Contents – Express yourself: Overcoming neurodiversity stereotypes


The Summer 2023 issue of Index looks at neurodiversity, the term coined in the late 1990s to identify and promote the positives of variation in human thinking which has become more widely used in the past few years. Are old stereotypes still rife? Has the perception of neurodiversity improved? If not, was this because of censorship? Using neurodivergent voices, we wanted to know about this in a global context.

The majority of the articles are written by neurodivergent people, as we wanted to put their voices front and centre. Many said they did have more of a voice, awareness had shot up and the word “neurodiversity” empowered and welcomed a growth in onscreen representation. However, at the same time it was clear that conversations around neurodiversity were playing out along society’s current fault-lines and were far from immune.

Up Front

Mind matters, by Jemimah Seinfeld: The term neurodiversity has positively challenged how we approach our minds. Has it done enough?

The Index, by Mark Frary: The latest in free expression news, from an explainer on Sudan to a cha-cha-cha starring Meghan and King Charles.


Bars can't stop a bestseller, by Kaya Genç: Fiction is finding its way out of a Turkish prison, says former presidential hopeful and bestselling writer
Selahattin Demirtaş.

Don't mention femicide, by Chris Havler-Barrett: Murdered women are an inconvenience for Mexico’s president.

This is no joke, by Qian Gong and Jian Xu: The treatment of China’s comedians is no laughing matter.

Silent Disco, by Andrew Mambondiyani: Politicians are purging playlists in Zimbabwe, and musicians are speaking out.

When the Russians came, by Alina Smutko, Taras Ibragimov and Aliona Savchuk: The view from inside occupied Crimea, through the cameras of photographers banned by the Kremlin.

The language of war and peace, by JP O’Malley: Kremlin-declared “Russophobe foreign agent and traitor” Mikhail Shishkin lays out the impossible choices for Russians.

Writer's block, by Stacey Tsui: Hong Kong’s journalists are making themselves heard, thanks to blockchain technology.

The Russians risking it all, by Katie Dancey-Downs: Forced to sing songs and labelled as extremists, anti-war Russians are finding creative ways to take a stand.

The 'truth' is in the tea, by Jemimah Steinfeld: Spilling the tea on a London venue, which found itself in hot water due to a far-right speaker.

Waiting for China's tap on the shoulder, by Chu Yang: However far they travel, there’s no safe haven for journalists and academics who criticise China.

When the old fox walks the tightrope, by Danson Kahyana: An interview with Stella Nyanzi on Uganda’s latest anti-LGBTQ+ law.

Would the media lie to you?, by Ali Latifi: Fake news is flourishing in Afghanistan, in ways people might not expect.

Britain's Holocaust island, by Martin Bright: Confronting Britain’s painful secret, and why we must acknowledge what happened on Nazi-occupied Alderney.

The thorn in Vietnam's civil society side, by Thiện Việt: Thiện Việt: Responding to mass suppression with well-organised disruption.

Special Report: Express yoruself: Overcoming neurodiversity stereotypes

Not a slur, by Nick Ransom: What’s in a word? Exploring representation, and the power of the term “neurodiversity” to divide or unite.

Sit down, shut up, by Katharine P Beals: The speech of autistic non-speakers is being hijacked.

Fake it till you break it, by Morgan Barbour: Social media influencers are putting dissociative identity disorder in the spotlight, but some are accused of faking it.

Weaponising difference, by Simone Dias Marques: Ableist slurs in Brazil are equating neurodivergence with criminality.

Autism on screen is gonna be okay, by Katie Dancey-Downs: The Rain Man days are over. Everything’s Gonna Be Okay star Lillian Carrier digs into autism on screen.

Raising Malaysia's roof, by Francis Clarke: In a comedy club in Malaysia’s capital stand up is where people open up, says comedian Juliana Heng.

Living in the Shadows, by Ashley Gjøvik: When successful camouflage has a lasting impact.

Nigeria's crucible, by Ugonna-Ora Owoh: Between silence and lack of understanding, Nigeria’s neurodiverse are being mistreated.

My autism is not a lie, by Meltem Arikan: An autism diagnosis at 52 liberated a dissident playwright, but there’s no space for her truth in Turkey.


