A World of Poets: Nguyen Xuan Nghia

In celebration of World Poetry Day, all this week we are paying tribute to poets who have been persecuted or imprisoned in violation of their right to free expression.

Today we are honouring Vietnamese poet Nguyen Xuan Nghia who is currently serving a six year prison sentence for his pro-democracy writings and activities.



My fatherland is like the donkey skin
That shrinks each time one has a wish
A wish of prosperity: its woods lose their trees, its seas their fish
A wish of territorial integrity: its islands and mountains were annexed by the foreigners…
I stood peacefully with my sign, protesting Beijing
The first people to come were the police
They looked at me as a scabrous dog
I fell down, they lift me up
Their punches again landing on my face.
Yet, they’re my compatriots
Sharing with me this arid land of rocks and sands
This land of thousands years of struggle and pain
To survive and to overcome…
I lied on the ground
My tears swallowed
Which dynasty like this one,
Along the 4000 years of my people’s history

Nguyen Xuan Nghia (Hai-Phong, May 1, 2008)


Nguyen Xuan Nghia is a poet, journalist, essayist and novelist, a member of the Hai Phong Association of Writers and a founding member of the banned democracy movement known as Bloc 8406. He is the editor of the underground democracy journal To Quoc (Fatherland). As a journalist, he wrote for all the main government papers until 2003, when the government banned him because of his pro-democracy activities.

On October 9, 2009, after a trial that reportedly lasted just a few hours, Nguyen Xuan Nghia was convicted of conducting anti-government propaganda under Article 88 of Vietnam’s penal code and sentenced to six years in prison. Article 88 forbids “all propaganda against the Communist system of government” as well as “slanderous allegations undermining national security, the social order and the people’s trust in the Party.”

The indictment against him, which was dated July 3, 2009, cited 57 pieces written by Nguyen Xuan Nghia from 2007 until his arrest in 2008, including poetry, literature, short stories and articles that allegedly sought to “insult the Communist Party of Vietnam, distort the situation of the country, slander and disgrace the country’s leaders, demand a pluralistic and multiparty system…and incite and attract other people into the opposition movement.”

On January 21, 2010, an appeals court in the northern port city of Haiphong upheld Nguyen Xuan Nghia’s sentence. Foreign journalists were not permitted to attend the proceedings, which lasted a day. Nguyen Xuan Nghia is being held at the B14 labor camp in Ha Dong province, south of Hanoi.

According to Nghia’s wife, he has been banned from family visits since June 2010 for protesting peacefully against prison conditions. He is believed to be held in solitary confinement and to be suffering from a number of health complaints.



To mark World Poetry Day, on 21 March, we are encouraging our members and supporters to set aside a few minutes to take action for Nguyen Xuan Nghia and the many other writers detained in Vietnam.


To raise and maintain awareness of Nguyen Xuan Nghia’s case, please help us to get ‘Poem’ published as widely as possible – in newspapers, on notice boards, on websites, blogs and social networks. (Please do let us know the details of any publications in the comments box below.)

You may also wish to write your own creative response to ‘Poem’, and to post it on your own blogs and websites. Please do send us any work produced (writersinprison@englishpen.org) so that we can send copies directly to Nghia and his family, and publish them on the English PEN website.


Send messages of support for Nghia and our other detained colleagues in Vietnam to us via Facebook, Twitter, email and the comments box (below) and we will ensure that they are sent directly to prisoners and their families in Vietnam. (For those of you using Twitter, please use the hashtag #PENVietnam)


We have long been encouraging our members to send books to persecuted and imprisoned writers around the world through our Books To Prisoners Programme. These books can not only provide comfort to the recipient, but also serve as a non-confrontational way to remind authorities that the international community is watching. If you are interested in sending books to our cases of concern in Vietnam, please do get in touch for more details by emailing cat@englishpen.org 


Write to the Vietnamese authorities calling for the immediate and unconditional release of Nguyen Xuan Nghia and the many other writers detained in Vietnam solely for the peaceful expression their opinions, in violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to which Vietnam is a signatory.

His Excellency Mr Vu Quang Minh
Embassy of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam
12-14 Victoria Road,
London, W8 5RD
Fax: 020 7937 6108
Email: consular@vietnamembassy.org.uk

Please do email the Campaigns Team (writersinprison@englishpen.org) to let us know what actions you have taken, and certainly if you receive a response. Thank you. 

About Cat Lucas

Cat Lucas is English PEN's Writers at Risk Programme Manager

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