Dateline: Vietnam

Cautious Protest, Harsh Response

Published in American Report, April 1, 1974

Police confiscate leaflets
Police confiscate leaflets

SAIGON, March 16 — We have been warned that something is going to happen this morning at the central market. We don’t know what it will be exactly, only that it has grown out of the anger of students in Saigon over the treatment of Huynh Tan Mam.

On the one hand, the government is saying that Mam has “rallied” (to the Saigon side) under the chieu hoi program, and on the other hand they continue to imprison him and try to force him to, in fact, enter the chieu hoi process.

Suddenly, to the left of the market, two sharp cracks resound. A policeman has fired two shots into the air. I dash over in that direction, but by the time I get there a few seconds later, the only thing to be seen is a blazing burlap bag lying in the middle of the intersection, and leaflets scattered around it. Behind the fire sits an abandoned pedal-cycio with two tanks in the seat, apparently a welding rig.

Immediately men appear, some in regular police grays, others in street clothes, and scurry around picking up every leaflet they can find. I dash to a small pile and pick up several copies. One of the plainclothes men comes over to take them from me, but I give him a hurt, innocent stare, and keep the leaflets.

Then, on the other side of the market, we notice the red smoke of a marker grenade. Leaflets there, too. By now there are over a dozen policemen of various sorts, some carrying M-16’s, keeping the curious spectators away while they round up the leaflets.

I try to get a leaflet from one of the men in plain clothes, but he pulls his hand away sharply, saying, “I have the right to take these things.”

A young soldier riding on the back of a nearby Honda gets off hesitantly and starts to pick up a stray leaflet. The same plainclothes man snatches it brusquely from him. A second soldier asks him, “Why didn’t you get one?” “Are you kidding?” he answers. “Didn’t you see the way he grabbed it!”

In 15 minutes it is all over — the smoke has blown away, the fire has been put out, and the police have all the leaflets — or nearly all. The leaflets, marking the first student action since the mass arrests after Thieu’s one-man election in 1971, read:

1. We demand that the government of the RVN (Republic of Viet Nam) free student Huynh Tan Mam and all the third force prisoners immediately and unconditionally.

2. The government of the RVN must immediately cease its acts of repression and terrorization of the third force.

3. Compatriots, tighten ranks with the youth, high school and university students to smash the RVN government’s plots to destroy the Paris Agreement.

Youth, High School and University Students of VIET NAM.

— John Spragens, Jr.

Copyright John Spragens, Jr.

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