Doan Thanh Liem – How I became a political prisoner in Vietnam in the 1990’s


As a senior jurist, in early 1990 I wrote a text in Vietnamese entitled “Five Points of Basis Consensus” – containing not more than 300 words.

This text was intended to serve as a guideline for the discussion on the drafting of a new constitution for Vietnam. It focused on the following principles, each one in a separate paragraph :

1 – No State Religion, No State Dogma.

2 – A multi-ethnic, multi-cultural Vietnam Society.

3 – Human Rights as foundation for the legal/political system.

4 – The primary role of the State is to serve as a Referee, not as a Partner in business activities.

5 – A General Amnesty shall be proclaimed for the sake of National Reconciliation and Concord.

A couple of dozens of typewritten copies were circulated among friends, but somehow a copy was in the police hand. That’s why I was arrested in late April 1990. And in a trial session on May 14 1992, the Saigon Tribunal sentenced me 12 years of prison for “disseminating anti-socialist propaganda” – the text being used primarily as incriminating evidence.

In 1996, thanks to the intervention of various international Human Rights organisations such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and particularly the US government, I was released from jail as the police drove me directly from prison to the Saigon airport to be expelled to the United States where I have been resettled since. Consequently I spent only 6 years in prison instead of 12 years as sentenced.

Herein is the English version of the text:

Five Points of Basis Consensus

1 – The State of Vietnam shall not proclaim any religion as the state religion, nor shall the State impose any doctrine as the state dogma.

In order to respect and safeguard the religious freedom, the State shall not interfere into internal affairs of whatever religious group.

2 – The Vietnamese nation is comprised of several ethnic groups with distinct historic and cultural tradition. So its society should be built upon multi-ethnic, multi-cultural foundation.

3 – Implementing the humanist, humanitarian tradition, the political, legal system of Vietnam should be built on the principles contained in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

4 – In order to safeguard social justice and public order, the main role of the State is to serve as a Referee, but not as a Partner in business activities. Consequently, the present state-owned business system will be reduced to the minimum.

5 – In order to promote the National Reconciliation and Concord, the State shall proclaim a General Amnesty for all wrongdoings that are committed personally or collectively. Not any revengeful settlement whatever is accepted. All claims for reparation for damages will be settled by due process of law.

Saigon January 1990
Đoàn Thanh Liêm


Author: DanutM

Anglican theologian. Former Director for Faith and Development Middle East and Eastern Europe Region of World Vision International

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