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Nobody Gets Off the Bus:
The Viet Nam Generation Big Book

Volume 5 Number 1-4
March 1994

Texts made available by the Sixties Project, are generally copyrighted by the Author or by Viet Nam Generation, Inc., all rights reserved. These texts may be used, printed, and archived in accordance with the Fair Use provisions of U.S. Copyright law. These texts may not be archived, printed, or redistributed in any form for a fee, without the consent of the copyright holder. This notice must accompany any redistribution of the text. A few of the texts we publish are in the public domain. For information on a specific text, contact Kalí Tal. The Sixties Project, sponsored by Viet Nam Generation Inc. and the Institute of Advanced Technology in the Humanities at the University of Virginia at Charlottesville, is dedicated to using electronic resources to provide routes of collaboration and make available primary and secondary sources for researchers, students, teachers, writers and librarians interested in the 1960s.

Chân Tin: A Non-Violent Struggle for Human Rights in Viet Nam

Tôn Thât Manh Tuong

On May 1990, Father Chân Tin and Mr. Nguyen Ngoc Lan, two prominent Roman Catholics, were placed on house arrest in Ho Chi Minh City (former Saigon). According to Vietnamese official press, both had been arrested for "carrying out activities aimed at opposing socialism, sowing dissension among religions, undermining the solidarity between religious and secular life, and compiling and supporting documents to other countries for use against the people's authorities."

To those who were aware of the antiwar movement in South Viet Nam before May 1975, the two were well known because they had been among the most vocal critics of the former anticommunist regime in South Viet Nam. Father Chân Tin has been particularly appreciated by the Vietnamese due to his struggle for peace and reconciliation among the Vietnamese as well as for his efforts to secure the release of political prisoners during the war period. Why then did the Vietnamese Communists repress their one time compagnon de route? In the interest of increasing awareness of Chân Tin's involvement in the life of his country and of the tensions leading up to his imprisonment, we present this following biographical sketch.

Stephano Nguyen Tin (Nguyen is a very common last name in Viet Nam, but he usually uses his pen name Chân Tin) was born into a poor family on November 11, 1920 in Van Xuân Village, Huong Tra District, Thua Thien Province in Central Viet Nam. Seminarist of the Redemptorist Congregation since his adolescence, he became a priest on June 6, 1949. In 1953, he was graduated from Angelicum University of the Dominican Congregation in Rome with a doctorate in theology. Returning to Viet Nam in October 1953, Chân Tin began to teach theology at the Redemptorist Seminary in Da Lat.

From October 1961 to June 1969, he was editor-in-chief of the monthly Our Lady of Mercy, which raised for the first time in Viet Nam a voice for dialogue and renewal in the spirit of Vatican II. That was the reason that he was removed by his superiors who wanted an editor-in-chief who would be "less progressive." He was, however, in early 1970, allowed by his superiors to issue another monthly named Dôi Diên (Face to Face). The publication of Dôi Diên corresponded with the "Vietnamization" of the war. The Saigon regime in South Viet Nam, supported by the U.S., became more and more repressive. In response to this repression, the people in South Viet Nam, notably in major cities, stood up demanding peace, calling the two belligerent sides in Viet Nam--the U.S. supported Saigon military regime and the Communists--to end all hostilities and to promote liberty and democracy. The monthly Dôi Diên with Chân Tin's skillful writing, and supported the contributions of one of his closest collaborators, Nguyen Ngoc Lan, a French-educated professor of philosophy, played a leading role in this effort. With a clear voice, Dôi Diên was calling for peace and reconciliation among the Vietnamese. In its pages were disclosed the horrendous tortures of students and political prisoners undertaken by the notorious secret police of President Nguyen Van Thiêu, in particular the horrifying "Tiger Cages" in the Con Son Island Prison.

Dôi Diên had also denounced the corruption and the drug trafficking of Saigon's military junta. It was for these reasons that Dôi Diên publications were being regularly confiscated by the police and that Chân Tin had been arrested several times. He was finally sentenced in October 1972 to a suspended term of five years of prison by the Military Court of President Thiêu.

By the end of 1972, popular protest had reached a significant scale and the military junta regarded Dôi Diên as a potential threat to its survival. The military junta closed the paper down and severely punished anyone who possessed copies of it. Dôi Diên, in order to continue its struggle, went underground. At this time, Chân Tin, in cooperation with some intellectuals and religious people, formed a "Committee for Prison Reform in South Viet Nam" of which he soon became President. Chân Tin was calling on people all over the country and outside of Viet Nam, to protest against the torture of prisoners held by the Saigon regime and to give assistance to political prisoners by sending them food and medicine. Relatives of political prisoners also received help from Chân Tin and his Committee in securing relevant information and financial support.

