For the activists from Việt Nam, lessons in resilience and courage were immediately put to the test following their study tour. All seven who traveled to Myanmar were detained upon their return to Việt Nam and endured long hours of interrogation.
Tăng Duyên Hồng spent seven hours in the interrogation room with authorities upon her arrival at Nội Bài airport in Hà Nội. They asked her to hand over her laptop.
In an interview with Loa, she says she knew it was wrong of them, but also knew that she had not done anything wrong: “It is not right for them to stop me or check my things. But because I did not make anything wrong, it’s ok you can do, they can check. And they found no information yes, nothing.”
She was questioned by eight members of Viet Nam’s security apparatus, she said, each with a different specialty: crime, psychology, IT. There was even a security officer from the province where she’s registered. She was asked about where she went and whom she met.
Hồng’s detention is not unique. In fact, it is nearly universally understood among activists that, before or after a trip like this, the chances of getting detained and - at the minimum - questioned by authorities… are very high. Their passports may be taken away. The seven who were interrogated upon their return were the luckier ones--seven others were not allowed to leave Việt Nam for their trip.
The only aspect interrogation victims can control is what they say. Hồng, for her part, decided to pass on the lessons from Myanmar to the eight security police officers in the interrogation room.
She told them “It is a message said that it is the only way for the army’s leader in Burma to keep the country and also to protect their power. And I think it is also the only way for the communist party in Vietnam to protect the country their power and everything they want. That is to let the free election allowed in Vietnam and to give the community democracy.”
Hồng said the officers just laughed when she shared these ideas, responding “yes yes, maybe, yes.” She says she actually wanted to learn from the Myanmar experience, so she controlled the situation and that the officers were fairly nice to her.
Unfortunately, this was not the experience that all seven had. Dương Xuân Trị, another attendee was allegedly roughed up during his interrogation session. When we called him to hear about his experience, other listeners seemed to join our conversation about 30 seconds into the call. We suddenly heard the sound turn hollow and a few distant voices. After we said “Hello?” a few times, Trị responded, “The line’s being tapped, I will have to touch base later.” So we hung up.
Friends and fellow activists of study tour attendees eagerly awaited the participants return at their home airports, both to hear about their experience, and to alert others about any arrests. This tactic serves as an additional layer of protection for returning activists. When one of the participants, Trương Quốc Phong, didn’t leave the airport after his plane arrived, his friend, in an alert posted on Facebook, cheekily welcomed Phong as the newest member of the “Association of those who have been stolen the right to travel.”
It’s an association certainly needed in Viet Nam’s civil society..this one to ensure freedom of movement.