Lived experience, to a point, by Julian Baggini: When it comes to cultural debates, whose expertise carries the most weight?

France: On the road to illiberalism? by Jean-Paul Marthoz: Waving au revoir to the right to criticise.

Monitoring terrorists, gangs - and historians, by Andrew Lownie: The researcher topping the watchlist on his majesty’s secret service.

We are all dissidents, by Ruth Anderson: Calls to disassociate from certain dissidents due to their country of birth are toxic and must be challenged.


Manuscripts don't burn, by Rebecca Ruth Gould: Honouring the writers silenced by execution in Georgia, and unmuzzling their voices.

Obscenely familiar, by Marc Nash: A book arguing for legalised homosexuality is the spark for a fiction rooted in true events.

A truly graphic tale, by Taha Siddiqui and Zofeen T Ebrahim: A new graphic novel lays bare life on Pakistan’s kill list, finding atheism and a blasphemous tattoo.

A censored day? by Kaya Genç: Unravelling the questions that plague the censor, in a new short story from the Turkish author.

Poetry's peacebuilding tentacles, by Natasha Tripney: Literature has proven its powers of peace over the last decade in Kosovo.

Palestine: I still have hope, by Bassem Eid: Turning to Israel and Palestine, where an activist believes the international community is complicit in the conflict.

Daniel Ellsberg: The original whistleblower

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Whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, whose leaks 50 years ago this summer aimed the spotlight at the US government’s secret escalation of the conflict in Vietnam over the course of five presidential administrations, is clear that such shattering revelations should not happen just once in a generation.

“There should be something of the order of the Pentagon Papers once a year if not more often,” he said.

Ellsberg speaks to me over Zoom from his home in California’s Bay Area shortly after celebrating his 90th birthday. His mind is as sharp as ever and his belief that government wrongdoing should be uncovered is as strong as it was more than five decades ago. His leaking of thousands of pages of critical failings of presidents from John F Kennedy through to Richard Nixon in US involvement in Vietnam – the Pentagon Papers – proved damning, and ultimately led to Tricky Dicky’s impeachment.

Instead of such yearly disclosures of wrongfully withheld information, Ellsberg says it took 39 years before there was a leak of a similar scale – Chelsea Manning’s disclosure of hundreds of thousands of US diplomatic cables and their subsequent publication by Julian Assange on Wikileaks in 2010.

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On US foreign policy

Ellsberg is of the belief that the world needs a new generation of whistleblowers to keep his government in check.

“US foreign policy is largely conducted as a covert, plausibly denied, imperial policy,” he said.

“We deny we are an empire, and we deny the means we use, the means which every empire uses to maintain its hegemony – torture, paramilitary invasion, assassination. This is the standard for everybody who seeks a global influence over countries and gets involved in regime change the way we do.”

But a career as a whistleblower is unlikely to be recommended to young people emerging from education any time soon.

“I have never heard of anyone wanting to be a whistleblower,” said Ellsberg. “People admire it when they see it, but it is a strange career to set out on – and it’s not a career because you generally only get to do it once. Employers believe you won’t tell their dirty secrets no matter how criminal, illegal, wrongful or dangerous your bosses may be.”

He says that people entering the world of work for the first time need to understand what they are signing up for.

“When young people sign agreements [with their employers] under which they will be asked to not reveal any secrets they become privy to in their job they should take into account that they don’t really have a right to keep that promise in all circumstances,” he said. “Circumstances may well arise where it is wrong to keep silent about information that has come to your attention because other lives are at stake, or perhaps the constitution is being violated and it is wrongful to keep that promise.

“It doesn’t occur to you that you could be asked to take part in very wrongful or criminal activities. In your eyes you are not joining the Mafia, yet you make a promise of secrecy like the Mafia without knowing what you are going to be asked to do. This is why you should have your fingers crossed when you make that promise.”

Ellsberg relates being invited to a meeting in Stockholm to give an award to Ingvar Bratt, who had exposed illegal sales by arms dealer Bofors.

“Bratt told me that he was explaining to his young son – who was 10 or so – that he was meeting me and explained what I had done. He said to his son: ‘Wasn’t that a good thing to do?’ His son said very soberly: ‘Oh no. He shouldn’t have done that; you should never break a promise’. That is how we are all brought up.

