Hundreds at funeral of Vietnam pro-democracy activist
HANOI — Hundreds of Vietnamese relatives and supporters on Saturday attended the funeral of veteran pro-democracy activist Hoang Minh Chinh, a politically charged event held under heavy police scrutiny.
Several dissidents in the one-party state were able to attend the ceremony for the Communist Party veteran-turned-activist who spent much of his life in jail or under house arrest for advocating a multi-party system.
"Today is a big event for democratic activists because Professor Chinh is one of our most renowned activists," said another prominent critic of the government, Pham Hong Son, who has also spent years in prison.
"His passing away is a turning point for our movement," said Son, wearing a white funereal headband usually reserved for relatives of the dead.
At least 500 people attended the ceremony, including family members, dissidents, writers and poets -- but also scores of undercover police, who photographed and videotaped mourners but did not obstruct foreign media.
Pro-democracy activists said police had prevented at least six dissidents from attending the funeral of Chinh, who died this month aged 87.
Buddhist monk Thich Quang Do, deputy head of the outlawed Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV), who cannot leave his Ho Chi Minh City pagoda, dispatched monk Thich Khong Tanh to perform the funeral rites.
"Professor Chinh's family requested that monks from the UBCV conduct the funeral," said Thanh. "His ashes will be spread in rivers, over mountains and in the ocean so he can return to his homeland."
The ceremony was interrupted when an activist unfurled a banner for the banned "Victims of Injustice" group. Police removed her from the hall but soon allowed her back in on the family's request.
US Ambassador Michael Michalak sent a diplomat and said in a statement he was "saddened" to learn of Chinh's death of prostate cancer on February 7, calling him "a true patriot" and a man of courage and dignity.
"A key leader in Vietnam's struggle for independence, he continued that struggle throughout his life to have the voices of his fellow citizens heard."
Chinh was born on November 16, 1920 and as a teenager joined the fight for independence from French colonial rulers, who jailed him for five years.
After Vietnam declared its independence in 1945 he became head of the Democratic Party of Vietnam (DPV), which was then supported by the revolutionary Viet Minh and was finally dissolved in 1986.
Trained in the Soviet Union, Chinh served as dean of the Institute of Marxist-Leninist Philosophy in Hanoi, but he fell out of favour in the 1960s, in part for opposing armed struggle in US-backed South Vietnam.
In 1967 he criticised the Communist Party in a paper, which earned him the first of several prison terms that would add up to at least 12 years.
"Hoang Minh Chinh came to communism with the brave, undaunted heart of a patriotic young man, yearning for the nation's independence," said lawyer Tran Lam. "He also abandoned communism with the heart of a patriotic intellectual."
Chinh had been under house arrest since 2001 but was released briefly in 2005 to seek treatment for cancer in the United States.
While there, he testified before a Congress Committee about Vietnam's political situation, for which he was attacked in Vietnam's state press and, upon his return, pelted by a mob with tomatoes and eggs.
On April 8, 2006 he became one of the first signatories of the "8406" pro-democracy manifesto and in June that year relaunched the still-banned DPV.
His daughter Tran Thi Thanh Ha played a message Chinh recorded before he died, in which he said with a weakened voice: "I wish you success in the struggle for freedom and independence and happiness for all Vietnamese people."
Agence France Presse - February 16, 2008.
Activists join funeral of elder Vietnamese dissident
HANOI - Vietnamese political activists spanning the generations on Saturday bade farewell to onetime senior Communist Party member turned dissident Hoang Minh Chinh, who died in his late 80s earlier this month.
Hundreds of people, many wearing white headbands of mourning, attended the funeral in Hanoi of the leader of the outlawed Democratic Party of Vietnam and founder member of "Bloc 8406", a diverse group of mainly Internet activists named for the date it was established in April 2006.
Several younger political activists, including some who in recent years have been jailed for opposing one-party rule, were among relatives and older friends who paid respects to Chinh. He died on February 7 after suffering from prostate cancer.
"He dedicated all his life to the struggle for democracy and liberty," activist Pham Hong Son, who was released in August 2006, told Reuters at the funeral. "I am of the younger generation and I wish to follow his legacy."
Son was arrested in 2002 and then tried after posting a translation of a U.S. State Department article "What is Democracy?" onto the Internet. He still lives under police surveillance and some restrictions.
Plainclothes police watched and filmed mourners at Saturday's funeral.
