Three Hidden Facets of the Death Penalty in Vietnam

Three Hidden Facets of the Death Penalty in Vietnam

The efficacy of the death penalty as a deterrent to crime has long been debated. As many countries opt to eliminate this practice, questions arise: Why are these nations letting go of a seemingly effective tool? Could the abandonment of the death penalty lead to a surge in dangerous offenses? What shape might society take without this ultimate form of punishment?

In the realms of countries that still embrace the death penalty, these queries can be particularly challenging to confront - especially when a case emerges where the defendant's innocence hangs in the balance, yet execution looms on the horizon. People in Vietnam now face this dilemma in Nguyen Van Chuong's case.

Vietnam stands among the 55 countries that continue to uphold the death penalty and carry out executions. [1] However, despite this, the presence of homicide remains distressingly prevalent. Murders continue to transpire daily throughout the country, casting a shadow over provinces and cities nationwide.

In this discourse, we delve into three concealed facets of the death penalty - angles the Vietnamese public might not often contemplate but hold profound significance.

The death penalty can make criminals crueler

Imagine sitting in a cinema, eagerly awaiting a gripping movie with an open ending - the one that you will shape. The scene is set, and you're engrossed in your soft drink and popcorn. But this isn't just any movie; it's your movie with no predetermined conclusion. As the protagonist emerges, Ngoc (a fictional name), a 35-year-old man with a family, steps onto the screen. He faces a nightmare when he is involved in a fight. The fight escalates, leaving three lives lost at his hand.

Let us further pretend that Ngoc lives in a country where violence is a stark reality that he has grown up with. Reports of murders are a daily affair, and public demands for swift executions echo loudly. He is aware that once branded a perpetrator, there is no turning back. Suspects seldom experience a fair trial; investigators resort to torture to extract confessions. Judges render sentences based more on how the case outcomes could please their political party and the public than on impartial evaluation.

Death sentences aren't carried out immediately; inmates languish in grim detention centers awaiting their dark fate. Their living conditions are dire. The government uses the excuse to prevent inmates' suicide as a measure to "execute justice," and for years, the authorities shackle the inmates' feet. These inmates also endure extremes of weather, wrapped in anxiety, as their families await the ominous call from their government to inform them of the execution dates.

Ngoc has two options. Option one: if he turns himself in, there's a good chance he will be sentenced to death. Option two: if he runs away, he may get killed by the police during the chase, but wouldn't that be a death sentence carried out sooner without any torture?

Despite the risk, with the second option, Ngoc still saw a small chance of survival if he escaped successfully. When he decided to run away, he had nothing to lose. Therefore, he is probably ready to commit more crimes or fight anyone who wants to arrest him.

Now, if you were Ngoc, how would you choose, surrender to miserable imprisonment and possibly be executed on the injection table, or run away to save your life? If you run away, are you willing to commit more crimes?

As the story unfolds, this is the reality that “Monkey” Tuan  - real name Le Quoc Tuan - has to face. He was a police lieutenant who, on Tet 2020, killed four people at a casino. He fled, triggering a massive manhunt of about 500 police officers that ended in his demise. Tuan's knowledge of grim Vietnamese prisons and police investigations fueled his desperate flight. [2]

The choice that a fugitive like the fictional Ngoc, or “Monkey" Tuan must make also reflects the crux of the matter. The death penalty incites offenders to consider their worst-case scenario: surrender. In turn, they choose to become more ruthless to conceal the crime and escape by all means. This raises questions about the extent of the death penalty's impact on crime and the psyche of the criminals it affects.

The death penalty does not reduce the incidence of murder

It is a common belief in Vietnam that upholding the death penalty will act as a deterrent against crime. The logic appears sound - a person aware of the possibility of a death sentence will think twice before committing an offense. However, this notion is far from reality. The number and severity of murders in Vietnam continue to rise despite the presence of capital punishment.

Between 2014 and 2019, Vietnam witnessed a staggering 6,850 murders - an average of more than three daily, according to the Ministry of Public Security. [3]

The figures for 2019 indicate an 8.12% increase compared to the previous year. [4] State media, Tuoi Tre Newspaper, reported that the upward trend continued in 2020, but it did not provide specific statistics. [5]

Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic in 2021, while many localities implemented Directive 16 on COVID-19 prevention and control, the number of murders decreased by 7.65%. Still, instances of severe and heinous crimes rose by 15.57%, including mass killings and familial homicides. [6]

At the same time, the number of murders has increased significantly in some localities. For example, Kon Tum Province had 24 homicides in 2021, which is an average of two murders per month, 3 times higher than the average in 2020. [7]

Some proponents of the death penalty argue that its presence curbs crime and its abolition would result in an explosion of criminal activities. However, this belief lacks substantial evidence.

