Ripples of a Revolution: A Jasmine Crackdown in Vietnam

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Nguyen Dan Que heard the call for revolution. But so did the government. On Feb. 28, the 68-year-old doctor and dissident was detained by Vietnamese authorities for posting internet messages that threatened the “stability and strength” of the country’s ruling party. He has since been released, but must attend daily “interrogation sessions,” his family told the BBC.

Que, one of the country’s most prominent pro-democracy campaigners, probably knew this was coming. He’s been jailed 3 times since 1978 and has spent a total of 20 years of his life in jail.  Still, inspired by the wave of unrest sweeping Egypt and elsewhere, he made an online appeal for an uprising, urging his fellow citizens to “make a clean sweep of Communist dictatorship” and “build a new, free, democratic, humane and progressive Vietnam.”

As Que well knows, a ‘free’ and ‘democratic’ Vietnam is exactly what the Communist Party fears. Three decades of economic liberalization has lifted millions of Vietnamese out of poverty, but has not brought much by way of political change. The country’s aging autocrats keep a tight grip on power and have few qualms about quashing dissent. In January 2010, for instance, a crackdown resulted in the arrests of several dissidents, including human rights lawyers and pro-democracy campaigners. Websites, including Facebook, are periodically blocked. (Sound familiar?)

Que, though, has always seemed confident that change is near.  In an editorial for the New York Times last year he remembered the day he heard (while under house arrest) that his hero, Nelson Mandela, had been released. “Bravo, I thought, for the victory of dignity and hope over despair and hatred, of self-discipline and love over persecution and evil.”

More from Read Hannah Beech’s essay about the ‘Jasmine’ revolution and China.