Amid Presidential Shakeup, Wrongful Death-Row Prisoners in Vietnam Still Await Execution

Amid Presidential Shakeup, Wrongful Death-Row Prisoners in Vietnam Still Await Execution
Graphic: The Vietnamese Magazine.

Vo Van Thuong, the youngest president in Vietnam’s history, was forced to step down from his post last month in an unexpected turn of political events.

Thuong resigned just a year after he assumed his presidency at 52. But during Thuong’s short-lived time in office, two critical events unfolded: the authorities issued decisions to execute [1] Nguyen Van Chuong and Le Van Manh, two wrongfully convicted death-row inmates who were in prison for almost two decades, prompting a widespread public outcry.

The families of both Chuong and Manh, their legal representatives, and many other citizens sent text messages and petitioned Thuong to save these prisoners’ lives. In Vietnam, the president has the authority to pardon death-row inmates as stipulated in the 2018 Law on Amnesty. The public also pointed out [2] the flawed nature of Vietnam’s legal system, where police investigators, more often than not, torture and threaten suspects to extract forced confessions.

Despite these urgent appeals, Thuong did not pardon Nguyen Van Chuong, and Manh was executed on September 22, 2023. Chuong now faces an impending execution. 

Thuong, on the other hand, reduced [3] the death sentences of a total of 29 death-row prisoners to life imprisonment last year, including 18 inmates who petitioned for clemency. In 2022, Vietnam's president granted amnesty for 31 prisoners, including four foreigners.

The Vietnamese Magazine talked to attorney Dang Dinh Manh, a human rights lawyer who provided legal assistance to many political dissidents, about why Vo Van Thuong did not pardon these inmates and score propaganda points since the cases had received considerable public attention.

“Vo Van Thuong should be the person to answer this question,” Manh said, adding that he had never seen Thuong raise his voice regarding any social issues or propose practical policies to improve the lives of Vietnamese people during his political career. “Perhaps wrongful death-row prisoners are not on the list of his top concerns,” Manh said. “That’s why during his presidency, the authorities unjustly executed Le Van Manh, prompting outrage from those concerned about the Vietnamese judiciary.”

Although the role of the president is considered highly ceremonial in Vietnam, the public placed high expectations on Thuong, the head of the Central Judicial Reform Steering Committee, which oversees the judiciary. During a December 2023 conference outlining the Supreme Court’s crucial duties in 2024, he insisted [4] that the court authorities improve the quality of trials to inhibit the occurrence of unjust and wrongful convictions and to “build a civilized and progressive justice system.”

Attorney Manh told The Vietnamese Magazine that since the law enables the president to grant amnesty for death-row prisoners, Thuong had the authority to pardon them. In reality, during the last two president’s tenures, little effort has been made to bring justice to these wrongful convictions and fix inherent problems in Vietnam’s legal system, such as the prevalent use of torture to extort confessions. 

He added, “We have an example where Thuong’s predecessor, President Truong Tan Sang, requested a halt to the execution of Ho Duy Hai [in 2014]. Thanks to that, Hai is still alive today.”

On December 4, 2014, Truong Tan Sang sent [5] an official dispatch to the Supreme People's Court and the Supreme People's Procuracy, requesting they suspend Hai’s execution and conduct a review of the case to determine whether or not he was unjustly or wrongfully convicted. Ho Duy Hai’s capital punishment was initially scheduled [6] for Dec. 5 - only one day after Sang’s instruction. However, the postponement didn’t mean Hai would be exonerated; and he remained behind bars and was sentenced to death in 2008.

Vietnam’s image as a politically stable manufacturing alternative to China has been severely tarnished by the precipitate replacement of its president, one of the Communist country’s “four pillars” of political power. This political turbulence suggests intense internal fighting between various factions within the Communist Party ahead of the National Congress in 2026, where a new leadership will be selected.

“I found that the presidential personnel were changed seven times in just six years,” Manh said. “That clearly shows political instability.”

On the other hand, the attorney said regardless of who would be the president of Vietnam, the pardoning of death-row inmates, especially those wrongfully convicted, could not happen because the new president would care more about his own benefits. “Looking at all the faces capable of securing the presidential position, I do not see anyone carrying a benevolent heart,” he said.

In addition to highlighting the unfulfilled duty of many presidents in mending the legal system, the precarious fates of these prisoners also reflect the lack of independence of Vietnamese courts and the Communist Party’s interference in the judicial process.

According to attorney Manh, all judges are members of the Communist Party. At the same time, the Party itself has established an internal security committee involving officials of the procuracy, the police, and the court to direct and determine the outcomes of all trials. Therefore, he said, these officials are more likely to comply with the party’s rules and resolutions rather than uphold the law.

“Such interventions affect the constitutional-enshrined principle of judicial independence,” Manh said. 

“It explained why the process of reviewing the unjust cases of Ho Duy Hai, Nguyen Van Chuong, and Le Van Manh kept hitting a dead end,” Manh said, “where we couldn’t find a way to achieve justice.”


[1] Amnesty International. “Viet Nam: Man Believed to Be at Imminent Risk of Execution in Case Beset by Forced Confession and Torture Allegations.” 7 Aug. 2023,

[2] “Rights Groups Call on Vietnam to Halt Execution of Nguyen Van Chuong.” Voice of America, 8 Sept. 2023,

[3] Chung Thành. “Chủ tịch nước ân giảm án tử hình cho 5 người xuống tù chung thân.” Tuoi Tre Online, 6 Feb. 2024,

[4] “Chủ Tịch Nước Võ Văn Thưởng: Uy Tín Của Tòa Án Chính Là Tín Nhiệm Của Thể Chế Chính Trị, Của Nhà Nước, Bởi Đây Là Niềm Tin Của Người Dân Vào Công Lý, Công Bằng Xã Hội.”,

[5] Communist Party of Vietnam News Portal. “Ý Kiến Của Chủ Tịch Nước Trương Tấn Sang Về Vụ Án Hồ Duy Hải.”, 5 Dec. 2014,

[6] Nguyen, Son. “Dec. 4, 2014: Ho Duy Hai’s Execution Halted.” The Vietnamese Magazine, 4 Dec. 2021,

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