Prison wardens in southern Vietnam unleashed a hunting dog on a political prisoner serving an 11-year sentence for subversion to silence his complaints about solitary confinement in a cramped cell, his family told RFA.
Democracy advocate Nguyen Van Duc Do has been incarcerated since late 2018 at the Z30A detention center in Xuan Loc district of Dong Nai province for “activities aimed at overthrowing the government.”
Arrested in November 2016, Do and four other activists were convicted on Oct. 5, 2018 in a Ho Chi Minh City court after being found guilty in a one-day trial of involvement in the Vietnam National Self-Determination Coalition, a group that authorities deemed to have challenged Vietnam’s Communist one-party system.
Do’s inability to exercise in the small eight-square-meter (about 87 square feet) cell resulted in his physical condition deteriorating to the point where he often had chest pains and difficulty breathing, his brother said.
“My brother told me that yesterday, March 15, he banged on the door of his cell to call for help because he had pains in his chest and back that made it hard for him to breathe,” Do’s younger brother, Nguyen Van Duc Hai told RFA’s Vietnamese Service.
“He said that the prison was very large, so no one can hear you if you don’t shout. This is why he banged on the door shouting ‘Prisoners of conscience also need to live!’” said Hai.
This is when Do said the guards brought in a hunting dog to silence him.
“My brother said the dog was about to pounce on him, so he jumped back inside. Though it didn’t bite him, the dog barked loudly at him while standing at the door,” Hai said.
RFA attempted to contact the prison for comment but telephone calls went unanswered.
Do’s group had been charged under Article 79 of Vietnam’s Penal Code, one of a set of vague provisions in the law used to detain writers, activists, and bloggers, and had been held without trial for almost two years.
The group had previously been active in protesting the government’s handling of a massive chemical spill in April 2016 that devastated the country’s central coast, leaving fishermen and tourism workers jobless in four central provinces.
Group leader Luu Van Vinh was given 15 years. Nguyen Quoc Hoan was sentenced to 13 years, Tu Cong Nghia to 10 years, Phan Trung to 8 years, and Nguyen Van Duc Do to 11 years.
Nguyen Van Duc Hai said his brother Do had been in solitary confinement since May 2020, and since then had not been allowed to go out, even for exercise.
Hai also said that Do was being pressured by prison staff to plead guilty in exchange for a reduced sentence.
“My brother Do said they often bring him papers to file a guilty plea and asked him to sign, but he responded ‘I am innocent. The verdict was wrong. Am only a patriot!’” Hai said.
“They told him that if he pleads guilty, they can reduce his sentence by two months for every five years. But my brother said ‘I am innocent. How can I plead guilty? I was convicted wrongfully,’” said Hai.
Do also told Hai that prisoners at Xuan Loc are often beaten to the point of serious injury.
RFA reported in June 2020 that Do’s family had filed a petition demanding better treatment at Xuan Loc after he told them he had been physically assaulted, spent two days shacked in solitary confinement, then fed prison rations mixed with feces.
In October 2019 RFA reported that Do had joined other prisoners of conscience held at Xuan Loc who had also stopped eating to call for beater treatment at the facility.
According to a friend interviewed in that report, political prisoners at Xuan Loc were being charged four or five times higher for food than other prisoners there.
According to the 88 Project, an Illinois-based NGO that tracks political prisoners, Vietnam is currently holding 240 prisoners of conscience.
Trial for journalist
Authorities have set a trial date for detained journalist Tran Thi Tuyet Dieu on charges of “creating, storing, disseminating information, documents, items and publications against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam” as stated in Article 117 of the 2015 Criminal Code.
Dieu, also known by her pen name Dieu Anh, will stand trial at the Phu Yen People’s Court on March 22.
Dieu was arrested on Aug. 21, 2020 for posting on social media hundreds of stories, images, and video clips that authorities say were “content that opposed the Party, State and People, smearing President Ho Chi Minh and many other leaders of the Party and State.” The People’s Public Security Newspaper accused her of posting the content using multiple accounts on Facebook and other social media websites.
She was also accused of writing stories that ““distorted Vietnam’s Revolutionary history, inciting the overthrow of the people’s government, demanding multi-party pluralism, disseminating wrong information about the activities of law-enforcement bodies, showing uncooperative and opposing attitude when being invited to work with responsible authorities.”
If convicted Dieu could receive a sentence ranging from five to 12 years.
Dieu’s lawyer Nguyen Kha Than told RFA that Dieu will plead innocent and had refused to sign interview records compiled by investigation agencies.
“These days it seems Facebook users who post words that are different than the normal thinking of others are often prosecuted on this charge. Ms. Dieu said she was arrested after having quit Facebook for several months,” Than said.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Chau Vu. Written in English by Eugene Whong