On January 30, 2018, The Vietnamese received information that political prisoner Ngo Hao had suffered a minor stroke in prison. According to his wife, the prison’s center in An Diem, Quang Nam Province did not inform his family directly.
The family learned about his conditions on social media when the brother of Hoang Duc Binh, another prisoner of conscience, posted about it on Facebook.
During the last family visit on January 27, 2019, the family observed that “he was very sick and shaking a lot while walking.”
In January 2015, the government relocated him from Phu Yen Province – his hometown – to An Diem prison center in Quang Nam Province.
Relocation of political prisoners to prison centers hundreds of miles away from their hometowns is a common tactic used by the Vietnamese authorities, making visitations increasingly difficult for the family.
In Hao’s situation, his wife is also suffering from chronic disease, and the visitations have taken a toll on her health.
Ngo Hao was arrested in February 2013, tried and convicted in September 2013 under Article 79 of the 1999 Penal Code for “subverting against the people’s government.”
He was sentenced to 15-year-imprisonment and five-year probation thereafter.
His appeal was denied in December 2013 after less than two hours of hearing where neither his lawyer or Hao was allowed to fully state their defense.
He was held incommunicado prior to the hearing and his family was only notified of the appeal on the day it happened.
The government alleged that Hao received money from an overseas Vietnamese group to plot a Jasmine revolution-type in Vietnam to overturn the Vietnamese Communist Party.
The evidence produced by the prosecution consisted of writings he published online regarding using UN reporting mechanisms to assist political prisoners and contacting Human Rights Watch to report on human rights violations in Vietnam.
Hao did help 14 members of Hoa Hao Buddhist sect to send their communication about human rights violations to the UN.
Hao was an army officer of the former Republic of South Vietnam who was imprisoned from 1977 until 1997 – when he was released for medical reasons.
Article 79 of the 1999 Penal Code had been amended; the new code section for “subversion” now is Article 109 of the 2015 Penal Code.
Ngo Hao’s case could benefit from the same argument which the lawyer for Tran Huynh Duy Thuc has claimed, that under the new penal code, the acts committed by the defendant was only “in preparation to commit a crime” according to Section 3, Article 109. This argument, if suceeds, could reduce the maximum prison time to five years.
Notwithstanding the above legal argument, under international human rights law, the imprisonment of a person for the peaceful exercise of their individual rights – such as the freedom of expression – has been declared arbitrary arrest and detention.
Ngo Hao’s wife and son are asking the international community to pay attention to his case and demand an immediate and unconditional release.
Ngo Hao could be one of the oldest political prisoners serving a sentence in Vietnam right now. Born in 1948, he is turning 71 this year. Hao would now be in his sixth year of the 15-year-term.
They are afraid that Hao would not be able to make it until the end of his 15-year-imprisonment term after observing his deteriorating health conditions during the last visit earlier this month.