Cablegate: Harassed Until the Last Minute: Don Duong and Family
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 HO CHI MINH CITY 000342
DEPARTMENT FOR EAP/BCLTV, EAP/PD, EAP/P, DRL
E. O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM PREL SOCI PGOV VM HUMANR
SUBJECT: HARASSED UNTIL THE LAST MINUTE: DON DUONG AND FAMILY
SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED - PROTECT ACCORDINGLY
1. (SBU) Summary: Actor Bui Don Duong, his wife, and their two
sons departed Ho Chi Minh City today on the first leg of their
journey to the U.S. as intending immigrants. Up to the last
minute, GVN security forces delayed and humiliated the family at
Tan Son Nhut Airport, almost causing them to miss their flight.
ConGenoffs were also hassled and prevented from observing portions
of the departure process. In a deviation from past practice on
diplomatic airport access, ConGenoffs were variously told: 1) they
could only see off a national of their own country; 2) the Customs
area was now off limits (it wasn't last Friday); and 3) the
Immigration area was now off limits (again, it wasn't last
Friday). Suggested press guidance para 10. End Summary.
2. (SBU) Ending a protracted ordeal that included police
questioning, emotional media attacks, telephone harassment,
passport confiscation, being blackballed for employment, having
his children bullied at school, and vandalism against his sister's
restaurant in HCMC, Don Duong and family departed HCMC on EVA Air
392 to Taipei on April 9. From there, they will connect to the
West Coast of the U.S., where they will be reunited with the
actor's sister and immigrant visa sponsor, Susie Bui.
3. (SBU) After an initial wave of critical media coverage
("besmirched his country's honor", "traitor to Vietnamese ideals,"
etc.) and police summons for questioning in September-October
2002, harassment and pressure "to apologize" had become somewhat
sporadic during November 2002-February 2003. During that time,
however, Don Duong's children were subjected to schoolyard
taunting and accusations. He was unable to get any work as an
actor. Contracts he had were broken. Permission to travel
overseas to represent Vietnam at film festivals was denied, and
his passport was confiscated.
4. (SBU) On his fourth try to apply for a new passport, Don Duong
was successful - but only after he signed a written pledge
promising not to knowingly violate any published Vietnamese laws
and regulations. This new passport was issued on March 17.
Having already "pre-processed" the family as much as possible,
remaining visa interviews and formalities were completed on March
19. At that time Don Duong's intention was to immigrate - as a
normal immigrant - to the U.S. at the end of his sons' Vietnamese
school year in May.
5. (SBU) The next week, renewed harassment began. Media stories
began appearing about Don Duong's "selling out to Hollywood and
American dollars." The equivalent of agent provocateurs came to
his sister's restaurant, slashing pictures, refusing to pay,
talking loudly about Don Duong's betrayal of his country, and
picking fights with wait staff. If Don Duong happened to be
visiting his sister or eating at the restaurant, these "customers"
would invite him for a drink - criticizing him for being "uppity
and arrogant" if he declined, but trying to provoke him into
saying something negative about the GVN if he sat down to chat.
6. (SBU) Two weeks ago a friend with contacts in the military
told Don Duong that the Army had opened a "new file" on him, and
was looking for something to catch him on. It was then that Don
Duong decided to move up his departure date. The news about the
"new file" was followed by more staged incidents at the sister's
restaurant, one of which resulted in Don Duong being summoned to
his local ward police station on April 7. Claiming that he was
busy preparing for his trip to the U.S., he asked the police for a
later appointment, and was simply told to come whenever he
finished packing (he never went).
7. (SBU) On April 9, ConGenoffs were allowed the usual access to
Tan Son Nhut Airport at the first checkpoint. However, a
cameraman allegedly from Vietnam TV, was filming Don Duong's
arrival, and followed the family through each departure
checkpoint. At the Customs checkpoint, ConGenoffs were refused
access with the various excuses: a) you are not seeing off a
national of your own country; b) the Customs area is now off
limits; and c) the Immigration area is now off limits too. When
it was pointed out to them that just last Friday a ConGenoff had
had unimpeded access to those areas, in accordance with past
practice, the Customs Police simply shrugged their shoulders and
said the policy had changed. Two supervisors were summoned, but
it turned out that one of them was the officer who would direct a
slow and ever so comprehensive baggage search.
An Australian ConGen colleague who joined ConGenoffs was also
denied permission to enter the customs area.
8. (SBU) Although unable to enter the Customs area, ConGenoffs
were able to see Don Duoung and his family escorted into a small
room where at least eight customs officers opened up their six
large suitcases and three large boxes. The officers examined
every article inside the luggage. They took several photos of the
contents, holding up underwear to the light. After an hour of
searching, the Customs officers allowed the family and other
airport staff to repack the bags and boxes, put them through the X-
ray machines once more, and onto the luggage trolley. Don Duong
was taken to a separate counter, where he was apparently required
to sign more papers (promising what we do not know).
9. (SBU) EVA Airlines held the flight for 15 minutes to enable
Don Duong and his family to board. The family was never paged for
the last call, as is common practice at Tan Son Nhut. Through a
glass window on the International Arrivals side of the airport,
ConGenoff was able to observe the family going down the Departure
Lobby corridor, directly to the gate and jetway. The "cameraman"
continued filming until the last moment, while a large contingent
of security officials blanketed the boarding lobby. EVA Air #392
departed at 13:15, with Don Duong and family on board.
10. (U) Suggested press guidance on an if asked basis:
Q: Is it true that the movie actor Don Duong was able to depart
Vietnam today? What is his status?
A: Yes, Don Duong and his family departed Vietnam on April 9
local time. They are beneficiaries of an immigrant visa petition.
Q: How was he treated at the airport? Do you know?
A: Officers from our Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City
observed harassment. We find this harassment to be regrettable.
We will continue to urge the Vietnamese Government - in public and
private -- to respect human rights, including freedom of artistic
expression, which is an essential component for a strong,
prosperous democratic society.
It would be extremely regrettable if the Government of Vietnam
misdirected any of its displeasure toward any members of Don
Duong's or his wife's families who remain in Vietnam.
11. (SBU) Press Guidance Background: Don Duong is a Vietnamese
actor who had roles in two American films - "We Were Soldiers
Once" about the Vietnam War and "Green Dragon" about Vietnamese
refugees in the U.S. Vietnamese state media, the military, and
other GVN officials have criticized him for besmirching the
country's honor by his portrayals of a Vietnamese army colonel in
"We Were Soldiers Once" and as a sympathetic refugee coordinator
in "Green Dragon." Actors Mel Gibson and Forrest Whittaker, and
film director Randall Wallace - among others - have inquired about
Don Duong's situation in Vietnam. For nearly eight months he was
blackballed for employment, harassed by the police, and victimized
by officially-directed media attacks. He was virtually driven out
of his homeland.