Corruption whistleblowers face persecution in central Vietnam

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Tran Huu Suu recalls his efforts to expose corrupt local officials

Tran Huu Suu has spent more than a decade running from one government anti-corruption agency to another to expose corrupt officials in his commune, saving it more than US$72,000 and 15,000 square meters of land.

But the whistleblower from Nghe An Province has not received bouquets for his selfless service. In fact, he has had the mortification of seeing his house razed by local authorities and being attacked with weapons.

Other whistleblowers in the central province have suffered similar, even worse, fates.

Suu began his crusade in 1999 when he discovered dodgy financial dealing by officials in his Hien Son commune, Do Luong District, who sold more than 15,000 square meters of land.

For two years he pursued it, filing complaints with district and provincial agencies, until provincial inspectors confirmed he was right.

Many officials including the commune chairman and its Party head were sacked and ordered to return VND768 million ($37,000) and the land.

Suu found more wrongdoing and accused the new commune authorities of 46 offences.

District inspectors took three years to investigate, and said only 17 of the accusations were true.

So he went to the provincial inspectors who ordered the district to look at the matter all over again.

A second investigation again ended up rejecting several of Suu's allegations, including one about the commune chairman not finishing 10th grade and not being a war invalid to be eligible for preferential treatment.

Suu had to go to central agencies and toil for months before his accusations were confirmed.

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Finally, in 2008 the district sacked the commune chairman and several officials, and ordered them to pay back more than VND741 million ($35,500) of public money they had misused.

The poor man who singlehandedly takes care of five children after his wife died, says: "I had to fight. I could not stand to see them steal people's money."

But he is not the hero he should have been. Instead, he constantly faces hurdles and threats.

In October 2005, during his fight against the commune chairman's fake war invalid status, his house was destroyed by a typhoon. He built a new one though not on the exact spot where the old one was. The chairman immediately ordered for it to be demolished.

In September 2006 he was kept handcuffed at the commune police station for three hours after officers found out he was copying newspaper reports about corruption by commune officials.

He was among three people attacked with knives and bombs in February 2011 after the provincial government held a ceremony to fete contributors to the fight against corruption.  

He said two men ambushed him outside his door and stabbed him repeatedly in his arms.

The provincial police gave up after seven months of investigation, saying they could not find the attackers.

The police's failure to find the culprits "makes it hard for people like me to feel safe enough to continue our fight," he says.

Phan Canh Thanh, a forestry engineer in the province, in 2006 accused district-level managers of a protected forest of lying about the size of the project to swindle public money.

But the Tuong Duong District administration rejected his claim, enabling the project's chief manager, Chu Van Hung, to demote him and transfer him to a remote office nearly 60 kilometers from the district center.

But Thanh took his complaint to the province environmental authorities, who later found the accusations to be true. Hung was ordered to repay nearly VND800 million ($38,400) to the district and censured.

Duong Dinh Dan lives in an old single-story house and struggles to make a living as a freelance cameraman because of his corruption fight.

In 1992, when he was the culture deputy head of Ky Son District, he reported about the district chiefs' illegal logging plan.

The violations were confirmed and many district officials punished, but the biggest loser was Dan himself.

He lost his job for "causing disunity within the organization," Nghe An Culture magazine reported. He had complained to Prime Minister Vo Van Kiet.

After he lost his job his wife left him taking their children with her.

But undaunted, Dan has continued his crusade, and is now trying to expose land mismanagement by commune officials.

"It's a citizen's responsibility to expose corruption, though we do not gain anything," he says.

"I have been getting a lot of pressure. People have called and texted me to make death threats."

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