The Southeast Asian country has opened its economy to the world and reduced poverty through high economic growth, but it does not tolerate proponents of a multi-party system.
About 40 activists have been arrested in the past year, according to international human rights groups and Western diplomats. Some have been put on trial and sentenced to between three years and eight years in prison for "spreading propaganda against the state", a criminal offence in Vietnam.
A government spokesman says the defendants, who include lawyers, businessmen and union organizers, were not tried for their political beliefs, only for breaking Vietnam's laws.
Chinh's associates say he became a member of the Communist Party after the 1945 revolution in northern Vietnam, trained in the Soviet Union in the 1950s and was appointed director of the Marxist-Leninist Institute in Hanoi in 1960.
Seven years later he was removed and imprisoned for four years after writing an essay critical of the ruling party.
He was imprisoned at least twice more in the 1980s and 90s. In 2005, he was allowed to go to the United States for medical treatment, but faced abuse on his return after criticizing the Hanoi government while in America, according to rights groups.
Chinh's casket was accompanied to a cremation ceremony by yellow-robed monks of the outlawed Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam, to which Chinh converted in his final days.
"According to his wishes, he became a Buddhist with a Buddhist name," monk Thich Khong Tanh said.
Several faiths are practiced in Vietnam under government supervision. The UBCV rejects state supervision of religion.
By Grant McCool - Reuters - February 16, 2008.
Vietnamese dissidents commemorate one of their own
Hanoi - Hoang Minh Chinh, the former Communist ideology chief who became one of Vietnam's leading democracy activists, was cremated in Hanoi Saturday after a memorial service attended by hundreds, including many of Vietnam's leading dissidents. Police briefly struggled with two dissidents who tried to make political statements, but otherwise the ceremony, which included strong pro-democracy speeches, was allowed to proceed without incident.
Chinh, who died February 7 aged 87, was the head of Vietnam's Marxism-Leninism Institute before falling out of favour in 1963 and spending years in prison.
By the 1990s he had become an advocate for multi-party democracy, and in 2006 he refounded the Vietnam Democratic Party he led in the 1940s when it was largely a Communist front.
In a commemorative speech, Tran Lam, 84, a lawyer who has defended other democracy activists, said Chinh had joined the Communist Party in 1938 out of patriotic motives.
"Hoang Minh Chinh came to communism with the heart of a young patriot, and he gave up communism with the heart of a patriotic intellectual," Lam said.
The ceremony was conducted by six yellow-robed monks from the banned Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam. Chinh was converted to Buddhism last November by Thich Quang Do, the elderly dissident monk who heads the UBCV.
Thich Khong Than, a UBCV monk from Ho Chi Minh City who led the ceremony, was among several attendees who had initially been prevented by authorities from travelling to Hanoi, though he was eventually allowed to proceed.
"Several activists who wanted to come to this ceremony today were searched by the police to see whether they were carrying anything," said Nguyen Tien Trung, 25, head of the Democracy Party's youth wing.
Trung said up to a dozen activists who had wanted to attend were prevented from doing so by police.
A representative of the US Embassy in Hanoi presented a wreath at the funeral. On Friday, US Ambassador Michael Michalak issued a statement calling Chinh a "true patriot."
Chinh's death means the Democratic Party, with members in both Vietnam and the Vietnamese exile community in the United States, is without a leader. Trung said the party had not yet selected a new president, but would do so in the near future.
Chinh's move to refound the party in early 2006 was part a brief flowering of democratic activity in Vietnam, including the founding of the so-called Bloc 8406 dissident movement.
The government sharply curtailed the movement in early 2007, sentencing several leading activists, such as human rights lawyers Nguyen Van Dai and Le Thi Cong Nhan and the Catholic priest Father Nguyen Van Ly, to prison.
Other leading dissidents attending the funeral included Pham Hong Son, a doctor and journalist, and lawyer Bui Kim Thanh, an activist on land rights issues.
Thanh had a brief altercation with police early on when she tried to make a political statement, but she was calmed by Chinh's eldest daughter, Tran Thi Thanh Ha, 59, who organized the ceremony.
"Your life was a constant battle," Ha said in her speech, addressing her deceased father. "You suffered in the prisons of the French and of the Communists."
There appeared to be over a hundred plainclothes policemen in attendance, many of them filming the guests with handheld video cameras, but they did not interfere with the speeches or with Western media.
Deutsche Presse Agentur - February 16, 2008.