Independent Journalist Le Huu Minh Tuan's Health Worsens in Prison, Prompting Demands for His Release

Independent Journalist Le Huu Minh Tuan's Health Worsens in Prison, Prompting Demands for His Release

Le Huu Minh Tuan Faces Grave Health Challenges Behind Bars

Vietnamese political prisoner Le Huu Minh Tuan, editor and member of the Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam (IJAVN), informed his family recently that his health has severely deteriorated in prison and that he “couldn’t bear it anymore.” He has been held at Xuyen Moc Prison Camp in Vietnam’s Ba Ria-Vung Tau Province since July 2022.

Tuan, 34, received an 11-year prison sentence in January 2021 on the charge of “distributing anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 of the Penal Code. Many human rights groups and social critics have condemned this legal provision, stating that it’s specifically utilized to target independent journalists and activists in Vietnam.

During a visit with Tuan last week, on Dec. 26, 2023, one of his relatives told Radio Free Asia (RFA) and The Vietnamese Magazine that Tuan “is pale with only skin and bones.” Tuan told his family that he couldn't digest solid food. As a result, he can only drink milk and diluted porridge to keep him alive. Although Tuan was able to meet his relatives, he limped and walked with difficulty. Tuan added that he "had enough.”

The harrowing situation of Le Huu Minh Tuan further raises concerns over the substandard living conditions in Vietnamese prisons. According to Tuan’s sister, Le Thi Hoai Na, he has suffered from multiple diseases in prison, including ulcerative colitis, prolapsed hemorrhoids, hives, diarrhea, and constipation. Late last year, he developed digestive problems and was diagnosed with colitis and hepatitis. His family sent him medicine many times to treat these two diseases as prescribed by the doctor, but the prison did not permit him to receive it, and he was only given prison medications. His family does not know what the prison medications are because the guards refuse to tell them.

Tuan also told his family that on Nov. 2, 2023, Xuyen Moc Prison officials took him for a health check-up at Vung Tau Hospital, but the examination was cursory. Following the review, the hospital prescribed medicine for Tuan, but his stomach worsened after he finished taking it. Recently, he had bloody stool and developed pain all over his abdomen, symptoms that his family said are “very similar to those of colon cancer.”

Concerned with the critical deterioration of Tuan’s health, press freedom advocacy group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) on Dec. 29 released a press statement on his situation, urgently pressing the Vietnamese government to release him.

“Le Huu Minh Tuan is an independent journalist who has courageously risked his life to inform the public on democratization efforts led by Vietnamese civil society, and he should never have been detained, not to mention receive such severe prison term,” said Cédric Alviani, RSF Asia-Pacific Bureau Director. Alviani also called on the international community to “step up pressure on Hanoi to grant him medical parole and ensure that he is released before it is too late.”

Former Parliamentary Official Luu Binh Nhuong Indicted on Another Criminal Charge

Former parliamentary official Luu Binh Nhuong, known for his vocal criticisms of Vietnam’s law enforcement agencies and for speaking out for death-row inmates, has been additionally charged with “abusing power and authority for personal gain,” a violation of Article 358 of the Penal Code. The investigation agency of Thai Binh Provincial Police announced the decision on Dec. 26. The above decision has also been approved by the People's Procuracy of Thai Binh Province.

The Thai Binh Provincial Police Investigation Agency issued its first arrest warrant for Nhuong on a charge of “extortion” on Nov. 14. The former National Assembly official was accused of using his power to shield the illegal sand mining business of convicted criminal Pham Minh Cuong, who is a suspect in a property appropriation case. The Thai Binh Police Department website stated that Nhuong helped Cuong carry out extortion activities by interfering in the work of government agencies.

Meanwhile, on “abusing power and authority for personal gain,” Nhuong was accused of taking advantage of his position and power to allegedly profit “hundreds of thousands of dollars” from his influence on others. The police investigation agency has not clarified the amount of money Nhuong purportedly pocketed nor released the names and positions of those he pressured to help with his financial gain.  

Being an outspoken official, Luu Binh Nhuong received substantial public support for his criticisms of powerful institutions like the Ministry of Public Security and his assistance for the families of death-row inmates facing wrongful convictions in Vietnam. A week before facing these additional charges, Nhuong was deprived of his membership in the Vietnamese Communist Party. The decision was announced during the 34th meeting session of the VCP Central Inspection Committee in Hanoi on Dec. 20. 