“Young people should remain open to the idea that you may be called on to risk your job, your career, your relationships with other people by telling the truth even if you have promised not to do that. It is very unusual advice for young people to hear; it will not improve their career prospects, but it will possibly save a lot of lives.”

On what distinguishes whistleblowers

Ellsberg is in regular contact with other whistleblowers – a club with a very exclusive membership.

“Whistleblowers believe themselves to be quite ordinary,” he said. “They don’t think that what they did is particularly unusual. They think what they did was the thing anyone would have done in the circumstances.

“But stepping back from their views, it is very unusual for people to do what they did in those circumstances. In almost every case their colleagues knew what was happening and that [the wrongdoing] should be known, but they did not ask themselves if they should be the one to tell.

“There is something unfortunately quite rare about whistleblowing, and that is not good for the future of our species. It means that when terribly dangerous processes are at work, like wrongful wars or the climate crisis, we can’t count on people to step forward and tell us what we need to know.

“Very few people get beyond the point of saying ‘This should be known’ to the point of saying ‘No one else is going to do it, so I have to do it’. That turns out to be an almost unpredictable reaction. It is a matter of personal responsibility and moral courage.”

Moral courage is a vital attribute of a whistleblower, since being ostracised is a frequent outcome.

“People will do almost anything and go along with anything rather than be expelled from a group that they value,” said Ellsberg.

On Assange and Manning

But being cast out is often the least of the worries of would-be whistleblowers, as the act comes with significant costs.

“Chelsea Manning said she was willing to face life in prison or even death,” said Ellsberg. “[Edward] Snowden said at one point there were things worth dying for and he hadn’t been killed for it yet, but he was at considerable risk of that – and it could still happen.

“The government does everything it can to magnify those costs both for the whistleblower and anyone who might want to imitate her or him. There is the stigma of being called crazy, being called criminal. The government really goes into trying to defame the whistleblower in different ways, and often quite successfully.

“Assange and Snowden have been made into real pariahs. I was called a lot of names at the time and if you are not willing to be called names that are painful but inappropriate and unearned then this is not something you should go into.”

On Reality Winner

Being a whistleblower today is different from how it was 50 years ago. Technology has made it easier to share information but has also made leaks easier to trace.

“Reality Winner’s case is a classic example of the technical possibility of tracing the source. They were able to see who had probably released it. It illustrates that it is easy to get the information out, but it is relatively hard to hide the fact that you were the one who was the source.

Ellsberg says Winner, who leaked classified information about Russian involvement in the 2016 US presidential election, “did what she should have done”.

Should she have been sent to prison? “Absolutely not.”

“There was evidence of Russian involvement [in the election] which the administration was denying. It was important for the public to know that,” he said.

Winner has now been released from prison early thanks to good behaviour but is still prevented from speaking about the case.

Ellsberg believes a pardon for Winner from president Joe Biden looks unlikely, especially as he has not done the same for Julian Assange.

“Biden, or someone under him who was a holdover from the Trump administration, has renewed the appeal to extradite Julian Assange and that is not entirely surprising. Biden called Assange a ‘hi-tech terrorist’ at the time of the releases that he is indicted for in 2010,” he said.

“It goes against the fact that the Obama administration declined to indict Assange on the very good conclusion [that he was] a journalist releasing information to the American public. Biden could have gone along with that. I still have some small hope that he will [pardon him] as he should, but I don’t count on it.”

Ellsberg is convinced that Assange deserves protection for leaking the Manning cables.

“He certainly acted as a journalist, as a publisher specifically – as much as any of the publishers with whom he shared the Chelsea Manning documents. [Assange’s] philosophy of journalists is actually broader than some others and reflects a relatively new digital age philosophy which I don’t entirely share. He believes in almost absolute transparency with the government, but not of private people. Although I think there are secrets that I am in favour of not releasing, that’s not true of the material he is indicted for in 2010.”

I ask Ellsberg whether he would do the same today as he did 50 years ago and he says he wouldn’t be happy sitting around for months waiting for a paper to dare to publish.

