Earlier this month, plaintiff Duc Tran won his defamation lawsuit against five fellow Vietnamese in Thurston County. The reason for the suit? The defendants accused him of being a Communist sympathizer.
Without knowing a little bit about Vietnamese American history or the context of the case, we might be inclined to say, so what? What is the big deal over being called a communist?
Calling a Vietnamese person a communist has a completely different connotation than calling President Obama a communist. Most Vietnamese Americans in Tran’s generation were refugees who fled Vietnam after the Communist takeover in 1975. For most, the loss of their homeland is solely because of communism. Being called a communist isn’t merely a comment on one’s political leanings, but is one of the most detestable insults within Vietnamese American culture.
So if you are going to call a Vietnamese person a communist — you better have concrete evidence that he or she is one.
The jury on Tran’s case wasn’t so sure he is one. That was why it ruled in his favor. A former South Vietnam lieutenant and a refugee, Tran had the demographics of a typical Vietnamese American.
Tran won his suit because his community organization, the Vietnamese Community of Thurston County, was adversely affected by the slander. Tran also received death threats, his well-being being threatened. The lies about him were printed in local publications, public Internet postings, and mass e-mails.
This case has set a good precedence for Vietnamese Americans and Asian Americans. Libel suits like this one have been rather rare, perhaps because language barriers prevent many Asians from utilizing the legal system. However, Tran has shown us that there ought to be and are consequences to what is said.
The defendants’ lawyer, Nigel S. Malden, stated in his closing argument that this is a negative hit to freedom of speech.
We don’t think so. Our government does uphold our right to freedom of speech, but our legal system works in tandem with that, securing our right to protect ourselves from slander and defamation. Yeah, you can say whatever you want, but if it’s untrue and significantly damaging to someone else’s livelihood, they can also sue you.
This is good. It creates a responsibility and accountability in the things we say. It makes what we say more meaningful and valid, because there is the trust that we will put forth our best efforts to say what is true to the best of our abilities. As a newspaper, Northwest Asian Weekly, like all others, is obligated to print from reliable and verified sources. As an organization, we can’t intentionally print false news.
Individuals should be held to the same obligation because truth and honesty conveys our character and integrity and will only bolster our place in society. (end)
Not a communist, Thurston man wins defamation case