by Quốc Việt
The Rev. Joseph Dinh Huu Thoai [Đinh Hữu Thoại], 41, Province Secretary of the Redemptorists in Vietnam, is among the most outspoken people fighting for justice and the right to freedom of speech and religion in Vietnam. The Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, is also among the most visible Catholic organizations confronting the government over religious control and church property.
In 2011, Rev. Thoai was banned from the leaving the country by immigration police at the Moc Bai checkpoint in Tay Ninh, at the Cambodian border. Rev. Thoai filed a lawsuit against the officials at that checkpoint, but his lawsuit was dismissed. Father Thoai continued to pressed his right to travel and last week filed a complaint with the Minister of Public Security — the head of the country’s police. Rev. Thoai is also the head of the Facebook group “Travel Ban in Vietnam.” www.Vietnamrightnow.com’s contributor Quốc Việt spoke to Rev. Thoai.
www.Vietnamrightnow.com: Father, after your travel ban in 2011, you have filed several complaints and a lawsuit, and most recently you’ve filed a complaint requesting a resolution by the Minister of Public Security. Do you expect that the legal system, law enforcement or specifically the Minister of Public Security, will respect the law and restore your right to travel?
Rev. Thoai: In truth, I’ve never thought that law enforcement forces in Vietnam will respect the law in resolving my issue. To the contrary, they will always cover for each other’s violations. Vietnam does not have any separation of power and is a police state, and so, believing that law enforcement in Vietnam would respect the law is an illusion.
Here’s the evidence: At first, the provincial court in Tay Ninh followed the law, took my complaint, suggested that I deposit the court fees, subpoena me to take my declaration as a plaintiff. They’ve even set up a “dialogue” — which is part of the litigation procedure, to be held between myself and the Moc Bai police, too bad the police didn’t show.
But then suddenly someone intervened and the Tay Ninh court deliberately violated the law and issued its decision to dismiss the case. They dismissed but didn’t tell me what court to go to. I’ve appealed, and then the appellate court in Saigon also affirmed the dismissal. I’ve filed for cassation [final appeal] but today, with all deadlines for responses having passed, neither the judge nor the procuracy have said anything.
With my lawsuit effectively over, it also means that in Vietnam there’s no place that can adjudicate this case! That’s not possible in a country that claims to respect the law.
At the same time, I have exercised my right to denounce the abuse of authority, violation of the law, but all I’ve heard is silence.
Even though I don’t believe that there’s justice under Vietnamese law, but I have been patient in exercising my right, and that is to file the lawsuit and denounce the act of illegally banning my departure, to point out wrongdoings by the police.
So I sent the complaint to the Minister of Public Security so that he can deal with these violations by the police under him. Because according to the law, only he has the authority to issue a band on leaving the country. So I suspect that his subordinates didn’t submit the file to him and instead arbitrarily placed the ban on me. Or he intentionally did it that way so he can avoid responsibility. Maybe that’s why he too has been silent and has not responded.
So, in short, what I’ve been doing is to affirm that my right to freedom of movement is being violated and to affirm my right to speak out about violations by the police.
www.Vietnamrightnow.com: As Province Secretary of the Redemptorists, how has this ban on travel affected your religious work?
Rev. Thoai: As the Provincial Secretary for the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, usually I would travel with the Provincial to international meetings of the worldwide Order, as well as in meeting with other communities of the Redemptorists in the world to discuss cooperation, ministry experience. Also I’m often invited to teach about our religion outside of Vietnam. And so, for me, the act of illegally banning my travel by the communist government is not just a violation of my human rights, but it is also evidence of the repression of my freedom of religion.
www.Vietnamrightnow.com: You are also playing a major role in the association of people banned from leaving the country, named Travel Ban in Vietnam, on Facebook. Can you say a few words about this group? Do you think the group’s activities can have an effect on the government?
Rev. Thoai: The Travel Ban in Vietnam group, our Vietnamese name actually translates into the Association of People Banned from Leaving, is a Facebook group of “dissidents or defenders of human rights, who are officially banned from leaving at a Vietnamese checkpoint, have their passport confiscated, or have been denied a passport.”
Our goal is to campaign for public opinion in and outside the country on violations of citizens’ right to travel, to demand the government of Vietnam to respect the right and abolish these abusive and illegal bans. Our activities are to supply information via Facebook, organize “offline” activities to join our voices every time someone’s freedom of movement is violated, and update the list of people banned. As of today, March 27, we’ve collected the name of 47 people.
But according to a reliable source, someone has seen the list of people banned and the list as up to 2000 names.
We will do what it takes for the communist police to return the right to freedom of movement to us and to all of the people on that list.