‘Freedom fighter’ joins protest at O.C. Vietnamese newspaper
Most recently, Ly Tong went on a hunger strike over the naming of the Vietnamese district in San Jose. He doesn’t plan to fast over this issue, he says.
|Ly Tong, an activist from San Jose, went on a hunger strike for three weeks to oppose the San Jose City Council’s decision not to name the Vietnamese retail area Little Saigon. He joined a group protesting outside Nguoi Viet Daily News in Westminster over publication of a controversial piece of art. (Marc Martin / Los Angeles Times)|
- Photo: Ly Tong
By My-Thuan TranLos Angeles Times Staff Writer
April 15, 2008
A self-described freedom fighter whose cult-hero status grew among Vietnamese after staging a 28-day hunger strike in San Jose has found a new cause — protesting a Little Saigon newspaper accused of communist leanings.
But this time Ly Tong is eating.
Tong, a former South Vietnamese Air Force pilot, joined forces Sunday afternoon with protesters who have demonstrated in front of Nguoi Viet Daily News since late January.
By Monday, Tong sat cross-legged in a blue beach chair under palm trees lining the street near the newspaper’s Westminster offices, basking in a hero’s welcome. He was surrounded by about 30 supporters, who waved flags of the former South Vietnam and held large signs declaring “Down With Nguoi Viet Daily News!” Three video cameras recorded Tong’s every move.
“He is my hero,” said fellow protester Trong Doan, 59. “We have so much respect for him. Ten minutes ago, he said that when we need him, he will come here immediately.”
“If I have time,” Tong said, “I will be there.”
Dressed in a snappy white pinstripe suit and a navy blue pilot hat from his air force days, Tong seemed pleased with his celebrity as a constant fighter against all things communist. He carries a book of newspaper clippings attesting to his life’s work.
During the Vietnam War, he spent years in prison after his plane was shot down over North Vietnam. He finally escaped through the jungles in Cambodia and Thailand, coming to the United States as a refugee. He eventually made his way to San Jose, one of the nation’s largest Vietnamese enclaves.
Tong was nicknamed “the Vietnamese James Bond” by admirers after he allegedly hijacked a commercial plane over Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam in the early 1990s and tossed out thousands of leaflets calling for the Communists’ overthrow.
The 63-year-old has flown a plane over Cuba and dropped leaflets opposing Fidel Castro‘s regime. He has spent time in prisons in Vietnam and Thailand for his crusades and has gone on various hunger strikes.
In February, Tong went on a widely publicized hunger strike in San Jose to oppose the naming of the city’s Vietnamese business district.
Many in the city’s Vietnamese community credit him with forcing the City Council to strike a compromise with protesters and unofficially name the area Little Saigon. When the protests finally ended, the San Jose Mercury News published a photo of Tong sipping lemonade.
Tong said the hunger strike took a toll. He lost 37 pounds, and has regained only 25.
“I was weak,” he said, “very weak.”
On Monday, he regained enough strength to join the Orange County protesters. They say a photo that appeared in Nguoi Viet — depicting a foot spa painted with the colors of the flag of the former South Vietnam — was offensive. The newspaper publicly apologized to protesters, fired two top editors and offered refunds for the issue, but the demonstrations have continued daily.
“I came here because we fight the same purpose,” Tong said. “We always fight against communism, whether it’s the henchmen of communists or any people who are pro-communist.”
Protesters say the editors of Nguoi Viet are associating with communists and that they recently found photos of the newspaper’s late founder, Yen Do, posing with Vietnamese government officials.
“He must be pro-communist, because no one on my side can stand side by side with communists,” Tong said.
Editors of Nguoi Viet, the largest, oldest and most respected Vietnamese-language newspaper in the country, have denied the accusations. They recently filed a lawsuit against protesters alleging harassment and defamation, and won a temporary court injunction to prevent protesters from interfering in their business.
Tong was heading to John Wayne Airport on Monday afternoon and brought his suitcase to the protest. Along with clothes, he packed DVDs and booklets showing photos and articles from his crusades.
Asked whether he would go on another hunger strike, this time on behalf of the Nguoi Viet protesters, Tong said he still hadn’t recovered from the last one.
“No, no, no,” he said. “I’m too weak. I’m too tired to go on another hunger strike. You have to change tactics.”
Copyright © 2013, Los Angeles Times
Thứ bảy, ngày 12 tháng năm năm 2012
Lý Tống, former South Vietnamese pilot, freedom fighter and human rights activist, on trial for assaulting a Vietnamese communist singer
San Jose “freedom fighter” Ly Tong, 63, stands with his supporters while being videotaped outside the Hall of Justice on Thursday, May 10, 2012. (Dai Sugano/Staff)
A worldwide audience of Vietnamese immigrants will tune in starting Thursday to the trial of San Jose “freedom fighter” Ly Tong on charges he committed another anti-communist stunt — dressing up in drag and using pepper spray on a singer from Vietnam.
