INTERVIEW: ‘Human Rights Coffee’ undeterred, will persist: Blogger Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh

by Pham Doan Trang

At the third “Human Rights Coffee” that was to be held in Nha Trang on Apr 19, the police swooped in and arrested the organizers. T-shirts printed with the line “Stop Police Killing Civilians” were confiscated on the supposed grounds that they “harm the reputation of organizations and individuals.”

The Network of Vietnamese Bloggers appears undeterred. In a “reaffirmation” published Apr 21, the Network vows to hold more Human Rights Coffee roundtables “as well as other events protecting and promoting human rights in Vietnam.”

Vietnam Right Now’s Pham Doan Trang held an interview via internet with Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh [Nguyễn Ngọc Như Quỳnh], who blogs under the name Me Nam Gau [Mẹ Nấm Gấu, Mother Mushroom], one of the people arrested at the third Human Rights Coffee. Me Nam Gau was a 2010 recipient from Human Rights Watch of the Hellman/Hammett award for persecuted writers. Let’s start from the beginning. What happened at the third Human Rights Coffee?

Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh: The Human Rights Coffee roundtable was scheduled to begin at 9:30 a.m. at the Swing Café in Nha Trang. At 7:30 a.m. when we members of the Network of Vietnamese Bloggers arrived, the Café staff saw our black T-shirt printed with the slogans ‘Stop Police Killing Civilians’, and they told us that the Café were already reserved so couldn’t’ take in more guests. We moved to another place in the same mall, but then a manager of the mall asked us to leave because the mall should be closed for cleaning.

So we went away. But while three of us, including Pham Van Hai [Phạm Văn Hải], who blogs under the name Viet Man, Trinh Kim Tien [Trịnh Kim Tiến] (also known as Trinh Kim Kim), and me, were standing on the sidewalk, plainsclothed police and local guards kept chasing us away. They said the sidewalk was reserved for a private event.

We then came to where Kim Tien’s husband Nguyen Ho Nhat Thanh [Nguyễn Hồ Nhật Thành] (also known as Paulo Thanh Nguyen) was. Two strangers were harassing him. They said Thanh welched on payment to some ‘xe om’ motorcycle driver. They pulled both Thanh and Hai and tore their shirts in the presence of all forces there: the plainclothes police, local police, traffic police, and local guards.

Thanh and Hai didn’t say anything, so the uniformed police got involved and pushed them both into a taxi. Trinh Kim Tien, who had been standing outside so far, and I were also pushed into the taxi and got beaten. Thanh was hit continously on his head. I was hit in the back of my head, Hai got hit on his back, and Kim Tien was choked off. We all were taken to the police station of Loc Tho ward. When we go to the station, Kim Tien was even slapped in the face by plainsclothed police in front of the uniformed local police.

The two men who were harassing Nhat Thanh, they had disappeared. Did anyone else see this?

Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh: A student who saw the arrest was also taken to the police station and kept there until the end of the day. At the police station, they questioned us about the “Stop Police Killing Civilians” T-Shirts and about the Network’s documentation of police brutality. They totally ignored our claim that it was us who were victims being beaten by police and local guards. What can you infer from the way the police treat you?

Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh: I am sure that their actions were intentional and planned ahead, and they wanted to disrupt this third Human Rights Coffee roundtable because that was all they talked about during the interrogation, from 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. So what do you do now? Does the Network of Vietnamese Bloggers plan to organize more Human Rights Coffees?

Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh: The Human Rights Coffee roundtables will still be openly held in many places, focusing on many topics. Police violence against civilians and people dying at police stations will be one of the topics. Following the incidence, the local Khanh Hoa newspaper published two articles claiming the bloggers incited public disorder and clashed with family members of Ngo Thanh Kieu, who was beaten to death by police in nearby Tuy Hoa. What are your thoughts?

Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh: What the Khanh Hoa newspaper wrote is just a bad farce by the police. The most ridiculous thing is when they claimed Ngo Thanh Kieu’s family members clashed with us, because the fact is they haven’t arrived yet when we were harassed. They were called in by the police later. But I must thank the newspaper because with this article, the authorities admitted they confiscated our T-shirts and documents. We will sue them under the law and request the newspaper and the author to publicly apologize.

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