A Letter Snuck Out of a Brutal Prison Cell

Published October 19, 2015 in Episode 26

Editor's note: Since the publishing of this story, Đặng Xuân Diệu has been released and exiled to France. Read the web exclusive here

  Diệu's letter that was snuck out of his prison cell. (Photo courtesy: Loa)

Diệu's letter that was snuck out of his prison cell. (Photo courtesy: Loa)

A year ago this month, a short letter was snuck out of Đặng Xuân Diệu’s prison cell. It contains only three sentences. A translation is provided below.

Original letter transcription:
Tôi khát khao sống trong một xã hội TỰ DO và CHÂN THẬT. Ở đó không chia giai cấp, mọi người đối xử với nhau bằng TÌNH THƯƠNG và TRÁCH NHIỆM. Nhưng vì điều đó mà bị bách hại, tôi bằng lòng đón nhận và sẵn sàng chịu chết vì nó!

English translation:
I long to live in a society of FREEDOM and TRUTH. One in which no class divisions exist and people live with LOVE and RESPONSIBILITY to one another. If this belief is met with persecution, I am open to receive it and I am ready to die for it.

While short, Diệu's letter communicates his commitment to his principles.

Đặng Xuân Diệu, a devout Catholic, is a 36 year old engineer and contributing journalist for the Vietnam Redemptorist News. As a community organizer, Diệu mobilized services for impoverished children, participated in civic actions, and spoke up about social injustices.

In 2013, he was sentenced to 13 years on trumped-up charges of “attempting to overthrow the government.”

Diệu's former fellow cellmate Trương Minh Tam tells Loa that prison staff had humiliated Diệu for several months by letting other prisoners beat him and forcing him to serve as a “slave.” Diệu has also reportedly been forced to eat and sleep next to his excrement while being denied access to adequate food, clean drinking water and regular showers.

Psychological abuse. Beatings. Solitary Confinement. This is the mistreatment Diệu has and continues to experience at prison No. 5 in Thanh Hóa province in Việt Nam. He refers to this persecution in his letter.

 Prisoner of Conscience Đặng Xuân Diệu

Prisoner of Conscience Đặng Xuân Diệu

Without any means for redress, Diệu is protesting his mistreatment with the only tool he has: his own body. He has launched multiple hunger strikes, often lasting weeks on end. And although organizations such as Front Line Defenders and Pen International have spoken up about his case, he continues to be isolated in prison.

In reports from family members and former fellow inmates, Diệu is said to have refused to wear the prison uniform bearing the word “criminal”. He insists he is innocent.

“If this belief is met with persecution, I am open to receive it and I am ready to die for it.”

In the final line of his letter, he says he is ready to die for his belief. However, Tam, his former fellow inmate, says Diệu's current conditions are not metaphorical, and that there is urgent need for international attention to this case.  

Last year, an international campaign for Diệu flooded his prison with postcards and letters of support. Prison officials were taken aback by this attention, his family reported.

Diệu's family and friends are now urging the world to continue sending letters to Diệu, as well as to international organizations and elected officials to raise his case. His family hopes that these efforts will move officials to improve his condition.

Below is a postcard template from the postcard and letter writing campaign. It can be printed and used to send, or any standard letter can be sent to the listed address of prison No. 5 in Thanh Hóa province:

Tù Nhân Lương Tâm Đặng Xuân Diệu
Trại Giam Số 5
Phân Trại 3
Huyện Yên Định
Tỉnh Thanh Hóa
Việt Nam

If you are interested in sending a letter or postcard to Diệu and have any questions or concerns, please email letters@loa.fm.