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Exiled activist gives account of Vietnam prisons

Francis Xavier Dang Xuan Dieu, a Catholic, describes horrific conditions faced by prisoners of conscience

ucanews.com reporter, Hanoi

ucanews.com reporter, Hanoi

Published: February 28, 2017 08:39 AM GMT

Updated: February 28, 2017 08:49 AM GMT

Exiled activist gives account of Vietnam prisons

Dang Xuan Dieu, an exiled Vietnamese activist, spoke at the ninth Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy on Feb. 21. (Photo of the Association to Protect Freedom of Religion)

A Catholic activist in exile has accused Vietnam of physically and mentally torturing prisoners of conscience; he was joined by Amnesty International who detailed several cases in a new report.

During a human rights summit, Catholic blogger and democracy activist Francis Xavier Dang Xuan Dieu described treatment meted out to prisoners of conscience in the communist country.

"In prison we have our dignity trampled on, we are discriminated, we have our lives threatened. We are silenced by the Vietnam Communist Party's prison system," Dieu said as a witnesses at the ninth Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy in Switzerland on Feb. 21.

"I was moved around six detention centers across the country and to dozens of prison cells, each with its own harsh conditions," said Dieu, who was arrested in July 2011 but was not tried until January 2013.

In prison, the law was just paper and prisoners were treated according to the whims of the prison officials. Anyone who did not subserviently follow orders was seen as hostile and harshly disciplined, he said.

"Prison guards' will is like God's will, inmates are to address them as elders, while prison guards address inmates as children," said Dieu.

The Catholic activist said that because he opposed such treatment peacefully and fought for change, he was consequently, "labelled as restive and dangerous."

Dieu said that, after he wrote to the bishop of his home Vinh Diocese about his mistreatment, "My legs were put in stocks for ten days in a dark and smelly cell. I was given no drinking water for three days."

The blogger, who criticized social injustice and rampant corruption, said that prison guards only stopped trying to force him to confess after he went on several hunger strikes totaling more than 100 days and fasted — on just one meal a day — continuously for nearly 300 days.

"I never met my relatives who made 45 trips of thousands of kilometers, putting time and money into the hope of seeing me. However, they never saw me. Even worse, prison officials lied to my family and told them I did not want to see them," he said, adding that the government did not allow him to say goodbye to his relatives before he was exiled. Dieu was taken from prison and forced to immediately board a plane and go into exile in France on Jan. 12 as a condition for his freedom. 

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Dieu said that, when prisoners violated prison rules, they were "educated through violence." They had their legs bound for ten days followed by solitary confinement for three months to a year. Most suffered edema and even paralysis after three months. He also witnessed many inmates getting beaten while bound.

"Religious freedom is trampled on in prison," he said, adding that prisoners are banned from using scriptures. He was even prevented from receiving a Bible from a EU delegation. Some prisoners of conscience in Vietnam go on hunger strike just to receive a Bible, he added.

Dieu served nearly six years of his 13-year sentence on charges of "overthrowing the communist government." 

"Without the support of the international community, I would still be in prison. My presence here today reflects the strength of the international community," Dieu said.

He asked that the international community to continuing speaking up and pressuring Vietnam's government to stop persecuting democracy and human rights activists.

Dieu said that the road to freedom, democracy and justice in his country still holds many obstacles and poses risks to the lives of many activists. He was one of several witnesses who spoke on Vietnam's human rights violations at the summit.  


Rights group condemns Vietnam's rights violations

In its 2017 annual report on the state of human rights, Amnesty International accused Vietnam of continuing restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression, of association and of peaceful assembly.

"Torture and other ill-treatment, including incommunicado detention, prolonged solitary confinement, beatings, withholding of medical treatment, and punitive transfers between facilities were practiced on prisoners of conscience throughout the country," the rights organization said.

The report said that "at least 88 prisoners of conscience were held in harsh conditions after unfair trials, some of whom were subjected to beatings, prolonged solitary confinement, deprivation of medical treatment and electric shocks. They included bloggers, labor and land rights activists, political activists, religious followers, members of ethnic groups and advocates for human rights and social justice."

It said that attacks against human rights defenders were commonplace. In an eight-day period in March 2016, seven activists and government critics were convicted and sentenced to prison for peacefully expressing their views.

The report also accused government authorities of continuing to use vague legislation to convict peaceful activists under national security charges.

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