“I would still go first to The New York Times, but If I didn’t hear from them I would go elsewhere. If I felt that the Times was holding back, as it seemed to be doing for several months when I was dealing with [then NYT reporter] Neil Sheehan, I would have to gone to another channel such as Wikileaks or the web directly. Of course, that didn’t exist then.”

He says “the chance of being fingered is greater than it was before”, but concurs that he would do it again.
In one sense, he already has, with the publication of The Doomsday Project on US nuclear policy in 2017 that was based on further material he had copied in his time at government- funded military research organisation Rand Corporation in the 1960s.

That makes Ellsberg that very rare thing: a career whistleblower.

Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers

Daniel Ellsberg was born in Chicago in 1931. After graduating from Harvard in 1952 with a BA summa cum laude in economics, he studied for a year on a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship at King’s College, Cambridge.

From 1954 to 1957 he served in the US Marine Corps and in 1962 he earned his PhD in economics at Harvard.

Ellsberg joined the Rand Corporation – a policy thinktank offering research and advice to the US armed forces - in 1959 as a strategic analyst. As part of this role he acted as a consultant to the White House and US Defence Department, specialising in problems of the command and control of nuclear weapons and drafting the operational plans for general nuclear war.

In the mid-1960s, he joined the Defence Department for a year as special assistant to assistant secretary of defence John McNaughton, working on the escalation of the war in Vietnam before serving two years with the US State Department in Saigon.

He returned to the Rand Corporation in 1967 where he worked on the top-secret McNamara study, looking at US decision-making in Vietnam between 1945 and 1968.

Ellsberg says the material that became known globally as the Pentagon Papers did not at first appear to be anything special.

“They didn’t look that effective as they ended in 1968. I assumed that the president [Richard Nixon] would say ‘This is old history and doesn’t have anything to do with me’. It was just a fifth president following in the footsteps of four previous presidents,” said Ellsberg.

The 7,000-page report was duplicated on a Xerox photocopier with the help of his Rand colleague Anthony J Russo.

“In those days it was a fairly slow process, copying just one page at a time,” he said. “Keeping it secret wasn’t a problem. In those days, the guards at the Rand Corporation who checked everyone in and out didn’t get to check in your briefcase. It made my heart pound when I went past them the first few times with a briefcase full of top-secret documents.”

If 7,000 pages were not enough, he also copied thousands more pages of documents relating to US nuclear policy, which he revealed in his book The Doomsday Machine, published in 2017.

The decision to leak came after listening to anti-Vietnam War activist Randy Kehler.

“It was seeing someone with whom I could identify who had a career and who was willing to go to prison,” he said. “It made me ask myself ‘What can I do now that I am ready to go to prison?’”

Ellsberg leaked the report in 1971 to The New York Times, The Washington Post and 17 other newspapers but it was the Times which took the plunge after sitting on the explosive material for months. On Sunday 13 June 1971, it published its first excerpts from the report, but its wider circulation was held up for 15 days due to a court order requested by the Nixon administration.

The release of information showed that the USA had illegally expanded the scope of the Vietnam War and that the administration of president Lyndon Johnson had lied to the public and Congress.

In early 1973, Ellsberg surrendered to the authorities and faced eight charges of espionage, six of theft and one of conspiracy which, if convicted, carried a possible sentence of 115 years.

In the event, Ellsberg did not go to jail for even a single year.

After a four-and-a-half month trial, the charges against him were dropped after the presiding judge, William Matthew Byrne Jr, ordered a mistrial over “improper government conduct” in relation to illegal evidence-gathering.

It was revealed during the trial that representatives of the administration had illegally broken into the office of Ellsberg’s psychiatrist and attempted to steal files in order to discredit him. The FBI had also set up illegal wiretaps on the home phone of security consultant Morton Halperin, through which the FBI overheard his conversations with Ellsberg about the papers.

Indirectly, the Pentagon Papers would lead to Nixon’s impeachment. His anger at constant leaks led to the illicit wiretapping and burglaries that ended with his downfall over the Watergate scandal.

