Silenced and Suffering: The Harrowing Tale of an Innocent Woman's Imprisonment in a Vietnamese Mental Prison

Silenced and Suffering: The Harrowing Tale of an Innocent Woman's Imprisonment in a Vietnamese Mental Prison

The innocent woman referred to in the headline is Nguyen Thuy Hanh, who the Vietnamese authorities have unjustly held for over two years. Her case is an urgent one for justice and human rights in Vietnam.

Hanh, an unwavering human rights advocate and the founder of the 50K Fund, a lifeline of financial support for political prisoners and their families, was apprehended in April 2021 without any criminal charges being brought against her.

The authorities purportedly investigated Hanh under the guise of potential violations of Article 117 of Vietnam's 2015 Penal Code. This penal code section criminalizes acts allegedly opposing the state of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, encompassing the creation, storage, distribution, or dissemination of information, documents, and articles. However, it is imperative to acknowledge that the UN Human Rights Committee has deemed Article 117 to breach Vietnam's obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Throughout her captivity, Hanh has endured isolation within a pre-trial detention facility, which has aggravated the deterioration of her mental well-being, culminating in heart-wrenching suicide attempts.

In May 2022, authorities transferred her to a psychiatric institution for the criminally insane - the Central Institute of Forensic Psychiatry - where she languishes indefinitely. She is deprived of the right to appeal her confinement. At the same time, the government bears no legal obligation to file charges or release her. Hanh valiantly asserts that her protracted detention without trial amounts to torture.

The now infamous psychiatric facility recently made headlines in Vietnam. On June 5, the People's Court of Son La Province pronounced first-instance verdicts for 11 defendants entangled in an illicit drug trafficking network. These individuals exploited the premises of Central Mental Hospital Number 1 in Hanoi for their nefarious activities. The Central Institute of Forensic Psychiatry, where Hanh is held, is located within Central Mental Hospital Number 1 in Hanoi.

Hanh, an innocent woman with a history of mental depression, is currently confined within the institution where criminals, including those recently sentenced for drug trafficking by the Son La Provincial Court, are held.

One of the defendants in the Son La case, Nguyen Xuan Quy, a 40-year-old from Hanoi's Thanh Tri District, stands accused of being a drug kingpin who enlisted accomplices, including the Central Mental Hospital Number 1 employees. He orchestrated drug-fueled gatherings and conducted unlawful transactions within the hospital's confines. The hospital that the Vietnamese government forces Hanh to stay in one of its departments.

Quy, who exhibited no signs of mental illness in late 2018, opportunistically exploited his stay at Central Mental Hospital Number 1 to evade his sentence. Within the hospital's walls, he exploited vulnerabilities. He involved certain staff members in various drug-related activities, including procurement and distribution.

Among the assailants involved in Quy's illicit activities, one noteworthy accomplice was Do Thi Luu, the former Head of the Department of Rehabilitation and Traditional Medicine at Central Mental Hospital Number 1. This means that Nguyen Thuy Hanh, an innocent woman, not only finds herself confined alongside criminals like Quy but is also subjected to corrupt hospital staff, such as Luu, who is implicated in a drug trafficking ring.

The troubling question arises: How can the Vietnamese authorities guarantee Hanh's safety and well-being when the institution entrusted with her care, the Central Institute of Forensic Psychiatry, is sharing the same premises with the Central Mental Hospital Number 1 that has been an active crime scene until June 5 this year? The contradiction between the purported role of the hospital as a sanctuary for mental health and the pervasive criminal activities occurring within its walls raises profound doubts about the adequacy of the safeguards in place to protect Hanh and other vulnerable individuals in its custody.

The emergence of this hospital as a disturbing crime scene casts a shadow over its reputation, tarnishing its standing since at least 2021. Despite the alarming circumstances surrounding the facility, the Vietnamese government deliberately chose to confine a devoted human rights defender like Hanh within its walls, disregarding the impassioned pleas and protests from Hanh and her family.

In November 2022, Hanh's husband, Huynh Ngoc Chenh, disclosed to The Vietnamese Magazine that the family had submitted numerous petitions to various government bodies urgently calling for Hanh's release and reunion with her loved ones. Regrettably, their desperate pleas have been ignored, with a disturbing silence from the authorities. This disheartening response further intensifies concerns about the government's commitment to redress the injustices inflicted upon Hanh, raising additional questions regarding the absence of transparency and accountability surrounding her detention.

Chenh told The Vietnamese Magazine on June 11, 2023, that Hanh has been living in a small room at the psychiatric facility with nine co-residents. The ten people living in that room are only allowed one electric fan. "Her conditions are deteriorating rapidly at this time because the room is too hot during this time of the year. She lives with people who have committed violent crimes, including murders, and we are worried for her well-being," Chenh said.

The case of Nguyen Thuy Hanh serves as a poignant reminder of the imperative need for justice and the preservation of human rights in Vietnam. It also serves as a powerful reminder of the erratic nature of her detainment and the indispensable role played by activists like her in advocating for a just and democratic society. As the international community continues to stand unwavering in solidarity with Nguyen Thuy Hanh, her narrative reverberates, echoing the ongoing struggle for justice and underscoring the urgency to address systemic human rights abuses.

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