A representative from the Ministry of Justice of Vietnam said during the country’s third Universal Periodic Review (UPR) held on January 22, 2019, in Geneva, Switzerland, that “data concerning the death penalty are related to other legal regulations involving the protection of state secrets in our country. In practice, after taking many points of view from society and other reasons into consideration, Vietnam will not publicize the data concerning the death penalty.”
However, later during the same speech, the speaker seemed to have contradicted her earlier statement when she said that executions in Vietnam are “very public and would be conducted according to the requirements under the Code of Criminal Procedures.”
She did not offer any further explanation as to why the executions are public, but the data concerning the number of executions remains a state secret?
None of the information concerning the execution of inmates is mentioned in the categories listed as “state secrets” in either the Ordinance on Protecting State Secret (link in Vietnamese) or the more recent Law on Protecting State Secret (link in Vietnamese).
However, with the vague language in both of these laws, coupled with the full range of authority given to various government ministries and departments in determining what would be “state secret,” any matter of public concerns could be classified as a “secret” in Vietnam without any further explanation.
In February 2017, the Ministry of Public Security (the national police force) – for the first time – released a report, stating that between 2011-2016, Vietnam was holding 1,134 people on death row and that from 2013-2016, 429 people were executed by lethal injection.
The name of the lethal drugs, however, was not disclosed.
To date, death-row inmates are continued to be executed by unknown drugs and undisclosed procedures.
The MPS’ report in 2017 was also the first and last of its kind.
While Vietnam agreed, since the last UPR cycle in 2014, to push for reforms towards greater transparency around the issue of the death penalty, the answer from its Ministry of Justice on Tuesday seemed to suggest that the public would continue to be kept in the dark.
The representative from Vietnam’s delegate also claimed that the death penalty is only applied to the most serious crimes under the definition of Article 6(2) of the ICCPR (International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights).
This is not quite correct.
There are at least four crimes subjected to the death penalty under the 2015 Penal Code, that do not fall under Article 6(2): Article 109 (subversion against the State), Article 110 (espionage), Article 353 (embezzlement), and Article 354 (receiving bribes).
Among them, Article 109 (formerly 79) had been used almost exclusively against political dissidents during the past decades.
Vietnam also maintains the death penalty for a handful of drugs-related crime in direct violation of Article 6, ICCPR.
Vietnam scored 35 points out of 100 on the 2017 Corruption Perceptions Index reported by Transparency International. In a country where the majority of its citizens perceived corruption had plagued all levels of government, keeping information concerning the death penalty a secret from the people could raise suspicion about possible wrongdoing.
On a Facebook’s post by attorney and dissident Le Cong Dinh earlier today regarding the Vietnamese government’s position on the transparency of the death penalty, people did not hesitate to state that they believed if a death-row inmate agreed to pay a bribe, they could escape execution.