Learn more about the Sixties Project.Recent additions to the Sixties Project site.Visit the Sixties Project Bookstore.Information about the SIXTIES-L discussion list.Information about the Sixties Generations conference.Explore the resources on the Sixties Project site.Reviews of books from and about the Sixties.Add your own story about the Sixties to our archive!Poetry from and about the Sixties.Our archive of primary documents from the Sixties.Special exhibitions on the Sixties Project site.A full map of the Sixties Project Web Site.Search the Sixties Project Site by keyword.

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.

Father Chân Tín Has Been Unconditionally Released

Tôn Thât Manh Tuong & Nam, Canada.

On May 12th, 1993, four days before the end of a three-year term in exile in Can Gio in the Mekong Delta (70 km from Saigon), Father Chân Tín returned to his home at the Redemptorist Monastery on Ky Dong Street in Saigon.

The day before, Father Chân Tín, having learned that his older brother and fellow Catholic priest, Father Nguyen Van Co, was seriously ill, had asked the police for permission to go to visit him at his home in Nha Trang (in Central Viet Nam). On May 12th at 10am, Father Nguyen Van Co died.

At about 2pm that afternoon, representatives from the Ho Chi Minh City police arrived in Can Gio. Chân Tín was then asked to appear before the People's Committee of the village. In the presence of all the local administrative authorities, the HCM City police notified Father Chân Tín of his unconditional release. In response to Chân Tín's inquiry concerning his friend Nguyen Ngoc Lan's situation, the police answered that he also was being unconditionally released. The release of Father Chân Tín and of Professor Nguyen Ngoc Lan was expected. The notable element is that both were released unconditionally.

During the past three years, many international organizations, cultural and political personalities, in addition to members of the media expressed their support for Chân Tín and Nguyen Ngoc Lan. These two men accepted their imprisonment as one is obligated to stop at a red light, to borrow an image recalling an expression of Nguyen Ngoc Lan. When threatened with a gun, all there is to do is to put up one's hands. But who is able to control what a person thinks, or to keep him from saying what he wants to say? The recent publication of the first two volumes of Nguyen Ngoc Lan's Journal and of the Chân Tín File demonstrates that no power or coercion can bind free men who are determined to live in freedom. It is evident that the two letters included in the Chân Tín File that were written toward the end of 1992 in which Chân Tín unequivocally condemns the dictatorial regime would have provided sufficient cause to prolong punishment or at least to add all kinds of restrictions and warnings to their release decrees... (Priests returning from the reeducation camps are normally barred from resuming their ministry.)

However, the authorities are very much aware of the futility of such a hard-line approach. Even from the perspective of the dictatorial powers, the decision to put into action the "administrative measure" of May 16th, 1990 has proven to be a serious error. The person who was directly responsible for this course of action was Mr. Mai Chi Tho, then Minister of Interior. Mr. Mai Chi Tho hoped to bring our two friends to silence through the use of force and intimidation. Dozens of công an simultaneously broke into Chân Tín's office on Ky Dong Street and Nguyen Ngoc Lan's home on Tan Phuoc Street. They searched the premises and seized material; a letter of expulsion was read to Chân Tín and Nguyen Ngoc Lan was advised that he was under house arrest. They were accused of the following charges: "endangering national security, opposing the interests of the Church, the country and the people, creating division between religion and the State, fostering division within the Church, inciting the people to oppose the socialist regime as well as the leadership role of the Vietnamese Communist Party" (Saigon Giai Phong newspaper, 17 May 1990); "spreading arguments pertaining to psychological warfare, publicizing lies and through criticism of the policy adopted by the Vietnamese Church as well as through criticism of the Archbishop, of the Committee of the Union of Catholic Patriots, creating division within the Church, alienating believers and the clergy from the people and the regime" (Cong An weekly, 23 May 1990); "...opposing the socialist regime, undermining the union between the Church and the State, providing documents to foreigners with the goal of weakening the people's power... inciting believers to demand human rights and citizens' rights" (Tuoi Tre biweekly, 17 May 1990). In a word, their crime was opposing dictatorship.

