A cyclo driver checks his mobile phone while waiting for a customer in Hanoi on Nov. 5. The US-based 88 Project is concerned about rights abuses against political prisoners in Vietnam. (Photo: AFP)
Prisoners detained on national security charges in Vietnam have endured harsh jail conditions, physical torture, extended pre-trial detention and denial of unfair trials and medical treatment, according to a rights group.
Jailed dissenters and political activists “are often deprived of legal safeguards against torture and inhumane treatment and suffer physical and psychological pain inflicted to coerce them into admitting guilt,” the US-based 88 Project, a rights group that works for free speech in Vietnam, said.
The 88 Project said political prisoners are often kept in prolonged detention without meeting their families or lawyers, or in solitary confinement. Seven people arrested in 2018 and 2019 were still in pre-trial detention as of September 2020, and several others arrested before 2018 have faced prolonged incommunicado detention as well.
The laws state that the time limit for detention for investigation is four months and can be extended four times or even until the investigation is completed.
The group said they suffer from harsh conditions in jail and administrative policies that destroy their health and crush their spirit. They are typically denied adequate medical care and visits from their families if they continue to insist on their innocence.
The group said political prisoners are often denied legal representation, not only during the investigation period, but also at trials. It recorded at least nine men and four women who were denied legal representation in 2018 and 2019. They were often less aware of their rights and lack a critical communication channel to their families and the outside world. Their families were not told their trial dates in advance.
Catholic activist and member of the Brotherhood for Democracy Tran Thi Xuan was tried without a lawyer in a 2018 trial unannounced to the public and her own family.
Rah Lan Hip, an ethnic villager from Gia Lai province, was sentenced to seven years in prison for “undermining the unity policy” in a mobile trial without a lawyer in 2019.
The group said political prisoners often receive long jail sentences after speedy trials, as in the case of Le Dinh Luong, a Catholic environmental activist who was sentenced to 20 years for subversion charges after a very short trial in 2018.
“Prisoners are supposed to have access to basic health care, but many times they are denied medical treatment, which is especially dangerous for people who have pre-existing medical conditions,” the group said in its latest report, Vietnam’s Inhumane Treatments in Prison issued on Nov. 5.
The report highlighting cases of prisoners from 24 prison camps throughout the country, said in many cases authorities prevented prisoners’ relatives from providing medication. Those who had experienced health problems claimed that inadequate medical treatment resulted in greater long-term health complications.
Ailing pastor Nguyen Trung Ton, who was sentenced to 12 years in 2018, was prevented from receiving medicine from his family. Pastor Ton was suffering from a leg injury, the result of a 2017 attack by unknown armed thugs.
The report said many political prisoners who enter prison in good health, or with only minor illnesses, leave with serious illnesses or even die in prison. At least two prisoners died of serious illness in 2019.
As of Sept. 4, the group said, 257 political prisoners were behind bars, including lawyers, religious leaders and practitioners, bloggers, reporters, environmental activists, land rights petitioners, social media users, and human rights and pro-democracy activists.
It called upon Western countries “to take concrete actions to hold Vietnam accountable before international law, starting with implementing the necessary legislative amendments and improvements in detention conditions, and push for Vietnam’s acceptance of a visit by the Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in the near future.”
“We urge that respective EU countries’ consular officers request to visit prisons to conduct independent investigations of prison conditions in multiple localities in Vietnam,” the group said.
On Oct. 30, Human Rights Watch called on Japan to cancel its plans to provide financial assistance for Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security, which is responsible for serious human rights violations.
Earlier Japan announced a 300-million-yen (US$2.84-million) grant for the Public Security Ministry to purchase unspecified equipment for “counterterrorism” and the “maintenance of public order.” It claimed the grant would “contribute” to the “strengthening of counterterrorism measures and the maintenance of public order” and would “stabilize society” in Vietnam.