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Human Rights

Vietnamese Police Faced New Brutality Allegations Amid State’s Obligations To Follow Up UN’s Recommendations Against Torture

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Photo courtesy: AP Photo/Na Son Nguyen

Today, January 28, 2019, a driver in Hanoi who was supportive of the movement to fight against illegal BOT (Build-Operate-Transfer) toll booths in Vietnam, Ha Van Nam, was kidnapped by allegedly plainclothes police.

Nam alleged that he was brutally assaulted, resulting in two broken ribs and other injuries. The perpetrators later threw him at the front gate of Dan Phuong hospital in Hanoi.

Ha Van Nam and his injuries. Photo courtesy: Truong Chau Huu Danh’s Facebook.

In recent days, friends and supporters of the protest against “dirty” BOTs in Vietnam have asserted that there are corrupt individuals from the police force who act in concert with thugs and BOT An Suong’s owner to suppress those who challenge the BOT’s legal merits to collect toll money.

On January 24, 2019, a man named Ngo Cong Tuan from Hanoi was visiting friends in Ho Chi Minh City happened to pass by BOT An Suong and got picked up by the local police of Tan Tao Ward.

He alleged that he was physically beaten by the police right after he was arrested and the beating continued during the car ride to the station. He was then detained with no criminal charge for two days, from 24-26 January.

Ngo Van Tuan being taken to the hospital. Photo courtesy: Truong Chau Huu Danh’s Facebook.

Tuan further alleged the police officers continued to beat him during the detention, ordered him to take off his clothes, and also starved him during the two-day-detention.

He was released on January 26, 2019, with no investigative report. Almost immediately after his release, Tuan went back to the same police station to report the assault and file a statement, but the police officers tried to close their door on him.

All of this was captured on a live-stream video posted on Facebook. In the end, Tuan was able to make the report, but he also had to be admitted to a hospital for a check-up.

Tuan was not part of the BOT protest; he was only a passerby.

In an unrelated event happened in a different province, on January 28, 2018, while working on location, reporter Ngoc Thanh was involved in a physical altercation with police officers from Ward 4, Vinh Long Province. Thanh received injuries and had to be admitted to the hospital on the same day.

Reporter Ngoc Thanh in hospital. Photo courtesy: Truong Chau Huu Danh’s Facebook.

In November 2018, Vietnam underwent its first review under the UN-Convention Against Torture which the country had ratified in 2015.

In December 2018, the Committee Against Torture issued its concluding observations on the initial report of Viet Nam with specific recommendations to the government.

Portions of these recommendations specifically raised concerns over allegations of police brutality and death in police custody/detention (Paragraphs 20-23).

The Committee specifically requested that the State of Vietnam elucidates and informs the Committee about the outcome of the deaths in police custody of the following individuals by December 7, 2019:

  1. Do Dang Du, a 17-year-old minor, who reportedly died in custody on 5 February 2015 as a result of severe injuries to the head and body while in police custody in Chuong My district, Hanoi;
  2. Nguyen Huu Tan, a Buddhist who was detained and whom the police alleged had committed suicide while in custody. No independent investigation of the death was carried out, and the detainee’s family was subjected to reprisals from the local police after complaining to the authorities;
  3. Ma Seo Sung, a Hmong Christian who was arrested and detained by the police and allegedly committed suicide by hanging and whose family also received threats of reprisals;
  4. Ksor Xiem of the Montagnard Evangelical Church, who died of injuries sustained in police custody, and
  5. Y Ku Knul a Montagnard Christian who died while under arrest and whose body showed signs of electric shocks.

Among the above, the case of Do Dang Du shocked the nation when it happened in October 2015, partly because it involved a minor who was detained illegally by the police in Hanoi – the Capital city of Vietnam.

However, after his family’s attorneys also got physically assaulted by thugs and one police officer in plain clothes, it seemed that information had stopped coming forward.

Mrs. Nguyen Thi Mai, the mother of Do Dang Du, the most shocking case in the last three years involving deaths in police detention in Vietnam. Photo Courtesy: Chau Doan.

Neither Du’s family or the public in Vietnam was satisfied with the explanation given by the authorities that he was beaten to death by a cellmate over “dirty dishes.”

The UN-Committee Against Torture seemed to agree with them when it asked the State to report back to the committee with further details later in 2019.

However, in reality, the police forces in some 63 provinces all over Vietnam probably did not get informed about the UN-CAT’s findings and recommendations because allegations of police brutality continued to grow in the first month of the new year.