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Arthur Miller’s The Sin of Power


Arthur Miller

Arthur Miller, American playwright (Photo: U.S. Department of State / Wikipedia)

It is always necessary to ask how old a writer is who is reporting his impressions of a social phenomenon. Like the varying depth of a lens, the mind bends the light passing through it quite differently according to its age. When I first experienced Prague in the late 60s, the Russians had only just entered with their armies; writers (almost all of them self-proclaimed Marxists if not Party members) were still unsure of their fate under the new occupation, and when some 30 or 40 of them gathered in the office of Listy to ‘interview’ me, I could smell the apprehension among them. And indeed, many would soon be fleeing abroad, some would be jailed, and others would never again be permitted to publish in their native language. Incredibly, that was almost a decade ago.

But since the first major blow to the equanimity of my mind was the victory of Nazism, first in Germany and later in the rest of Europe, the images I have of repression are inevitably cast in fascist forms. In those times the communist was always the tortured victim, and the Red Army stood as the hope of man, the deliverer. So to put it quite simply, although correctly, I think, the occupation of Czechoslovakia was the physical proof that Marxism was but one more self-delusionery attempt to avoid facing the real nature of power, the primitive corruption by power of those who possess it. In a word, Marxism has turned out to be a form of sentimentalism toward human nature, and this has its funny side. After all, it was initially a probe into the most painful wounds of the capitalist presumptions, it was scientific and analytical.

What the Russians have done in Czechoslovakia is, in effect, to prove in a western cultural environment that what they have called socialism simply cannot tolerate even the most nominal independent scrutiny, let alone an opposition. The critical intelligence itself is not to be borne, and in the birthplace of Kafka and of the absurd in its subtlest expression absurdity emanates from the Russian occupation like some sort of gas which makes one both laugh and cry. Shortly after returning home from my first visit to Prague mentioned above, I happened to meet a Soviet political scientist at a high-level conference where he was a participant representing his country and I was invited to speak at one session to present my views of the impediments to better cultural relations between the two nations. Still depressed by my Czech experience, I naturally brought up the invasion of the country as a likely cause for American distrust of the Soviets, as well as the United States aggression in Vietnam from the same detente viewpoint.

That had been in the morning; in the evening at a party for all the conference participants, half of them Americans, I found myself facing this above-mentioned Soviet whose anger was unconcealed. ‘It is amazing,’ he said, ‘that you – especially you as a Jew – should attack our action in Czechoslovakia.’ Normally quite alert to almost any reverberations of the Jewish presence in the political life of our time, I found myself in a state of unaccustomed and total confusion at this remark, and I asked the man to explain the connection. ‘But obviously,’ he said (and his face had gone quite red and he was quite furious now) ‘we have gone in there to protect them from the West German fascists.’

I admit that I was struck dumb. Imagine! The marching of all the Warsaw Pact armies in order to protect the few Jews left in Czechoslovakia! It is rare that one really comes face to face with such fantasy so profoundly believed by a person of intelligence. In the face of this kind of expression all culture seems to crack and collapse; there is no longer a frame of reference.

In fact, the closest thing to it that I could recall were my not infrequent arguments with intelligent supporters or apologists for our Vietnamese invasion. But at this point the analogy ends, for it was always possible during the Vietnam war for Americans opposed to it to make their views heard, and, indeed, it was the widespread opposition to the war which finally made it impossible for President Johnson to continue in office. It certainly was not a simple matter to oppose the war in any significant way, and the civilian casualties of protest were by no means few, and some – like the students at the Kent State College protest – paid with their lives. But what one might call the unofficial underground reality, the version of morals and national interest held by those not in power, was ultimately expressed and able to prevail sufficiently to alter high policy. Even so, it was the longest war ever fought by Americans.

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The sin of power is to not only distort reality but to convince people that the false is true, and that what is happening is only an invention of enemies


Any discussion of the American rationales regarding Vietnam must finally confront something which is uncongenial to both Marxist and anti-Marxist viewpoints, and it is the inevitable pressure, by those holding political power, to distort and falsify the structures of reality. The Marxist, by philosophical conviction, and the bourgeois American politician, by practical witness, both believe at bottom that reality is quite simply the arena into which determined men can enter and reshape just about every kind of relationship in it. The conception of an objective reality which is the summing up of all historical circumstances, as well as the idea of human beings as containers or vessels by which that historical experience defends itself and expresses itself through common sense and unconscious drives, are notions which at best are merely temporary nuisances, incidental obstructions to the wished for remodelling of human nature and the improvements of society which power exists in order to set in place.

