By Gustavo Arellano
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By Charles Lam
Vu Phi Long, president of the Ho Chi Minh City People's Court, told reporters he was aware of the diplomatic situation and had decided accordingly. "We carefully considered the case before announcing the verdict to make it suitable for the present situation," he told the Washington Post.
They still had it in for Chanh, though. He was arrested in South Korea in 2006, more than a year after he stepped down as "Head of State" of the Government of Free Vietnam, proclaiming "he now has the confidence to leave the home base in the good hands of" others. The Vietnamese government asked the South Koreans to arrest Chanh on the charge that he was a terrorist mastermind who planned the smuggling of weapons. The move set off protests in Los Angeles and Orange counties. After three months of confinement, the South Korean Supreme Court ruled Chanh was a political dissident and allowed him to return to the United States.
"I have believed in South Korea's judicial system, and now I am grateful to the South Korean court for its fair ruling,'' Nguyen told the South Korean Yonhap News agency after his release.
Vietnamese officials were upset at the decision.
"We reiterate that [Chanh] is the leader of a ring of criminals who have conducted terrorist actions against Vietnam," read a statement released by the Vietnamese Embassy in Washington, D.C. "We request countries concerned to cooperate with Vietnam in stopping terrorist acts committed by Chanh's group and punishing the perpetrators."
By then, the GFVN was already on its way to irrelevancy. In a website change between April and June 2006 (the period during which Chanh was arrested), the site was updated to include a cry for help in petitioning for Chanh's release. All mentions of KC-702 and other militaristic rhetoric disappeared. Meanwhile, members began passing away. Nguyen Khanh died on Jan. 11, 2013, at age 85 in San Jose from complications related to kidney failure and pneumonia. Nguyen Huy Dau died on Sept. 22, 2008, at the age of 94, and Linh Quang Vien died on Jan. 17, 2013, at the age of 94.
After Chanh's release, the website stopped updating, going dark sometime between 2009 and 2011. Currently, its URL, gfvn.org, is for sale.
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Meeting Chanh today, he's a far cry from the striking "freedom fighter" once hailed in the refugee community. The 65-year-old still wears dark suits, though they're now often covered in sawdust from remodeling. He still spends most of his time in an office in Garden Grove, but now it's as the founder and CEO of GlobalTV, a company that offers programming in Vietnamese and other languages through the Internet. His business card forgoes any mention of the Government of Free Vietnam.
The jump from revolutionary group to entertainment executive may seem a large one, but Chanh and other GlobalTV employees see it very logically. By broadcasting Vietnamese programming to overseas communities from Israel to South Korea, they're helping to preserve and build Vietnamese culture for the day Vietnam sees free elections.
"The one thing about overseas Vietnamese communities is that they're pro-democracy and freedom, 100 percent," Chanh says. "The overseas communities call home, and they talk to people in Vietnam, and that's very good for the transfer of ideas. That's why Vietnam has opened the door."
He continues, "Right now, the communists are just communists in name only, in the color red. Right now, they don't care. Every day, it changes in Vietnam—the economy, the technology, religion, everything changes. It's not 100 percent yet, but maybe 50."
And once Vietnam is 100 percent ready for a free election, once the communist government finally goes, Chanh and his former comrades will be ready.
"After fighting in the jungles, in Vietnam, in politics, I think I made a mistake before," he says. "I didn't have media before. For 30 years, people have been taught Communism—Uncle Ho, all that. Now, we have to retrain them.
"One day, Vietnam will have democracy like Cambodia," he continues. "And when that day comes, we will be ready."