Free Press

Minister of Propaganda Says Vietnam’s Press Should Serve Party, Prevent “Self-Evolution”

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At a conference on “Strengthening Party-building Work in Press Organizations” last Friday, Mr. Vo Van Thuong, head of Communist Vietnam’s Central Propaganda Committee, reminded attendees that the press must serve the Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP) and the revolution in order to function “stably” and “without error”. 

Referring to a government plan ratified earlier in the year to develop and manage press throughout the country until 2025, Thuong stated that the time for debate had passed and that strict implementation was now key. According to state media and in sentiment echoed by Thuong, the press serves as “an important channel to fight against incorrect information, fake news, news critical of the regime, and that which makes people lose trust in the Party-State.”

In his remarks at the conference, Thuong stressed the importance of ideological work in press organizations and making sure Party cadres and Party members guard against signs of political, ideological, and moral decay. In particular, Thuong warned against signs of “self-development” and “self-evolution”, negative terms that refer to the shift towards liberal democratic values–values which are anathema to the ruling Communist Party.

In this vein, Thuong took to admonishing journalists who lacked “proper training” and were critical of society but not sufficiently critical of themselves. He also stressed the importance of proper training for leadership and suggested greater oversight of the Party committees and organizations involved in press organizations, particularly when it comes to adherence to Party regulations.

“In order to help press organizations develop self-awareness and a more proper nature, we should do as a number of comrades have stated: ‘Sometimes those who educate [Party members and cadres] must themselves be educated’,” Thuong stated.

Thuong reminded attendees that Vietnam’s journalists were journalists of the revolution, journalists of the Party, and journalists of the state; as such, they should work closely with the Central Propaganda Committee, the Ministry of Information and Communication, various central Party committee blocs, and the Vietnamese Journalists Association, in order to strengthen the leadership of the Party.

The plan approved April 2nd of this year also seeks to streamline Communist Vietnam’s press environment, limiting government bodies to one newspaper and one magazine, with a shift to electronic rather than print forms, and with the “Vietnamese Communist Party E-Newspaper” and the Central Propaganda Committee serving as the “core” of the country’s press structure. 

Along with head of propaganda, Thuong is also currently a member of the Politburo (short for “Political Bureau”, the leading body of the Vietnamese Communist Party), and the secretary of the Central Committee (from which members of the Politburo are chosen). In the past, Thuong was deputy secretary of the Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) Standing Committee, first secretary of the Central Committee of the HCMC Communist Youth Union, and secretary of the Quang Ngai Provincial Party Committee.

According to Reporters Without Borders, Vietnam ranks 176th out of 180 countries in terms of press freedom. Although freedom of the press is guaranteed by Article 25 of the 2013 Vietnamese Constitution, Communist Vietnam is a one-party, authoritarian state that does not tolerate challenges to its power. It controls all official media, newspapers, and publishing houses in the country and regularly censors material that does not conform to sanctioned historical or political narratives.

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Death Penalty

After Decade of Petitions, Vietnam to Re-consider Case of Death Row Inmate Ho Duy Hai

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After more than 10 years of petitioning the Vietnamese government, Nguyen Thi Loan (pictured above) says a huge weight has been lifted off her shoulders. Her son, Ho Duy Hai, who had been found guilty of murder in 2008 and was sitting on Vietnam’s death row for eleven years, now has another chance at life.

On November 30, 2019, the country’s highest prosecutor’s office (the Supreme People’s Procuracy, or SPP) announced that “Ho Duy Hai’s case suffered from serious procedural shortcomings that affected the quality of evidence gathered” to prosecute him.

As such, the SPP has requested that Vietnam’s Supreme Court toss out all previous rulings, including the original 2008 conviction by a Long An provincial court, as well as a 2009 appellate judgment by the Ho Chi Minh City Supreme Court of Appeals which upheld the death sentence. The SPP’s latest request also supersedes its own October 2011 refusal to halt the sentence after repeated petitions from Loan.

Ho Duy Hai’s 2008 case involves the murder of two sisters, Nguyen Thi Thu Van, 22, and Nguyen Thi Anh Hong, 24, who were killed at Cau Voi Post Office in Long An province, which borders Ho Chi Minh City to the southwest. The women, who both lived and worked at the post office, were found at the foot of a set of stairs, two meters apart, with their necks slit and their heads showing signs of blunt force trauma. The robbery and double murders occurred on the evening of January 14, 2008, about 4.5 kilometers from Hai’s house. It was not until two months later that Hai was implicated. He had known the two employees and could not provide an alibi the night of the murders. Police subsequently arrested him and charged him with murder on March 21, 2008.

Ho Duy Hai during his trial on December 1, 2008. Photo: Hoang Phuong / Thanh Nien.

