At 10am on November 28, 2013, I had an appointment with Jean Philippe Gavois, the First Political Attaché of the French Embassy in Vietnam, at the Café Gecko in Bach Khoa. On the way to the café, I noticed quite a substantial group of security police dispatched from precincts, districts, city and ministry, about 20 agents in all. They were posted along the itinerary from my home to the Café Gecko; they were using mobiles, cameras, and remote listening devices for surveillance. At 10 o’clock sharp, Mr Gavois’ car pulled in at the rendezvous, I approached him and told him that we were being watched by the security police encircling us, and asked him if he saw any inconvenience in carrying on. He replied that he would be curious to see how they were going to react, after all, our meeting was perfectly legal. When the nearest agents took out their mobiles to take pictures of us, Mr Galois also took out his phone to take pictures of them. (I’ll ask him to share those pictures with me and I’ll forward them to you my friends). We then decided to go up to the Café to sit down and wait for Pham Chi Dung to arrive.
We were talking for no more than 10 minutes when the Café owner came up to tell us that the precinct security police had phoned him to order him to clear the premises of clients, otherwise his business would get in trouble. We tried to hang on for a while longer to wait for Pham Chi Dung, but only a couple of minutes after, the owner came back to our table to beg us to leave as the precinct police were pressing. The interpreter explained to Mr Galois, and we decided to leave the Café, and to wait for the Embassy car to come round then to carry on our conversation inside the car. At that very moment, Dung turned up. Together we were waiting for the car when we saw more and more of security agents around us, so Mr Galois decided to move on to another nearby café. We were only sitting for about 5 minutes, when the tearful manageress of the place came up to tell us: “I am the owner of this café, I don’t know who you are, but the security police have forced me to drive you out, and right now they are taking away things from the café. Please understand.” The interpreter passed the word to Mr Galois, who said: “It’s really painful hard work to be an activist in this country, this time I get to understand more of Vietnam through this event; you don’t need to tell me much about the human rights situation. I have seen enough with my own eyes already. I’ll share this with my colleagues when I get back.” We then said goodbye and promised to meet up again when convenient. Although our meeting were short, somehow all that we needed to exchange were happening right in front of our eyes and helped us achieve more than we had expected.