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Abused Vietnamese prisoner of conscience disappears

Other prisoners on hunger strike in support of environmental campaigner Nguyen Van Hoa

ucanews.com reporter, Hanoi

ucanews.com reporter, Hanoi

Published: May 24, 2019 11:50 AM GMT

Updated: May 24, 2019 11:55 AM GMT

Abused Vietnamese prisoner of conscience disappears

Pham Thi Van, mother of jailed Hoang Duc Binh, visits her son at An Diem Prison Camp in Quang Nam province on May 23. (Photo from Facebook account of Hoang Nguyen)

Prisoners of conscience in Vietnam have been on hunger strike to protest the disappearance of fellow inmate Nguyen Van Hoa.

Sources said Hoa, who was sentenced in 2017 to seven years in jail followed by three years' probation for disseminating anti-state material, was questioned and brutally beaten by prison guards after he refused to sign a document prepared by them.

"Hoa's whereabouts is still unknown," one sources said. "Maybe he is kept in solitary confinement."

According to prison regulations, when a prisoner is punished, officials must inform other inmates, but that did not happen in this case.

Before his arrest in 2017, Hoa, aged 24, was a blogger who posted articles, photos and videos about environmental issues, including pollution allegedly caused by a Taiwanese plastics company in four central provinces of Vietnam.

He also used drones to film protests against a Taiwanese-owned steel plant.

Sources said that jailed activist Hoang Duc Binh, serving 14 years for alleged anti-government activities, is in poor health because he organized the current hunger strike that began on May 12 at An Diem Prison Camp in  central Quang Nam province.

Sources said Binh, 36, was joined by other prisoners including rights' activist Nguyen Bac Truyen in refusing to eat in order to protest the maltreatment of Nguyen Van Hoa.

Hoang Nguyen, Binh's younger brother, said that the hunger strike would continue until prisoners and family members are informed about Hoa's location and welfare.

Nguyen and his mother Pham Thi Van visited Binh on May 23. They could only see him though heavy glass and hear him on a phone speaker. Security personnel prevented Binh from talking to them about Hoa's case, they said.

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Human rights' advocate Pham Doan Trang complained that many prisoners, including prisoners of conscience, are mentally and physically mistreated. Prisoners had to pay guards in order to be better treated in custody, he said.

Vietnam now holds at least 128 prisoners of conscience across the country, according to research results announced by Amnesty International on May 13.

Amnesty described prison conditions as appallingly squalid and cited evidence of inmates being tortured, held in solitary confinement and denied proper medical care, clean water or fresh air.

"The Vietnamese authorities are clearly becoming more thin-skinned by the day," said Nicholas Bequelin, director for East and Southeast Asia at Amnesty International, in relation to heavy-handed official responses to criticism.

"It is their own citizens who are paying a terrible price simply because of something they said or someone they met."

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