A jailed Vietnamese democracy advocate on Monday reached the 49th day of a hunger strike aimed at reducing his 16-year sentence for subversion to five years, in line with revisions to the penal code passed after his 2010 conviction, family members say.
Arrested in May 2009 for writing online articles criticizing Vietnam’s one-party communist state, Tran Huynh Duy Thuc was convicted in 2010 on charges of plotting to overthrow the government under Article 79 of Vietnam’s 1999 Penal Code.
He is now calling for the charges against him to be changed to involvement in “preparations to commit a crime,” an offense calling only for a five-year term of imprisonment under Vietnam’s revised 2015 Penal Code, and Tran’s family and lawyers have tried several times to petition authorities for his sentence to be reduced din line with the new law.
Launched toward the end of November, Tran’s hunger strike has left him in a severely weakened state, Tran’s brother Tran Huynh Duy Tan told RFA on Monday following a Jan. 9 visit to his brother at the Thanh Chuong detention camp in central Vietnam’s Nghe An province.
“My brother’s health was very poor, and he said he had then reached the 47th day of his hunger strike,” Tran Huynh Duy Tan said, adding that his brother has vowed to continue his strike until Vietnam’s Supreme Court replies to his petition.
“My brother has lost 9 kg and now weighs only 58 kg [127 lb]. His blood pressure is fortunately normal, but his blood sugar has dropped to as low as 1.8, which is why he fell and hit his head on a bucket, breaking the bucket, sometime during the last few days.”
Tran Huynh Duy Tan said that he and his brother’s wife, Le Dinh Kim, have pleaded with the older Tran during their prison visits to end his strike, but that Tran has said he will continue until his demands are met.
“My family is really concerned about this health,” the younger Tran said.
Continuing source of concern
Reports on a Facebook page in Canada this weekend that Tran was being treated on an urgent basis in Nghe An’s Vietnam-Poland Hospital prompted calls from his family and RFA to his detention camp for comment, but the calls did not connect.
A staff member at the hospital’s emergency department meanwhile denied knowledge of Tran’s case, saying that no one with his name was being treated there, and suggesting that a reporter “check at another hospital.”
Tran’s health in prison has been a continuing source of concern to his family following a series of hunger strikes, most recently in October, calling for a review of his case.
In July 2019, Tran began a hunger strike over poor conditions in detention, including the removal of electric fans from cells in the soaring summer heat, and an earlier strike in August 2018 left him exhausted and thin after he protested police pressure on him to admit his guilt in the offenses for which he was jailed.
Security tightens for Party Congress
The update on Tran’s condition came as Vietnamese authorities in Hanoi launched a drill aimed at ensuring security for Vietnam’s upcoming 13th ruling Communist Party Congress, scheduled to run from Jan. 25 to Feb. 2 and involve around 1,500 delegates from around the country.
The convening of the congress, held every five years to select top leaders and approve economic policies, was cited by activists and rights experts as the reason Vietnam’s already low tolerance of dissent deteriorated sharply in 2020 with the round-up of independent journalists, publishers, and Facebook commentators.
According to the rights group Defend the Defenders, Hanoi is currently detaining at least 238 prisoners of conscience.
More than 6,000 military personnel, police, and health workers, along with many armored vehicles, took part in the Jan. 10 drill, state media reports said, quoting politburo member and organizing subcommittee head Tran Quoc Vuong as saying that the country’s military would not “neglect their duty” in guaranteeing the congress’s safety and success.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Huy Le. Written in English by Richard Finney.