two weeks after he learned a presidential decree had revoked his Vietnamese citizenship. Human Rights Watch denounced Hoang's expulsion in a statement as a "blatantly illegal, rights violating act" that effectively forces the activist into "indefinite exile."
Vietnam's Foreign Ministry did not respond to a request for comment Sunday. The French foreign ministry confirmed that its Consul General assisted Hoang in Ho Chi Minh City. As a French citizen, he can settle in the country and enjoy full freedom of speech, the ministry said.
The human rights activist and blogger was sentenced to three years in prison in 2011 for attempted subversion by posting articles on his blog criticizing the Communist government and for being a member of the California-based Vietnam Reform Party, or Viet Tan. The government considers Viet Tan a terrorist organization.
Hoang eventually served 17 months in prison and three years of house arrest.
International human rights groups and some Western governments have criticized Vietnam for jailing people for peacefully expressing their views, but Hanoi says only law breakers are put behind bars.
"The vaguely worded decision was a thinly veiled move to silence Pham Minh Hoang for his peaceful advocacy," Viet Tan said in a statement about the stripping of Vietnamese citizenship from Hoang.
Before being deported from his country, Hoang said he was questioned at length by two officials whom he thinks were members of the political police. When he refused to consent to his deportation, he said officials reminded him that his wife and daughter were still living in Vietnam. Two policemen slept in the room where he was held, he said.
France is not a country unknown to Hoang. He studied and lived here for 27 years between 1973 and 2000, working as a computer and civil engineer. It is where he started to write articles critical of his country's regime. He said he returned to Vietnam to teach and help the Vietnamese youth with the new technologies.
Today, he doesn't know who will take care of the disabled brother who lived with him in Ho Chi Minh City. He hopes he'll be able to stay in regular contact with his wife and his 13-year-old daughter.
"I will continue to help my daughter do her homework, using internet video or other secure means," he said.
Hoang assumes he will have to remain in France for a long time and said he is determined to continue his political activism — "my raison d'être" — as an exile.
"I still have a little hope, one day, to come back to live and die in Vietnam," he said.