San Jose “freedom fighter” Ly Tong, 63, lines up his supporters before a videotaping outside the Hall of Justice on Thursday to give an update of what transpired in his court case. The video will be distributed to Vietnamese-language ethnic media around the globe. (Dai Sugano/Staff)
Larry Nguyen (in wheelchair) waits with a crowd of supporters from the Vietnamese community at the Santa Clara County Hall of Justice in San Jose who were attending a bail hearing for Ly Tong on July 23, 2010. About 100 supporters showed up to attend the hearing in which Tong’s bail was lowered to $75,000. Tong is an anti-communist “freedom fighter” accused of disguising himself as a woman and attacking a Vietnamese singer withpepper spray during a concert in Santa Clara in 2010.
Prosecutors are trying to treat the matter like any alleged felony assault — albeit under the unusually close scrutiny of Vietnamese enclaves from Orange County to Canada to Australia. Tong is the former South Vietnamese air force pilot who endured a month long hunger strike in 2008 to get a strip of Vietnamese shops on Story Road named “Little Saigon,” an homage to the former capital of his homeland.
But if Tong, 63, has his way, the trial will be anything but routine. Decked out in a green military jumpsuit and black bomber jacket, he reported earlier this week to the Hall of Justice while pretrial motions were being discussed, towing an entourage of supporters, including protesters proudly bearing the yellow and red flag of former SouthVietnam.
Tong appears to be pinning his hopes that the jury will acquit him of the charges stemming from the July 18, 2010, incident on the grounds that he was defending the refugee community against a representative of the repressive communist government of Vietnam.That day he donned a red skirt-suit and brown wig to confront singer Dam Vinh Hung at the Santa Clara Convention Center — 37 years after South Vietnam lost the war. The singer was able to resume the concert about 45 minutes later.
Dam Vinh Hung, Vietnamese singer and communist cadre
“Even the title of this case is wrong,” Tong said this week. “It shouldn’t be the People v. Tong, it should be Communists v. Tong.”
Ly Tong as he appeared disguised as a woman before a concert where he allegedly attacked a Vietnamese singer during a concert in Santa Clara. Tong is a self-described anti-communist freedom fighter. This copy photo was obtained from his girlfriend, Lamhoang “Aimee” Hoang on July 23, 2010 during a bail hearing for Ly Tong. (Photo courtesy of Lamhoang “Aimee” Hoang)
Regardless of the merits of Tong’s cause, the legal case against him is strong. He’s been charged with one misdemeanor count of resisting arrest and five felonies, including assault and second-degree burglary, and faces a maximum sentence of about five years. The judge ruled this week that jurors will get to hear that he boasted to police he paid $50 for a ticketto the concert and dressed like a woman to use pepper spray on a “communist cadre.” Prosecutor Deborah Hernandez also has a video taken with an iPhone by someone in the audience showing Tong approaching the stage, ostensibly to offer a flower to the singer.
Bui Kim Thanh protests in front of the Santa Clara County Hall of Justice in San Jose to support Ly Tong during a bail hearing on July 23, 2010. Tong is an anti-communist “freedom fighter” accused of disguising himself as a woman and attacking a Vietnamese singer with pepper spray during a concert in Santa Clara last week. Tong’s bail was reduced from $100,000 to $75,000. (Gary Reyes /Mercury News)
The judge also restricted statements by character witnesses, including prohibiting a former South Vietnamese general and others from calling Tong a “hero” and “very patriotic.”
“I think this testimony would pull at the heartstrings of the jury, to somehow have the jury feel sorry for him,” Hernandez told the judge. “I don’t want that.”
The prosecution wants to avoid the slim chance of jury “nullification” — which is when a jury acquits a defendant despite evidence of his guilt because it believes a conviction would be unjust. Defense attorneys in California cannot ask the jury to do that directly, even though it is legal for the jury to nullify.
Defense attorney Daniel Portman wouldn’t reveal his strategy, but he clearly plans to present evidence of Tong’s good character, according to court documents. That could make it difficult for at least one juror to convict.
Nullifications are rare, but Palo Alto defense attorney Dan Barton said two of his cases in the early 1990s involving relatively minor charges against abortion-rights activists accused of unlawfully punching or shoving anti-abortion demonstrators resulted in nullifications. In Santa Clara County, they are most common in misdemeanor domestic violence cases.
“You can’t tell a jury, don’t follow the law,” Barton said. “But a good trial lawyer will create reasons for the jury to cut a person a break.”