Students support Vietnamese detainees

The “We the People” website collected more than 150,000 signatures.

Colette Bell


Many Vietnamese-Americans, including students at the University of Minnesota, are involved in the ongoing effort to stop expanding trade with Vietnam at the expense of human rights.

A petition for human rights in Vietnam accumulated more than 150,000 signatures from people across the country on the “We the People” website.

The site, launched in September, is a place where people can petition President Barack Obama’s administration to respond to certain issues.

The Vietnamese government has been detaining many human rights activists within the country, including singer and songwriter Viet Khang, who was jailed for posting video performances of two songs about security and social injustice.

Vietnam has a single-party system dominated by the Communist Party of Vietnam. The government restricts freedom of speech, press and religion.

The petition needed 25,000 signatures by March 8 — a month after its creation — to get an official White House response. The amount received surpassed popular expectations.

Students at the University demonstrated their interest by promoting the petition online.

Thuy-Lan Doan, a genetics and physiology senior and Vietnamese Student Association president, posted a link to the petition’s website on the Asian-American Student Union’s Facebook wall.

“It was really cool because it just shows how powerful our network is,” she said.

Doan heard about the issue from a larger organization, the Mid-Atlantic Union of Vietnamese Student Associations, which follows the movement in detail.

Many students feel great responsibility to bring awareness to the issue because of family members living in Vietnam.

“There is stuff that we can do here at home to help out our family members in Vietnam,” Doan said. “A lot of my family members moved from Vietnam to [the United States.]”

Pre-med freshman Dan Hodac also has family in Vietnam.

“I’m a little worried for them. The Vietnamese government is unpredictable, at best,” he said.

People of Vietnamese descent make up the second-largest Asian group in Minnesota, according to the State Demographic Center. The ongoing protest may impact many people in the region as well as the University.

“Living in the U.S., the whole idea of free speech has been engrained in me already. When other governments try to limit that ability I feel like it’s wrong,” Hodac said.

On March 5, the human rights petition was introduced in a White House briefing. More than 100 Vietnamese-Americans attended in support of the movement. The next day more than 700 people were at the nation’s Capitol lobbying representatives and senators to support the Vietnam Human Rights Act introduced by Rep. Christopher Smith, R-N.J.

According to the legislation, the U.S. would refrain from increasing non-humanitarian assistance to the country, promote the development of democracy and welcome the country’s refugees.

The House Committee on Foreign Affairs unanimously voted to send the bill to the House floor March 7. The U.S. House of Representatives will be the next to vote on the proposed legislation if it gets brought up.

“I hope that it will bring more attention to the Vietnamese government in general,” Hodac said. “There is a strong community of Vietnamese people who demand the rights for not only themselves but for the fellow people.”