Reporters Without Borders: Vietnam Among The Worst Jailers of Journalists Worldwide

Press freedom advocate Reporters Without Borders (RSF) classified Vietnam as one of the 10 biggest jailers of activists worldwide in their 2023 round-up report, with 36 journalists and bloggers currently behind bars. Furthermore, the report also said that Vietnam is one of the five high-risk countries for journalists. RSF noted that Vietnam, along with China, Myanmar, and Belarus, have locked up a total of 264 journalists, accounting for more than half of the 521 journalists detained worldwide.

RSF underscored the vital role of independent bloggers and reporters in Vietnam, who are regarded as “the only sources of freely reported information in a country where the press is under the orders of the single party, independent journalists and bloggers are regularly targeted by the authorities.” Many of them are now locked up in jail, including independent blogger Nguyen Lan Thang, who was sentenced to eight years in prison for “distributing anti-state propaganda” in April 2023.

Moreover, Vietnam has rigorously carried out transnational repression and suppressed critical voices beyond its borders. The RSF report mentioned the case of Vietnamese reporter and live streamer Duong Van Thai, who was allegedly kidnapped by Hanoi-sponsored security agents in Bangkok in April 2023. Thai resurfaced three months later in detention in Vietnam. He now awaits a trial on a charge of “distributing anti-state propaganda,” which carries a possible 20-year sentence.

Journalists imprisoned in Vietnam are also subjected to degrading treatment and are denied access to medical care, according to RSF. Two independent journalists, Pham Chi Dung and Le Trong Hung, began a hunger strike in mid-2023 in protest against the abysmal detention conditions.

Vietnam Pledges to Improve Human Rights by the End of 2099

On the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on Dec. 10, 2023, the Vietnamese government sent a proposal with eight commitments to the Human Rights 75 Secretariat of the United Nations. The Vietnamese government pledged to the UN to improve its human rights record and other development targets, with a deadline of Dec. 31, 2099

The expected deadline for implementing the above commitments is on the 150th anniversary of the birth of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, according to an official Vietnamese document issued by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights published on the official website.

According to the document, Hanoi’s commitments to uphold and strengthen its human rights include strengthening the rule of law, improving economic, social, cultural, civil, and political rights, promoting sustainable development, strengthening education on human rights, and leaving no one behind.

The one-party regime in Vietnam also promised to make more substantive contributions to human rights cooperation in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), especially in building the ASEAN Intergovernmental Committee on Human Rights (AICHR) and implementing the Declaration of Human Rights of ASEAN.

However, according to some Vietnamese activists, the Hanoi regime is not serious about its human rights commitment when setting such an extensive deadline. 

Former political prisoner Huynh Thi To Nga, who received a five-year sentence in 2019 for allegedly “distributing anti-state material” allegations, questioned why the government needed to wait until 2099 to improve human rights instead of doing it right now. Meanwhile, Phil Robertson, Asia deputy director of Human Rights Watch, said the Vietnamese government is “showing contempt for the UN Human Rights Council and the international human rights system” by promising to protect human rights at the beginning of the next century.

Viet A Medical Company Director Phan Quoc Viet Receives 25 Years of Imprisonment

Hanoi’s Military Court on Dec. 29 announced the sentencing of Phan Quoc Viet, general director of Viet A Co., and other military officials at Vietnam’s Military Medical Company for violations of bidding regulations in purchasing medical supplies and abusing authoritative power while performing public duties, state media reported.

Specifically, Phan Quoc Viet was sentenced to 15 years for “abusing authoritative power” and 10 years for “violating bidding regulations.” The combined sentence for the director of Viet A Co. is 25 years in prison. Meanwhile, Vu Dinh Hiep, Viet A deputy general director, received six years in prison for “violating bidding regulations and causing serious consequences.”

The military’s procuracy declared punishments for military officials in the Military Medical Academy who assisted Viet A Co. in manipulating research results and distributing its COVID-19 medical supplies.

Lt. Col. Ho Anh Son, former deputy director of the Military Medical and Pharmaceutical Research Institute of the Military Medical Academy, was sentenced to 12 years for “abusing authoritative position and power while performing official duties.”

Son's other former colleagues at the medical academy were convicted of “violating bidding regulations and causing serious consequences.” Col. Nguyen Van Hieu, former head of the Department of Equipment and Supplies, received seven years in prison; Maj. Ngo Anh Tuan, former head of the Finance Department, got a four-year sentence; and Maj. Le Truong Minh, former head of the Pharmaceutical Chemistry Department, was sentenced to six years.

Trinh Thanh Hung, former deputy director of the Ministry of Science and Technology, was sentenced to 15 years on the charges of “abusing authoritative position and power while performing official duties.”