It is worth remembering that, after the signing of the Paris Peace Agreements on Viet Nam in early 1973, the Saigon anticommunist regime refused to release its political prisoners, as the Agreements laid out, saying that it held no political prisoners. In response, Chân Tin and his friends, through their tremendous efforts, demonstrated to the world the fact that the Saigon regime still held thousands of political prisoners and that torture continued to be regarded by this regime as a means of silencing anyone who sought for peace and called for the implementation of the Paris Peace Agreements. Many proofs of human rights violations by Saigon's regime were sent by Chân Tin to Amnesty International and various world organizations. Inside the country, his Committee cooperated closely with other religious organizations such as the Vietnamese Buddhist United Church and the Cao Dai and Hoa Hao religious sects in their efforts to ease the plight of political prisoners.

Just a few hours before the final victory of the Communist forces in South Viet Nam on April 30, 1975, Chân Tin, with the artillery shells still falling, contacted the Communists with the aim of trying to convince them to wait for the surrender of Saigon's regime instead of subjugating Saigon by military means. Chân Tin's intervention helped to save many people's lives. His courageous action meant much to the Vietnamese people, who have suffered the ravages of war for so many decades.

The Communists, having achieved their military victory over the U.S. and Saigon's regime, were faced with the challenge of gaining the people's confidence and support. Wanting to capitalize on the credibility that Chân Tin was given by the people, the Communists invited him to join the Fatherland Front, an umbrella organization of the Vietnamese Communist Party, as a member of its Central Committee. The fact that anti-imperialist and nationalist, rather than socialist sentiments, dominated the politics of South Viet Nam forced the Communists to do the same thing with other prestigious intellectuals and celebrities. In Chân Tin's case, the Communists had a shock as soon as they began to praise him. As early as 1977, in the first meeting of the Fatherland Front, Chân Tin denounced the Vietnamese Communist Party that had issued a series of decrees aimed at limiting or even denying the liberty of belief. Under these decrees, the Vietnamese Christians were considered "second class citizens." Their religious convictions were kept on permanent file, available for use for a variety of discriminatory purposes, such as preventing their advancement to university or government employee, or prohibiting their religious practice.

One of the boldest and most persistent demands of Chân Tin over the years when he was a member of the Central Committee of the Fatherland Front was for the immediate and unconditional release of all military and civil officials of the former Government of Saigon who were being held in "reeducation" camps. These people, according to Articles and Protocols on Prisoners in the Paris Peace Agreements on Viet Nam, should have been released. In reality, Vietnamese Communist leaders in Ha Noi, After taking control of South Viet Nam by military victory in April 1975, kept them confined in the so-called "reeducation" camps without charge or trial. Chân Tin's denunciation of this injustice led to his removal from the Fatherland Front by the Communists at the end of 1987. But this action did not silence him. He continued writing articles--in samizdat edition, of course--and giving sermons calling on the Communist authorities to respect basic human rights. On the occasion of the canonization of the Vietnamese martyrs by the Vatican in mid-1988, he, along with Nguyen Ngoc Lan, wrote open letters to Vietnamese Catholics in which they strongly criticized the Communists for preventing Vietnamese Catholics from celebrating the canonization. Then in August 1989, a letter to the Vietnamese Episcopal Council signed by Chân Tin, Nguyen Ngoc Lan and some other Catholics put forth proposals regarding the Vietnamese Catholic Church's internal policies and its relationship to the authorities. This letter was problematic for the Communists since it revealed the true nature of the Committee for the Solidarity of Patriotic Vietnamese Catholics--a China-style autonomous Catholic Church. It was exposed as an umbrella organization of the Vietnamese Communist Party.

By the end of 1989, horrified by the nightmare of the rapid collapse of communist regimes in Eastern Europe, the Vietnamese Communist Party tightened its grip on the population and publicly announced that it would not hesitate to crack down on dissent from people who tried "to destabilize the socialist system." In early 1990, a series of detentions and house arrests were carried out against critics of the government, many of whom were both veteran activists and Communist officials. Chân Tin's reaction to this crackdown was given in three sermons from his Ky Dông Church in April 1990, in which he called on Vietnamese Communist leaders "to repent" of their errors and to establish fundamental human rights for the people. Not surprisingly, he was immediately put under house arrest and, subsequently, transferred to a small church in Can Gio village, Duyên Hai District. This district is twenty-five miles away from his home church in Ho Chi Minh City and off-limits to foreigners. Chân Tin is denied the right to receive visitors or to carry on correspondence. Nguyen Ngoc Lan, his longtime friend and collaborator, is reportedly under house arrest in Ho Chi Minh City.

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