Hoa Hao Buddhists attended the funeral of a follower on Nov. 11, 2016. Police said the Hoa Hao Buddhist man committed suicide in custody on May 3 but activists doubt their story. (Photo supplied)
Vietnamese police claim a Buddhist from a suppressed sect committed suicide in police custody but activists doubt such a story and have petitioned for an investigation.
Nguyen Huu Tan, a Hoa Hao Buddhist, allegedly committed suicide in police custody in Vinh Long Province on May 3. The police gave his body back to his family the same day and prevented people from visiting his family home.
Colonel Pham Van Ngan, deputy head of the Public Security Department of Vinh Long, said in a press conference that Tan was arrested on May 2 for spreading anti-state materials. The following morning, Tan used a paper knife taken from an official's bag and killed himself by cutting his own neck.
During his meeting with Tan's relatives on May 8, Ngan promised to show Tan's relatives the recording of Tan's death and said that "If you have any demands, call me directly."
Ngan said the police officials responsible for Tan made errors when questioning him and will be reviewed this week.
In a video clip posted on Facebook, Tan's relatives said they rejected the claim he killed himself. They said Tan's head showed evidence of being beaten with hard objects.
The relatives said some 200 policemen came to arrest the vegetarian food merchant on the night of May 2. They searched his home and found nothing except pieces of yellow and red cloth and accused him of producing the flag of the former government of South Vietnam.
Nguyen Huu Tan's wife and son cry buy Nguyen Huu Tan's coffin at his home on May 3. Police said the Hoa Hao Buddhist man committed suicide in custody but activists doubt their story. (Photo supplied)
A human rights activist in Ho Chi Minh City who did not want to be named told ucanews.com that police were wrong to arrest Tan because they had no clear evidence. "Laws do not ban people from holding old flags," he said.
He said the police mistreated the victim in custody. "Police did not think Tan would dare to kill himself and they were baffled about how to deal with the consequences," he said.
The activist added that, to find the truth, police should release the real video of their questioning of Tan to the media. "Lawyers are prevented from monitoring the process of police questioning so their evidence is not trusted," he said.
Father Peter Phan Van Loi, a leader of the Former Prisoners of Conscience Association, said many suspects have been tortured, mistreated and have died in police custody. "Tan's softened head showed that he had been brutally beaten to death," Father Loi said in a petition signed by 60 civil society, human rights, democracy and religious groups, and individuals.
The priest said Hoa Hao Buddhists have been targeted by police in recent years. He called on the government to conduct an autopsy under the examination of independent lawyers and civil society groups.
The Public Security Ministry reported in 2015 that 226 suspects died in police detention in 2011-2014. Most committed suicide or died of illnesses. However, activists said suspects died in police custody due to torture, corporal punishment and mistreatment.
The Hoa Hao Buddhists, follow an indigenous Buddhist sect founded in 1939 by Huynh Phu So, are banned from conducting faith education courses, prayer meetings or building facilities. Their followers can only practice their faith at home.