Tra Vinh Police Fine Two Khmer People for Allegedly ‘Sharing Unverified Information’

The Internal Political Security Department of the Tra Vinh Provincial Police on Dec. 23 said it had issued a fine to Thach Tha, 56, and Kim Vu Linh, 33, both Khmer residents of Tra Cu District, Tra Vinh Province, for allegedly “posting and sharing false information” to “distort, slander and insult the reputation of government agencies and organizations,” according to the official announcement.

The Tra Vinh Provincial Police concluded that since 2022, Thach Tha had used his personal Facebook account to participate in online discussions organized by groups deemed as “reactionary,” which, according to Vietnamese authorities, share distorted information about the history of the southern region and seek to divide the “great national unity bloc.”

One specific incident occurred on Nov. 24, when Thach Tha shared on his personal Facebook account a 7:29-minute video clip from a social media page that allegedly accused the authorities of Vinh Long Province and its police forces of using brute force to crack down on religious freedom. The Tra Vinh Police Newspaper stated that during the questioning regarding the online posting on Dec. 21, Thach Tha admitted that the content in the video clip was “untrue.”

Meanwhile, the police alleged that Kim Vu Linh, another Khmer resident of Tra Vinh, on Aug. 27, 2022, live streamed on his Facebook account, Nhatliinh Kimvulinh, a 7:47-minute video clip with content that was considered “untrue, distorted, and insulting.” On Dec. 19, Linh was called in for a questioning session by the police, in which he reportedly admitted that the livestream content in the video clip was false and agreed to remove the video. The police did not comment on the content of the video Linh published on his social media.

Thach Tha and Kim Vu Linh received a fine of 7.5 million dong ($309) each for their alleged violations of Decree No. 15/2020/ND-CP issued by the government, which criminalized the activities of publishing “false information” on the internet.

Freedom of Religion in Vietnam: What Happened Last Week?

An Giang Provincial Authorities Prohibit Hoa Hao Buddhists from Commemorating the Birthday of Their Founder Huynh Phu So

The An Giang Provincial Police have asked adherents of Pure Hoa Hao Buddhism not to erect flags to commemorate the birthday of Patriarch Huynh Phu So, founder of this Buddhist sect, according to Le Quang Hien, permanent deputy chairman of the Central Executive Committee of the Hoa Hao Buddhist Church. Hien informed RFA about the news on Dec. 27, 10 days before the 104th birthday anniversary of the Hoa Hao founder on Nov. 25 in the lunar calendar.

The Hoa Hao Buddhist Church is an independent religious organization not recognized by the state. Hien said that in the past 15 years, the Central Executive Committee of the Church has often organized three crucial events of this religious sect, including the commemoration of its founder’s birthday at his house - their temporary headquarters - in Long Hoa Hamlet, Long Giang Commune, Cho Moi District, An Giang Province.

According to Le Quang Hien, in recent years, the An Giang Provincial authorities and local police have harassed and forbidden the Hoa Hao Buddhists from going to its temporary headquarters to attend essential ceremonies of this religious sect. However, the police still allowed Hien and other followers to erect a ceremonial platform at his house to celebrate these events.

“This year is different because they completely prohibit the construction of the ceremonial platform,” Hien told RFA. “They asked [me] not to allow the church to celebrate the 104th birthday of Founder Huynh at this location.”

On Dec. 23, a group of 12 local officials led by the Long Giang Commune Police chief went to the headquarters of the Central Executive Committee and told Hien not to hang flags or banners or erect a ceremonial platform at this location. Hien's family requested these officials provide official documents to justify this ban, but the authorities did not, he recounted.

He added that local authorities sent plainclothes security agents to guard near the church's headquarters and prohibited people from other localities from coming. According to Hien, the Hoa Hao Buddhist Church, a member of the state agency Vietnam Fatherland Front, on the other hand, was able to hold a ceremonial celebration of Huynh Phu So’s birthday while local authorities didn’t harass them.

Vietnam Insight: Learn more about Vietnam

Vietnam’s partnership with China is ‘window dressing’ as it aims for flexibility in international relations

South China Morning Post/ Maria Siow/ Dec. 26

“The two countries’ communist parties share a common history of fighting Western imperialism and foreign invaders. From 1946 to 1954, former Chinese leader Mao Zedong extended ideological, political and material support to Vietnam in the latter’s struggle for independence from the French. Chinese troops were also involved in Vietnam’s war against the US over several years in the 1960s.

Noting that Vietnam was one of the last Southeast Asian countries to partner with China in the “community with a shared future” concept, [Nguyen Khac Giang] said that Hanoi’s initial hesitation likely stemmed from its desire not to appear aligned with either China or the US.”

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