Doan Viet Hoat
Political Rights and Imprisonment
"I wanted to send a message to the people who wanted to fight for freedom that the dictators would not win by putting us in jail. I wanted to prove that you cannot, by force, silence someone who doesn’t agree with you."
Doan Viet Hoat received the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award in 1995 for his efforts in striving for a democratic government and for economic and human rights reform in Viet Nam. He is also a Speak Truth To Power Defender.
Doan Viet Hoat is known as the Sakharov of Viet Nam for his intellectual range and outspoken role as leader of the democratic movement, even from the prison cell. Hoat protested the South Vietnamese government's suppression of Buddhists in the 1960s while still a student. He went to study in the U.S. and got a Ph.D. in Education in 1971. Returning back to Viet Nam in 1971, he concentrated on upgrading Van Hanh University (a Buddhist private university in Saigon) to the world level of a modern institution of higher learning. In April 1975, when North Viet Nam took over South Vietnam, Hoat stayed in Viet Nam.
By 1976, Hoat was imprisoned when the new authorities embarked on mass arrests of intellectuals, and he spent the next twelve years confined to a cramped cell, shared with forty others. Upon his release, Hoat began publishing an underground magazine, entitled Freedom Forum (Dien Dan Tu Do). Only months later, he was detained without trial for two years, then in March 1993, sentenced to twenty years in prison for "attempting to overthrow the people's government." Throughout his imprisonment, Hoat continued to issue statements on democracy and to offer criticism of the regime that were sent out of the prisons clandestinely. The Vietnamese government transferred Hoat from one detention center to another, in an attempt to silence him, but everywhere he went, Hoat's charismatic temperament won over fellow prisoners and guards alike, who sought his counsel and carried out his letters. Finally, Hoat was sent to the most remote prison in the country, Thanh Cam Labor Camp, Thanh Hoa province, and all prisoners were removed from the cells adjacent to his own. He spent four and a half years in solitary confinement until, in September 1998, after intense international pressure, Doan Viet Hoat was released, then exiled. He now lives in the United States, and continues his movement for human rights and democracy for Viet Nam.
At present, Hoat is the chairman and president of the international Institute for Viet Nam, which he founded in 2000. He continues to travel worldwide promoting Human Rights awareness and rallying support for democracy in Viet Nam.
I spent twenty years in Vietnamese prisons, and was in isolation for four years. I was forbidden all pens, papers, and books. To keep my spirits up I practiced yoga and Zen meditation. I did a lot of walking. I had access to a small yard from 6 a.m. till 4 p.m., so I gardened-small cabbages mostly. I sang, I talked to myself. The guards thought I was mad, but I told them if I did not talk to myself I would go mad. I tried to take it easy, to think of my cell as home, as though I had entered a religious way of life, like a monk. My family was Buddhist and I had many good friends who were monks. I learned yoga as a student. In isolation as I had no books, I just had to use my mind. Zen meditation helped-with it you turn inside. You have to be calm, to make your mind calm, to think this was just a normal way of life. During the first one or two years this was very difficult, but I got used to it. Every day passed, like every other day. I wrote and recited a lot of poems I had learned by heart. This was a way to keep my mind alert, and helped to clarify my thoughts. As soon as I was released, one of the first things I did in America was to write down the poems from my mind that I recited in prison-now they have published a second volume of them.
rfkcenter: Speak Up! Speak Out! Join the "Except Farmworkers" campaign to support #humanrights for #farmworkers http://t.co/370Hl2kVbN
rfkcenter: Did you know #farmworkers in NY state have about the same rights they did in 1900? http://t.co/370Hl2kVbN
rfkcenter: Did you know #farmworkers in NY state do not have the right to collectively bargain? http://t.co/370Hl2kVbN
rfkcenter: Did you know #farmworkers in NY state do not have the right to a day of rest? http://t.co/370Hl2kVbN
rfkcenter: New op-ed by our Pres @KerryKennedyRFK "Justice for Labor on the Farm" http://t.co/xNqbzbxqVs #farmworkers #newyork