Demonstrators support prisoners of conscience

ARI BALLE-BOWNESS

Supporters of the International Youth Movement for Human Rights (IYMFHR) undertook a series of peaceful demonstrations and events in Brisbane over the weekend to raise awareness and support for prisoners of conscience.

prisoners of conscience demonstration

Members of the International Youth Movement for Human Rights came together in Brisbane’s CBD to support prisoners of conscience. Photo: Ari Balle-Bowness

The first demonstration took place at Inala Plaza on Saturday morning and was followed by a peaceful march through Brisbane’s CBD.

After the march, demonstrators continued with a candlelit vigil to pray for prisoners of conscience.

After the vigil, IYMFHR members stayed up all night, to show unity with prisoners.

The entire night was live streamed on Facebook, with members of IYMFHR interviewing social activists around the globe.

IYMFHR member Cong Dang said the demonstrations were in response to the Vietnamese government’s continued imprisonment of Tran Huynh Duy Thuc.

Tran Huynh Duy Thuc is a 51-year-old Vietnamese engineer, ICT entrepreneur and blogger who was arrested for the alleged promotion of anti-government propaganda.

He was charged under Article 88 of the Vietnamese Penal Code for conducting activities aimed at overthrowing the People’s administration.

Since Thuc’s conviction on January 20, 2010, many groups, including Amnesty International, have called for the immediate release of Tran.

A joint statement released by Amnesty International and 36 other NGOs called for his release on the grounds that his detention violated a right to “freedom of opinion and expression guaranteed by Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)”.

The statement also said Vietnam was a party of the ICCPR.

Thuc’s blog, titled “Tran Dong Chan” (“Change We Need”), talked about social, political and economic issues in Vietnam using the pen name Tran Dong Chan.

Poster of Tran Huynh Duy Thuc

Members of the International Youth Movement for Human Rights held posters of Tran Huynh Duy Thuc during the peaceful demonstration. Photo: Ari Balle-Bowness

The blog was condemned by the Vietnamese government.

“This prisoner of conscience has been on a hunger strike for the past 34 days to express his views on the sentence,” Mr Dang said.

“He was wrongly sentenced by the Vietnamese government to 16 years in jail, for expressing a freedom of speech,” he said.

“We are doing these activities to expose to the world media as much as possible, the wrongdoings and the sentence given to this prisoner of conscience.”

IYMFHR campaigner Theresa Tran said the day’s events were aimed at educating and raising awareness of Thuc and the social pressures impacting Vietnamese people.

More than 200 people came to Inala Plaza to show their support, including local MPs Milton Dick and Jessica Pugh.

“They gave speeches to support us, and we also had the vice president of Amnesty International Queensland [there],” Ms Tran said.

After the demonstration in Inala, members of IYMFHR continued the movement with a peaceful march through Brisbane’s CBD holding balloons and wearing t-shirts with Thuc’s image on them.

“The world should know what is happening,” Ms Tran said.

“The communist government has been mistreating our people just because they want to raise a voice for justice in Vietnam,” she said.

University student Viet Nguyen said he joined the march because, like many others, he wanted to raise a voice for what he believed in.

“I’m just a student, I can’t do much,” Mr Nguyen said.

“The only thing I can do is join in the demonstrations that are happening,” he said.

“The Communist Party in Vietnam stop people from demonstrating about human rights, you get in trouble for it.”

Demonstrators wearing Tran Huynh Duy Thun t-shirts

Demonstrators walked through Brisbane city holding balloons and wearing t-shirts with Tran Huynh Duy Thuc’s picture on them. Photo: Ari Balle-Bowness

This demonstration would not have been possible without the coordination of Vincent Do and other members of the Vietnamese Community Queensland Chapter.

Vincent has been a part of the Brisbane Vietnamese community for the past 16 years.

He was asked to assist with the demonstrations due to his extensive work in previous community events.

“I helped out with the demonstration at Inala and was assigned to lead the people through the city,” Mr Do said.

“The Vietnamese community here has always been fighting for human rights, raising our voice for the people who are less fortunate than us in Vietnam,” he said.

“It’s not about us being against the people.”

“We are against the ideologies and propaganda that the communist [government] is trying to impose on [the people].”

Mr Do said the Vietnamese government passed new cyber laws in June.

He said the new laws allowed the government to have more regulation and control over social media networks and postings.

“So that is one of the reasons we are going to be having a protest this Saturday,” Mr Do said.

“It’s not just Brisbane, next Saturday there will be protests around the world from different Vietnamese communities, everywhere on the 29th of September,” he said.

“Even though we live in Australia, the freedom country, we believe in what Martin Luther King said, injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” Ms Tran said.

The Brisbane Vietnamese Community Chapter will be holding a protest at Queens Park in Brisbane City on Saturday September 29 from 11am to 2pm.

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