The sin of power is to not only distort reality but to convince people that the false is true, and that what is happening is only an invention of enemies. Obviously, the Soviets and their friends in Czechoslovakia are by no means the only ones guilty of this sin, but in other places, especially in the West, it is possible yet for witnesses to reality to come forth and testify to the truth. In Czechoslovakia the whole field is pre-empted by the power itself.

Thus a great many people outside, and among them a great many artists, have felt a deep connection with Czechoslovakia – but precisely because there has been a fear in the West over many generations that the simple right to reply to power is a tenuous thing and is always on the verge of being snipped like a nerve. I have, myself, sat at dinner with a Czech writer and his family in his own home and looked out and seen police sitting in their cars down below, in effect warning my friend that our ‘meeting’ was being observed. I have seen reports in Czech newspapers that a certain writer had emigrated to the West and was no longer willing to live in his own country, when the very same man was sitting across a living-room coffee table from me. And I have also been lied about in America by both private and public liars, by the press and the government, but a road – sometimes merely a narrow path – always remained open before my mind, the belief that I might sensibly attempt to influence people to see what was real and so at least to resist the victory of untruth.

I know what it is to be denied the right to travel outside my country, having been denied my passport for some five years by our Department of State. And I know a little about the inviting temptation to simply get out at any cost, to quit my country in disgust and disillusion, as no small number of people did in the McCarthy 50s and as a long line of Czechs and Slovaks have in these recent years. I also know the empty feeling in the belly at the prospect of trying to learn another nation’s secret language, its gestures and body communications without which a writer is only half-seeing and half-hearing. More important, I know the conflict between recognising the indifference of the people and finally conceding that the salt has indeed lost its savour and that the only sensible attitude toward any people is cynicism.

So that those who have chosen to remain as writers on their native soil despite remorseless pressure to emigrate are, perhaps no less than their oppressors, rather strange and anachronistic figures in this time. After all, it is by no means a heroic epoch now; we in the West as well as in the East understand perfectly well that the political and military spheres – where ‘heroics’ were called for in the past – are now merely expressions of the unmerciful industrial-technological base. As for the very notion of patriotism, it falters before the perfectly obvious interdependence of the nations, as well as the universal prospect of mass obliteration by the atom bomb, the instrument which has doomed us, so to speak, to this lengthy peace between the great powers.

That a group of intellectuals should persist in creating a national literature on their own ground is out of tune with our adaptational proficiency which has flowed from these developments. It is hard anymore to remember whether one is living in Rome or New York, London or Strasbourg, so homogenised has western life become. The persistence of these people may be an inspiration to some but a nuisance to others, and not only inside the oppressing apparatus but in the West as well. For these so-called dissidents are apparently upholding values at a time when the first order of business would seem to be the accretion of capital for technological investment.

It need hardly be said that by no means everybody in the West is in favour of human rights, and western support for eastern dissidents has more hypocritical self-satisfaction in it than one wants to think too much about. Nevertheless, if one has learned anything at all in the past 40 or so years, it is that to struggle for these rights (and without them the accretion of capital is simply the construction of a more modern prison) one has to struggle for them wherever the need arises.

That this struggle also has to take place in socialist systems suggests to me that the fundamental procedure which is creating violations of these rights transcends social systems – a thought anathematic to Marxists but possibly true nevertheless. What may be in place now is precisely a need to erect a new capital structure, be it in Latin America or the Far East or underdeveloped parts of Europe, and just as in the 19th century in America and England it is a process which always breeds injustice and the flaunting of human spiritual demands because it essentially is the sweating of increasing amounts of production and wealth from a labour force surrounded, in effect, by police. The complaining or reforming voice in that era was not exactly encouraged in the United States or England; by corrupting the press and buying whole legislatures, capitalists effectively controlled their opposition, and the struggle of the trade union movement was often waged against firing rifles.

