They knew that I was editor of the newsletter. So they charged us first of propaganda against the government of communist regime. But then they moved up the charge to overthrowing the government or the regime. And they put us on trial and I was sentenced first to 20 years in jail. But then I protested against that.
At first they treated me very, very badly. And they accused me of counter-revolutionary, that means trying to overthrow the government and the regime. They didn’t beat me as other criminals, the prisoners. Most political prisoners were not beaten physically but mentally harassed or very badly treated. Like cutting the food or isolating you in a cell by yourself for many days, even without any clothes, with only shirts and a bowl of rice for the whole day and a very small cup of water for the whole day, for example. And cutting food sent from family. They didn’t allow me to receive the food sent from family, or even meet my wife and my children, if they thought that I didn’t cooperate with them, for example.
So, physically that’s all they did. But mentally it’s very tough. You have to endure a lot of mental torture, in that sense. And sometimes, especially during the last four years, I was isolated for four years without being able to meet or talk to even any other prisoners. And in the room there’s no paper, no book, no pencil, no paper. You just have to stay with yourself. And then that’s for four years, the last four years.
You cannot set up a movement openly in prison, of course. But because we lived together –, especially for myself, I was in prison for eight years the second time – for the first four years, I was allowed to stay with other prisoners, political, mostly in one room and in one area, one camp. So we could meet. We could talk. We could discuss things quite easily. So that helped me. Because then I help other prisoners, mostly younger than myself, to know more about politics in general, about the situation of Vietnam. We tried to educate them sometimes, even English so they can learn English.
But mostly we talked about politics, and we even smuggled in a small radio to listen to BBC or VOA for example. So that’s what we tried to do. For myself, I tried to write some essays, some articles. And my friends, my prisoner friends helped to smuggle it out, because they could go out of the camp to the field to do labor work.
I was not allowed to go out of my room, so they helped to smuggle out my writing. And then those writings were sent home to my family and they sent out to America, to the Vietnamese overseas community. And they translated it into English and circulated it around the international communities and NGOs. So my case was well known by international community through my writings.
I wrote about violations of human rights inside the prisons. And I wrote about the demand for democracy and freedom for Vietnam. I tried to raise my voice from prison – and other prisoners’ voices. So that’s what I could do, and my friends could do too, and we helped each other to do that.