Hai was only 23 when he was sentenced to death on December 1, 2008, but both he and his mother have consistently proclaimed his innocence. Though Hai could not remember clearly what he was doing the night of the murders, he claimed police beat and tortured him into falsely confessing.

Other cited shortcomings in the investigation included a lack of fingerprints at the scene of the crime to corroborate Hai’s “confession”, an inability to confirm the murder weapon(s), purchased items used to replace “lost” evidence at the scene of the crime, inconsistent witness testimonies, and a lack of time of death for the two victims to corroborate Hai being at the scene, among others.

For more than a decade, Hai’s mother petitioned all levels of government to intercede in her son’s case, even holding banners in front of the General Secretary, Prime Minister, and the President’s offices. She also enlisted the help of activists, dissidents, and human rights groups on social media to spread awareness. In December 2014, when Hai was only a day away from lethal injection, the Long An provincial court decided to temporarily suspend his sentence due to uproar over the nagging inconsistences in Hai’s case.

The case became so high-profile that National Assembly (NA) representative Le Thi Nga, who was the deputy head of the NA’s Judicial Committee at the time, became involved. She personally investigated the case’s inconsistencies, confirming that “there were serious violations committed by the police and prosecution in Hai’s case.” Her tenacity, attention to detail, and personal care for Hai’s mother has earned her praise on social media, who have held her up as a model NA representative.

Ms. Le Thi Nga, National Assembly representative, and deputy head of the NA’s Judicial Committee from 2007-2016. She is currently head of the Judicial Committee. Photo: Hoang Long / Vietbao

If the Vietnamese Supreme Court accepts this latest SPP request, then there are two possible outcomes for Hai: his case will either be suspended and all charges dropped or he will be re-investigated and re-tried.

If the Supreme Court decides the former, then Hai will walk away from death row a free man. If it decides the latter, then Hai’s case is essentially back to square-one, as if he had just been arrested. Hai would remain in police custody (i.e. virtually imprisoned, as is Vietnamese custom for those who have been arrested but not yet charged with a crime). The murders for which he was convicted would be re-investigated by police, after which the Long An prosecutor’s office would decide whether to charge Hai with a crime. If they do, then the trial, sentencing, and appeals process would repeat itself. If they don’t, then Hai has yet another path to freedom.

Regardless of the outcome, Hai’s mother is all gratitude for what has been achieved so far: “I want to thank every soul, both inside and outside the country, for caring so deeply for Hai. I will be grateful to you all for the rest of my life, for supporting my family and walking together with us on this long path.”

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Freedom of expression

Two Human Rights Groups Issue Joint Statement Against Harassment of Independent Publishing House

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Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have condemned the Vietnamese government for their escalating harassment of an independent publishing house.

Liberal Publishing House, established February 14th, 2019, seeks “to promote human rights and freedom of information in Vietnam by printing and publishing books without censorship from the Vietnamese government”, in a mode similar to samizdat operations in former communist countries of Eastern Europe.

In a statement issued November 27th, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch stated that Vietnamese “police have harassed and intimidated dozens of people connected to the Liberal Publishing House […] in what appears to be a targeted campaign” against both the publishing house’s readers and workers.

The statement also describes a situation in which police “detained and allegedly tortured a man in custody on October 15 in Ho Chi Minh City, allegedly to force him to confess to working for the publisher. Police detained him for more than 12 hours, during which time he was repeatedly beaten until his nose bled. Since being released he has gone into hiding, fearful of re-arrest.”

The police harassment has been nationwide, striking the three major Vietnamese cities of Hanoi (north), Hue (center), and Ho Chi Minh City (south), as well as the central provinces of Quang Binh and Quang Tri, the south-central province of Phu Yen, and the southern province of Binh Duong. Readers have reportedly been called into police stations for questioning and forced to sign statements declaring they will no longer purchase books from Liberal Publishing House; workers have reportedly been ensnared in police traps while carrying out deliveries.

Liberal Publishing House has acknowledged the police harassment and issued to its readers a series of precautions to take when ordering books, as well as what and what not to say when confronted by police. It has also made available for free a digital copy of its book A Handbook for Families of Prisoners to inform readers of their rights and guide them through the legal process.

Liberal Publishing House’s other titles include Politics for the Common People, Non-Violent Resistance, and the English-language title Politics of a Police State. Dissident blogger Pham Doan Trang, who recently received the 2019 Press Freedom Prize for Impact from Reporters Without Borders in September, is one of the publishing house’s main contributors.

Although freedom of the press is guaranteed by Article 25 of the 2013 Vietnamese Constitution, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam is a one-party, authoritarian state that does not tolerate challenges to its power. It controls all official media and publishing houses in the country and regularly censors material that does not conform to sanctioned historical or political narratives. 

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