There is of course a difference now, many differences. At least they are supposed to be differences, particularly that the armed force is in the hands of a state calling itself socialist and progressive and scientific, no less pridefully than the 19th-century capitalisms boasted by their Christian ideology and their devotion to the human dimension of political life as announced by the American Bill of Rights and the French Revolution. But the real difference now is the incomparably deeper and more widespread conviction that man’s fate is not ‘realistically’ that of the regimented slave. It may be that despite everything, and totally unannounced and unheralded, a healthy scepticism toward the powerful has at last become second nature to the great mass of people almost everywhere. It may be that history, now, is on the side of those who hopelessly hope and cling to their native ground to claim it for their language and ideals.

The oddest request I ever heard in Czechoslovakia – or anywhere else – was to do what I could to help writers publish their works – but not in French, German or English, the normal desire of sequestered writers cut off from the outside. No, these Czech writers were desperate to see their works in Czech! Somehow this speaks of something far more profound than ‘dissidence’ or any political quantification. There is something like love in it, and in this sense it is a prophetic yearning and demand.

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Project Exile: Vietnam journalist went to France after six years in prison

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]This article is part of Index on Censorship partner Global Journalist’s Project Exile series, which has published interviews with exiled journalists from around the world.[/vc_column_text][vc_single_image image="104715" img_size="full" add_caption="yes"][vc_column_text]Dang Xuan Dieu has paid a heavy price for resisting the Vietnamese government. 

A community activist, blogger and frequent contributor to the Catholic news outlet Vietnam Redemptorist News, a site that often reports on human rights violations, Dieu was arrested in July 2011 and charged with attempting to overthrow the Southeast Asian nation's Communist government. He was held without trial until January 2013, when he and 13 other writers and human rights activists were convicted after a two-day trial in the central city of Vinh.

Dieu was sentenced to 13 years in prison and five years of house arrest under Article 79 of the country's penal code, which criminalises activities aimed at overthrowing the government. He was also accused of being a member being of Viet Tan, an exile-run political party banned in the country. 

Such trials aren't unusual in Vietnam. The Communist Party maintains near-total control over Vietnam's judiciary, media and civil society. Internet in the country is heavily censored, and nearly 100 political prisoners are behind bars, according to Amnesty International. 

Expressing dissent in Vietnamese prisons is even harder. The country's Communist government often seeks to pressure inmates into confessing to alleged crimes in prison, and if they refuse, they can be beaten or tortured.

Yet resist is what Dieu did. He refused to confess, refused to wear a prison uniform and periodically went on hunger strikes to protest his detention and the treatment of prisoners.

“In Vietnam, a lot of people are arrested where they are harassed and tortured, which forces many people to confess their crimes," says Dieu, 39, in an interview with Global Journalist. "I never accepted the charges and chose to not admit to any guilt. Because of this, I was unable to see my lawyer or my family.”

In his six years in prison, Dieu endured extensive torture and harassment. He was severely beaten for refusing to wear the prison uniform, and was held in solitary confinement for extensive periods in what he described as a "tiny room with no room to breathe." According to Amnesty International, he was also shackled in a cell with another prisoner who beat him, forced to drink unclean water, denied access to water for bathing and was forced to live in unsanitary conditions without a toilet.

In early January 2017, as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry travelled to Vietnam, Dieu was granted early release on the condition that he immediately leave the country. Now living in France, Dieu is a student and continues to blog about Vietnam. Through a translator, he spoke with Global Journalist's Shirley Tay about the abuse he faced in prison and the country's media climate. Below, an edited version of their interview: 

Global Journalist: How did you get into journalism?

Dang Xuan Dieu: I was a student and contributor to the Vietnam Redemptorist News, and I would write about social justice issues. I created my own blog, Tâm và Tầm [Mind and Games] and also worked with a news website Dang Luon.

[Vietnam] restricts independent media and control all media outlets to maintain power. All media is monitored by the Communist Party of Vietnam, so state bodies end up creating their own media or newspapers. There are probably 600 media outlets in Vietnam at the moment, but all are currently controlled by the government. When I was active in 2011, writing blogs and independent news articles was actually quite dangerous.

GJ: What were some of the work that got you into trouble?

