Minh Phan '96 may never know for sure, but his father's recent release after 16 years as a political prisoner in Vietnam may have had its start last spring when hundreds of friends at Union launched a letter-writing campaign.
At a reception last Wednesday in Thurston House, organized by students
in the College's chapter of Amnesty International, Phan got to say “thank
you” to some of those who sent 800 letters urging the release of his 77-year-old
father, Hien Dinh Phan.
The elder Phan's release came unexpectedly on Aug. 24 as Minh Phan
was visiting his family in Saigon, his first visit in nearly 10 years. The family had not
been notified of the impending release, Phan said. The first clue came when local police
called to ask why Hien Dinh Phan hadn't registered with them. Disbelieving, the
family went to the camp and found the father packing his bags.
Vietnamese authorities “never mentioned anything about the letter
campaign,” Minh Phan said, “But I think it helped a lot.”
The family had become increasingly concerned about the toll that prison
life was taking on the elder Phan, and he was growing increasingly weak from malnutrition,
Minh Phan said. As a last resort, the family agreed to the letter-writing campaign in
Union students and staff sent more than 800 letters appealing for the
release of Phan, who held a variety of posts with the South Vietnamese government before
the fall of Saigon in 1975. He was taken prisoner in 1981 for
“counter-revolutionary” activities after not reporting to a political
re-education camp, Minh Phan said.
“This is a wonderful example of what we can do at Union for someone
who is on the other side of the world,” remarked Kim Rohback '00, president of
the College's chapter of Amnesty International.
Jody Mousseau '97, who as last year's head of the Amnesty
chapter spearheaded the letter-writing campaign, is now teaching in Japan. “Things
certainly did work out for the best,” she said. “I am glad that Minh is so happy
with the results.