“His bookshelves are filled with the collected works of Marx, Engels and Ho Chi Minh, the hallmarks of a loyal career in the Communist Party, but Nguyen Phuoc Tuong, 77, says he is no longer a believer,” The New York Times’ Thomas Fuller reports from Ho Chi Minh City:
A former adviser to two prime ministers, Mr. Tuong, like so many people in Vietnam today, is speaking out forcefully against the government.
“Our system now is the totalitarian rule of one party,” he said in an interview at his apartment on the outskirts of Ho Chi Minh City. “I come from within the system — I understand all its flaws, all its shortcomings, all its degradation,” he said. “If the system is not fixed, it will collapse on its own.”
Fear of such a collapse is one reason why the ruling Communist authorities have imprisoned at least 40 dissidents so far this year, matching the 2012 total, Human Rights Watch’s Asia advocacy director John Sifton told a recent Congressional hearing.
“The fact is that a growing number of dissidents—including religious leaders, bloggers, and politically active people—are being convicted and sent to jail for violations of Vietnam’s authoritarian penal code,” he said.
Addressing the hearing, he called on Congress and the State Department “to look behind Hanoi’s mask, beyond the veneer of state-sponsored freedom of worship, and recognize the full extent of religious repression.”
The latest crackdown on dissidents indicated that the Communist authorities are especially anxious to prevent the politicization of recent rural protests that could arise from an alliance with largely urban-based dissidents such as Buddhist youth leader Le Cong Cau or human rights activist Le Quoc Quan (right).
“Since unifying the country 38 years ago, the Communist Party has been tested by conflicts with China and Cambodia, financial crises and internal rifts” Fuller notes:
The difference today, according to Carlyle A. Thayer, one of the leading foreign scholars of Vietnam, is that criticism of the leadership “has exploded across the society.”
In an otherwise authoritarian environment, divisions in the party have actually helped encourage free speech because factions are eager to tarnish one another, Dr. Thayer said.
“There’s a contradiction in Vietnam,” he said. “Dissent is flourishing, but at the same time, so is repression.”