Dieu: While I am Catholic, I also work on other forms of activism. The Vietnamese government often tries to control the information that people are able to have. So I created a small, independent organisation to promote education on things like safe sex, pregnancy, and other issues that youth face. Because it was an independent group, we were often targeted. We were asked to go to the police station several times when we were organising in various parishes. 

During this time, I started connecting with civil rights activists from overseas who taught me how to manage and organise independent civil society organisations. After that, I travelled overseas to attend some of these classes. On the way back to Vietnam, I was charged for attending a class on leadership training and nonviolent struggle. 

GJ: Can you tell me about your time in prison?

Dieu: In prisons, they have their own systems to punish prisoners. There are areas that allow for people to move freely and do normal, day-to-day activities, but there are also areas within the normal prison that are like a prison within a prison within a prison. So I was in what you would call a third-degree prison area, where people are primarily shackled and kept in solitary confinement. 

The problems started when I did not confess to any crimes and when I refused to wear the prison uniform because I believed I wasn't guilty. I was placed in a cell with someone who was charged for murder and who tried to [beat me] to force me to wear the prison uniform and confess to crimes. He may have been doing this on orders from various prison officials.

After that person was transferred, I started advocating for the rights of prisoners, such as writing petitions to officers regarding mistreatment. As a Catholic, I wasn't allowed to practice my faith or read the Bible. There were several other injustices which led me to begin a hunger strike. 

As punishment, they placed me in solitary confinement. The majority of my six years in prison was in solitary confinement or in cells with very dangerous people as cellmates. During my time in prison, they saw me as a resister and so they didn't allow me to see my family at any time. 

What was worse was that they actually told my family that I refused to see them, rather than that I wasn't allowed to see them. Because of this, I held an extended hunger strike where I ate only one meal a day for nearly a year, and this led to a transfer of prison locations.

GJ: How did you manage to get out of prison?

Dieu: There was another prison inmate who lived close to my cell, where I had been tortured and mistreated. When he was released, he actually told the wider community about what was going on in prison. At that time, the prison wasn’t able to block information going in and out of the prison.

So the community started organising campaigns calling for my release, and there were diplomats from the European Union, France, the U.S., Australia and Sweden who visited me. At that time, the EU diplomat asked if I wanted to be exiled to a country in Europe. I refused because I wanted to advocate for the release of other people, not my own release. 

After the diplomat's visit, they took me to a different cell and then never allowed me to leave that area for about six months. The situation started becoming dangerous to my life and luckily, another inmate who was not a political prisoner, but just a regular prisoner, was released and contacted my family to inform them of my prison conditions. 

So the EU and a French diplomat visited me again, this was during the time of French President [François] Hollande's visit to Vietnam in September 2016. My family was able to pass me a letter asking me to go into exile. Upon receiving that letter, I agreed. After that, it took another three months for them to arrange it.

GJ: At that point, were you ready to go in to exile?

It was only the letter from my mother which pushed me to choose to be exiled. It was because my mother is fairly old now, and she wanted to see me released before she died. I was determined, I was willing to die in prison rather than be exiled. The Vietnamese government tries to push activists outside of Vietnam, because they see that it's not a win for activism. And obviously, for humanitarian reasons, a lot of the community advocates for the release of these prisoners. 

GJ: Do you have plans to return?

Dieu: I want to return to Vietnam, but it depends on there being changes through international pressure. If I were to return now, I would definitely be arrested. I will just have to wait.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width="1/2"][vc_video link=""][/vc_column][vc_column width="1/2"][vc_column_text]Index on Censorship partner Global Journalist is a website that features global press freedom and international news stories as well as a weekly radio program that airs on KBIA, mid-Missouri’s NPR affiliate, and partner stations in six other states. The website and radio show are produced jointly by professional staff and student journalists at the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, the oldest school of journalism in the United States. [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_custom_heading text="Don't lose your voice. Stay informed." use_theme_fonts="yes"][vc_separator color="black"][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner width="1/2"][vc_column_text]Index on Censorship is a nonprofit that campaigns for and defends free expression worldwide. We publish work by censored writers and artists, promote debate, and monitor threats to free speech. We believe that everyone should be free to express themselves without fear of harm or persecution – no matter what their views.

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