Five Facts About Vietnam’s Death Sentences and Executions in 2018

Quynh-Vi Tran
Quynh-Vi Tran

The death penalty in Vietnam is classified as “state secret.” But from time to time, bits and pieces of information from the government do surface, giving the public some glimpses on the statistics and the details of the practice in the country.

Amnesty International previously reported that Vietnam was among the top Five recorded executors in the world in 2016. The worrying trend continues well into 2018.

1. Vietnam sentenced more people to death in 2018 compares to 2017 and executed people, on average, every week

On November 13, 2018, the government reported to the National Assembly the status of sentence implementation in the year 2018 and stated that there was a “dramatic increase from 2017, with 122 more (cases).” The government’s report also confirmed that 85 executions took place in the country this year which means that on average, Vietnam executed at least one person per week.

Although Vietnam had reduced the number of offenses subjected to the death penalty in the past decade, eliminating a total of 15 offenses which carry capital punishment, the number of people sentenced to death actually doubled during the same time period. There were 1,134 inmates sentenced to death between July 1, 2011, and June 30, 2016, according to the Ministry of Public Security’s Report on executions carried out in the previous five years dated January 4, 2017.

2. The name of the lethal drugs used for executions in Vietnam is still UNKNOWN

The method of execution in the country was changed from the firing squad to lethal injection in September 2011 when the government issued Decree 82/2011/NĐ-CP (link in Vietnamese). However, in 2013, Decree 47/2013/NĐ-CP (link in Vietnamese) was issued and effectively taking out the names of the lethal drugs previously stated in Decree 82 because Vietnam could not import them from the European Union due to an export ban.

The government, since then, has stopped providing the names of the drugs and how they are being used in executions although Vietnam has accepted the recommendations from New Zealand and Switzerland during its last Universal Periodic Review (UPR) cycle in 2014 to be more transparent on the death penalty issue.

3. The right to a fair trial is severely infringed with no effective legal representation

On August 28, 2018, the People’s Court in Ho Chi Minh City sentenced a 34-year-old South African man to death for drug trafficking. According to the indictment, in early June 2016, Tyron Coetzee was arrested at Tan Son Nhat International Airport in Ho Chi Minh city after the authorities found 1.46 kilogram of cocaine in his bag. The state assigned Coetzee an attorney, but the person did not speak English and could only meet with him once, on the day of his trial.

Testimonies from other families of death row inmates repeatedly stated that their attorneys often faced with obstacles when trying to meet with the prisoners.

In the case of farmer Dang Van Hien, both the trial and appellate courts failed to apply possible mitigating factors for extenuating circumstances, effectively affirming his death sentence in July 2018.

4. The UN Committee Against Torture (UN-CAT) raised concerns over the mistreatment of prisoners on death row in its initial report on Vietnam in 2018

In particular, the CAT Committee is concerned about the “reports of the physical and psychological suffering of persons sentenced to the death penalty as a result of their particularly harsh conditions of detention that may amount to torture or ill-treatment, including solitary confinement in unventilated cells; inadequate food and drink; being shackled round-the-clock; being subjected to physical abuse; and who often commit suicide and develop psychological disorders as a result.”

The Committee recommended that Vietnam allows visits of death-row inmates by international organizations, especially the International Committee of the Red Cross so that conditions of detention centers could be independently observed and monitored.

5. Vietnam continues to violate Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)

Vietnam currently imposed the death penalty on 18 offenses with more than half of them being non-violent crimes and drug-related offenses.

Article 6(2) of the ICCPR – which Vietnam has been a party since 1982 – states: “In countries which have not abolished the death penalty, sentence of death may be imposed only for the most serious crimes.”

There are, however, at least four offenses in the 2015 amended Penal Code carrying the death penalty in direct violation of Article 6 of the ICCPR:

  • Attempting to overthrow the people’s administration (Article 109)
  • Espionage (Article 110)
  • Embezzling property (Article 353)
  • Receiving bribes (Article 354)

Article 109 is the new version of Article 79 in the 1999 Penal Code, which has often been used against political dissident in the country, including entrepreneur Tran Huynh Duy Thuc and attorney Nguyen Van Dai.

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Quynh-Vi Tran

Quynh-Vi was a litigation lawyer in California before becoming a democracy advocate and journalist in 2015. She is also a strong advocate for abolishing the death penalty.