Deaths in Police Custody Remain Persistent in Vietnam

Deaths in Police Custody Remain Persistent in Vietnam

During a meeting with Vietnam’s National Assembly Standing Committee in March 2015, Lt. Gen. Tran Trong Luong, a representative of the Ministry of Public Security (MPS),  revealed [1] a disturbing figure: 226 suspects died in Vietnamese police detention between November 2011 and September 2014. 

During that same meeting in 2015, the MPS representative announced the number on the sidelines of the meeting, highlighting the plight of wrongful convictions in Vietnam’s criminal proceedings. Based on the statistics, it is estimated that in three years between 2011 and 2014, on average, around six detainees perished in Vietnamese police custody every month. The national police department has not released similar figures concerning the ambiguous deaths of civilians in detention since.

What also prompted public outrage was the questionable explanations provided by the police investigation agency concerning these deceased suspects. To conceal their use of unlawful practices such as coercion and torture, the Vietnamese police attributed these deaths to natural causes such as suicide and strokes.

Extrajudicial Killing of Criminal Suspects

According to news reports published in state media, the number of detainees who mysteriously died or suffered significant injuries while being investigated for their alleged crimes has remained consistent over the years. 

As of Nov. 15, 2023, at least 13 cases of police brutality have been reported in Vietnam, according to data [2] collected by The Vietnamese Magazine.

This year, at least six people have died in Vietnamese police stations after being detained for the investigation of alleged crimes, while seven other individuals either endured minor or significant injuries inflicted by law enforcement officers on duty. The actual number of victims of brutality could be underreported since many of the beatings and torture occurred behind the closed doors of police stations, where no witnesses were present to document the misdemeanors.

The most documented cases of police brutality in Vietnam this year happened in August when four people were hospitalized in critical condition after being assaulted by local police officers; two other individuals were reported dead. In one of the fatal cases, Maj. Ho Thanh Hoa, a local police officer in Tan Hong District, southern Dong Thap Province, allegedly kicked a drunk man after he refused to be escorted to the district police station, resulting in his death.

Police violence cases were recorded all across Vietnam this year, from the northernmost provinces of Son La and Ha Giang to the Mekong Delta region. One particular aspect of these cases was that they are more likely to have occurred in rural municipalities than in metropolises such as Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. The majority of the assaults were purportedly committed by district police officers (công an xã).

Only one major assault was reported in Ho Chi Minh City, where a traffic police officer allegedly hit a motorbike driver with a baton, causing one of his eyes to bleed and potentially leading to long-term visual impairment. Another incident took place in the port city of Hai Phong, with a man being hospitalized in a coma after spending two days in police custody for the investigation of theft.

The youngest individual to have died in Vietnamese police detention in 2023 was Nguyen Tan Duong, a 26-year-old man from Bu Dang District, Binh Phuoc Province. Duong was detained on May 25 on the allegation of stealing electrical wires. He reportedly died on the same day due to “acute pulmonary edema,” according to the official autopsy assessment. His body had a lot of bruises.

A Lack of Police Accountability

Vietnam has passed laws [3] that aim at punishing police officers who commit brutality against civilians while performing official duties. 

For instance, Article 137 of the 2015 Penal Code criminalizes the use of violence by law enforcement officers that harms the physical health and well-being of other people, with a maximum sentence of seven years of imprisonment. Similarly, Article 44 of the 2018 People’s Police Law stipulates that police officers who inflict damage to the health, life, property, or legitimate interests of other individuals, agencies, and organizations must be disciplined under the provisions of the law.

But in 2023, only five police officers who either injured or unlawfully murdered Vietnamese civilians were punished. Among them, only one officer in Dong Thap Province was detained and subjected to further investigation into his killing of a resident. The other four only had their people’s police honorary titles deprived.

The leniency of such punishment stood in striking contradiction to the sentences handed down to ordinary citizens accused of insulting or attacking the public security forces.

On Nov. 14, the People’s Court of Ho Chi Minh City sentenced [4] two Vietnamese Australian nationals, Truong Terri, 47, and Steven Quang Minh Nguyen, 23, each to six months in prison on the charge of “resisting officers on duty” for attacking a local policeman. Earlier in June, another court in Ba Ria - Vung Tau Province convicted [5] Nguyen Van Tuan, 66, a retired official, of “abusing democratic freedoms” for writing letters that insulted the local police force and the provincial justices. Tuan received three and a half years in prison. 

The fact that Vietnamese law enforcement officers enjoy more legal privileges than ordinary citizens do is palpable. Incidents of violence committed by the public security forces in Vietnam will possibly remain unchanged until the alleged officers are held fully accountable for their misconduct. Vietnam must also overhaul its criminal justice system to ensure the safety and well-being of all criminal suspects in police detention.


[1] Nguyên C. (2015, March 19). Ba năm có tới 226 người chết trong trại tạm giam, tạm giữ.

[2] The Vietnamese Magazine. (n.d.). Police brutality in Vietnam 2023: Statistics. Google Docs.

[3] Diệp T. N. (2023, November 2). Công an đánh người sẽ bị xử lý như thế nào năm 2023? Xử lý hành chính hay hình sự đối với công an có hành vi đánh người?

[4] Mai T. (2023, November 14). Đánh cảnh sát khu vực, hai Việt kiều Úc cùng lãnh 6 tháng tù. TUOI TRE ONLINE.

[5] Duy X. (2023, November 14). Phạt tù người đàn ông chửi công an, thẩm phán và đánh thư ký tòa. Báo Điện Tử Dân Trí.

Great! You’ve successfully signed up.

Welcome back! You've successfully signed in.

You've successfully subscribed to The Vietnamese Magazine.

Success! Check your email for magic link to sign-in.

Success! Your billing info has been updated.

Your billing was not updated.