In the United States, where the death penalty's impact has been scrutinized, states with or without capital punishment exhibit similar crime rates. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) highlights that most murders stem from passion, substance abuse, or mental health issues rather than calculated considerations of consequences. [8]

A telling case occurred during Tet in 2018, when Nguyen Huu Tinh, just 18, killed five members of the family he worked for in Ho Chi Minh City. Tinh's actions demonstrated that the current death penalty in Vietnam failed to deter his violent acts. The lack of remorse was evident as he proceeded to murder each family member, driven by fear and anger. [9]

It is crucial to dispel the illusion that the death penalty efficiently reduces crime. This penalty should primarily be viewed as a method of permanently removing an offender from society and, to some, as an act of retribution.

By perpetuating this unrealistic notion, we inadvertently ease the pressure on the government's obligation to address crime comprehensively. But relying on the death penalty as a quick solution overlooks the complexity of cases and the multifaceted factors contributing to criminal behavior. Instead of fixating on an unreliable solution, society must explore comprehensive strategies to tackle the roots of crime and foster a safer environment for all.

Maintaining the death penalty sends the message to society: “Violence is the right response!”

When news of a death sentence breaks, it conveys the government's intent to deter crime and sends a potent, albeit hazardous, message: death is the most deserving retribution for wrongdoing.

This ominous undercurrent prompts an unsettling question: does this message inadvertently foster a perception that violent responses to personal conflicts are justifiable? It appears so, to some extent, influencing public sentiment and potentially shaping interpersonal dynamics.

The death penalty stands as an extreme manifestation of violence. By endorsing capital punishment, authorities implicitly validate violence as a legitimate response to transgression.

Consider the case of Doan Minh Hai, a husband, and father who, due to family disputes, was estranged from his wife and denied access to his daughter for three agonizing years. In late May 2022, Hai's frustration culminated in a heinous act: he entered his in-laws' home and took three lives, including that of his ex-wife, before fleeing with his daughter. In his confession, Hai conveyed that he deemed his crime as an appropriate counterbalance to the perceived wrongs he suffered. [10] Regrettably, his actions seem to align with the societal notion that violence can be a fitting response. In August 2022, Hai received a death sentence. [11]

In Vietnam, the passage of time often transforms minor disputes into tragic homicides. To varying degrees, society continues to tolerate violence as a justifiable retort. Parents might still view physical discipline as their prerogative, incidents of dog theft are met with deadly mob violence, and family disagreements routinely escalate into physical confrontations. The cycle of murder emerges from this acceptance of violence. A paradigm shift towards unequivocally rejecting all forms of violence could curb aggression and reduce the incidence of homicides. However, this stance faces challenges in a country that upholds the death penalty.

In essence, the death penalty reinforces a disturbing notion: that violent actions, even on the part of the state, are deemed reasonable responses to transgressions. As societies grapple with these complex dynamics, confronting the cultural acceptance of violence is a crucial step toward building a safer and more harmonious world.

This article was written in Vietnamese by Tran Phuong and previously published in Luat Khoa Magazine on October 8, 2022. Karie Nguyen translated this into English.


1. Al Jazeera. (2021, October). Infographic: Which countries still have the death penalty?

2. VnExpress. (2020, January). Vụ án 5 người chết do Củ Chi “nắm địa bàn chưa tốt.”

3. Nhân dân. (2020, September 16). Ngăn chặn tội phạm giết người do nguyên nhân xã hội.

4. Kiểm Sát. (2020, February). Năm 2019, tội phạm giết người có chiều hướng gia tăng.

5. Tuổi Trẻ. (2020, October). Năm 2020, tội phạm giết người, hiếp dâm tăng.

6. Báo điện tử VOV. (2021, December 5). Bộ Công an phát hiện 306 vụ phạm tội về tham nhũng và chức vụ trong 10 tháng. VOV.VN. Retrieved October 6, 2022, from

7. Rượu bia làm gia tăng án giết người ở Kon Tum. (2022, January 10). Báo Lao Động.

8. ACLU. (n.d.). The Death Penalty: Questions and Answers.

9. VOV. (2021, November). Bộ Công an phát hiện 306 vụ phạm tội về tham nhũng và chức vụ trong 10 tháng.

10. Youtube Báo Tuổi Trẻ. (2022, May). Lời khai ban đầu của nghi phạm sát hại 3 người ở Phú Yên.

11. Tử hình kẻ ra tay sát hại 3 người trong gia đình vợ cũ. (2022, August 12). Báo Lao Động.

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