Rather than acting in its usual secretive and underhanded manner, the Socialist State chose to give full expression to its propaganda machine. Meetings were scheduled with Christians and with the media to explain the actions of the State; it was a campaign of intimidation and repression. But, unfortunately for the Party and the State, Chân Tín and Nguyen Ngoc Lan's attitude didn't change at all. Even before 1975, through their paper Doi Dien and the Committee for the struggle for change in the prison system in South Viet Nam, they had worked for freedom and for human dignity. Since 1975, they had pursued the same objectives. Even the Cong An paper acknowledged: "Mr. Nguyen Tin [that is, Chân Tín] has begun to involve himself in wrong activities and has opposed the revolutionary regime for a long time." It is indeed true that what is referred to as the "revolutionary regime" set itself against the interests of the people and of humanity for a long time. This no one can deny today.

If, over the last three years, during some 150 appearances before the police, Nguyen Ngoc Lan has always refused to respond to questions, to make a report or to ask for privileges (including the authorization to attend Mass), and this despite constant efforts by the police; and if Father Chân Tín has always clearly refused any privileges offered to him by the authorities; if indeed both of these men have continued to correspond with their friends outside of the country, it was not because of provocation but simply because human rights are not something that begging citizens should receive from those in authority, nor is it a demand made by citizens to their government, but it is more than this: a duty that each person must fulfill for himself or herself.

It is possible to find an explanation for the unconditional release of Chân Tín and Nguyen Ngoc Lan as being caused by the present political context in which the regime, already alienated and disturbed by its struggle with Buddhist leaders--with individuals such as Nguyen Dan Que, Doan Viet Hoat, etc.--wishes simply to put an end to this situation involving Chân Tín and Nguyen Ngoc Lan. However, it is also possible that the regime has come to understand that Mai Chi Tho's strategy of intimidation was an ineffective political error. In light of this type of critical viewpoint, perhaps other approaches appear to have better potential to silence the voices of Chân Tín and Nguyen Ngoc Lan. We may also suggest in a more optimistic persuasion that the authorities have indirectly recognized the rights of our friends, those undeniable basic rights, the first being that of free speech. Even during their imprisonment they continued to exercise this basic right.

Dare we express even more optimism? Could it be that the May 12th decision is a sing of what Chân Tín calls "repentance"? Is it not possible that the government, opening its eyes, has taken a step towards democracy? Remember the familiar saying: "When you are Vietnamese, how can you be anything but patriotic?" Over the past three years, many Party officials and members have visited and expressed their support to Chân Tín and Nguyen Ngoc Lan. This type of expression is indicative of a healthy approach for the entire nation. People of good will should meet each other to encourage understanding, to work at bridging the distance that separates them and to eliminate the type of exclusion which is engendered by totalitarianism. Then, conditions favorable to dialogue will be in place. Should we not risk the hope that even those who have oppressed people through their abuse of power are not devoid of good will, and that they are perhaps looking for an opportunity to grant unconditional releases to men such as Doan Viet Hoat, Nguyen Dan Que, Ngo Van An, Thich Tri Sieu, Thich Tue Si, Tran Dinh Thu, Doan Thanh Liem, etc.--these precious sons of the nation who have been deprived of their freedom because of their struggle for freedom? The only way to turn this wish into reality is to work together toward its realization.

Chân Tín was freed four days before the end of his sentence so that he could go to the funeral of his only brother. This brother, who was seventy-eight years old, had often visited Chân Tín during his three years of exile; visits made despite the rigors of long and tiring trips. Could the newly-freed prisoner ever have imagined that his first steps as a free man would take him to the funeral of one of the people who was closest to him?

While accompanying his brother in this final voyage to the Kingdom, Chân Tín must have thought about the vanity of this world, his old pain joined with the unending suffering of the Vietnamese people. Was this not just one more grave among so many others--individual burials and mass common graves? So many tears shed for so great a number of lost and buried hopes?

It is at times like these when one must forget--forget politics, forget State and Country, forget both yourself and others--to give place to one's spirit and peace to the heart. It is a time to go to the center of the soul, down to the depths of the earth and up to the heights of heaven to discover the sources of one's life. Then, in the silence of prayer, to light once more the flickering flame of hope...

From Tin Nha magazine, Paris, 13 May 1993. Translated from French by David Miller, Pastor, Brethren in Christ Church.

Back to Contents Page

Updated Thursday, January 28, 1999

This site designed by New Word Order.