By: Kelly Tran
Born and raised in Canada, I was able to experience and appreciate the value of freedom and human rights. Growing up, I have always had my parents and grandparents tell me the stories of their motherland, and ultimately, why they left. The Vietnam War had left little to no more democracy in the aftermath. South Vietnamese soldiers who fought for democracy were hunted down and persecuted. North Vietnamese soldiers who raged for communism, did not apply what they had preached during the war. There was no equality. No freedom. Only bloodshed and a wartorn country left in the ashes of American bombs and dying bodies.
Of course, Vietnam has moved on tremendously since those days. They have advanced with their economy, their technology, and even their society. But one thing remained; their so-called communism.
Now, I am very aware that political views differ for each individual. But the foundation of basic human compassion should not vary amongst us humans. So when I look back upon the country that birthed my ancestors and see the distinct lack of regard for basic human rights, I feel heartbroken for the peoples who were left behind. I feel despair for the children dying on the streets who are not even spared a single glance. I feel pity for the citizens oblivious to the outside world. I feel hopeless when I see the many human rights activists who are stripped of their voices, imprisoned, and oppressed by a government who cannot care less about its people.
The foundation of basic human compassion should not vary amongst us humans
People have asked me why I care so much for a country that is not my own. How I was raised in Canada, yet still can advocate for a small nation halfway across the world that I have not visited. But that’s the thing. People advocate for education in third world countries. People advocate for victims of war in torn countries. So why can’t I advocate for human rights and justice for the people of in the land that holds my heritage? The pretty photos and travel vlogs people see on the internet are simply a fraction of what is true. There are millions of people dying and starving everyday in Vietnam. And little of those photos make it to the exposure needed for the world to fully comprehend the reality within Vietnam.
I’m not going to lie. I was oblivious to much of the dreadful reality myself until this summer when I came across demonstrations outside of a cultural event in Surrey. It wasn’t until I joined the demonstrations and protests to gain awareness of a government’s impact on peoples’ lives that I was able to understand how hard human rights activism can be.
Putting political opinions aside, and delving deeper into the lives of the citizens living in third world countries with oppressive governments, it is disheartening to see how political corruption can affect a society. In Vietnam, people who spoke up against the government are imprisoned and hidden away from the public. Those who has an opinion that slightly opposes the government’s thinking is persecuted. And anyone who shares these “dangerous” opinions receive beatings and worse sentences than one can imagine.
Take Mother Mushroom as an example.
Mother Mushroom. Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh. Mẹ Nấm. All these names direct themselves to identify a woman who is using all of her strength to cry out against the corrupted communist government, on behalf of the people of Vietnam.
Born in 1979 in the small province of Khanh Hoa, Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh grew up surrounded by the corruption and unfair environment that is now Vietnam. “Mother Mushroom” was simply a pen name she had made for herself to publish blogs where she share parenting tips with the Vietnamese community. However by the year of 2006, her blogs began to take a turn to raise awareness of the social issues that the impoverished citizens of Vietnam had to face. It all began after a visit to a hospital where she had witnessed many poor, desperate patients waiting to be seen and checked up on. But alas, they were ignored as they did not have enough money to bribe the hospital officials. From there, she had made her motive for blogging very simple;“I don’t want my children to struggle and have to do what I’m doing right now.”
Her blogs soon included her open criticism against the human rights violations and corruption that lives within the Vietnamese Communist Government. By 2009, her first arrest was made. She was arrested again in October 2016, while trying to visit an imprisoned political activist. And for the past few years since, there have been numerous movements and campaigns demanding for Quynh’s release, including support from the United States, the European Union, Human Rights Watch, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and of course, all of us who believe in justice and freedom. But that volume of support and emphasis of human rights from international parties still have yet to break down the unscrupulousness of the Vietnamese Communists. Instead of admitting to their wrongdoings, on the 29th of June 2017, the government proceeded to sentence Mother Mushroom to 10 years of jail for publishing propaganda against the state.
Her activism does not go unnoticed, of course, and has graced her with notable awards including Hellman/Hammett grant program recipient in 2010 from Human Rights Watch,
Defender of the Year (2015) from Civil Rights Defenders, and most recently, the Woman of Courage award at the U.S. State Department in March this year, presented by Melania Trump.
It inspires me greatly to see such an courageous woman stand up against a whole government system that continually oppresses her. And stories like hers remind me everyday of how important human rights activism can be. Not everyone can have the opportunities we have to speak up for themselves. Not everyone can share their thoughts or opinions. And not everyone lives in a nation of peace and democracy.