Vietnamese democracy advocate Tran Duc Thach, jailed for his writings exposing government corruption and human rights abuses, has met with his lawyer for the first time since his arrest nearly seven months ago, his lawyer said on Thursday.
Tran was arrested April 24, 2020 and charged with engaging in “activities aimed at overthrowing the People’s Government” in violation of Article 109 of the Vietnamese Criminal Codes, likely for his involvement with the online Brotherhood for Democracy advocacy group.
The Brotherhood for Democracy is not recognized by the Vietnamese government, and many of its members have been imprisoned since its founding in 2013.
Though a formal police investigation of Tran ended months ago, and his indictment has since been forwarded to the courts, Tran’s lawyer was only recently allowed to meet with him at his detention center in Nghe An province and was blocked from making a photocopy of the indictment, attorney Ha Huy Son told RFA’s Vietnamese Service on Nov. 5.
“I came to the court today, but they only allowed me to look at the indictment and not to copy it,” Ha said.
“They told me that because the case involves issues of state secrets and security, I won’t be able to make a photocopy unless I get permission for the judge at the Supreme People’s Court,” Ha said, adding that he was able in the time allowed to him only to make a written copy of certain information.
Ha said Tran told him he is now being charged with two offenses in connection with his writings on Facebook and his activities with the Brotherhood for Democracy from 2013 to 2016. Tran is also in ill health in jail and suffers from gout, high blood pressure, and ulcerative colitis, Ha said.
Born in 1952 in Nghe An, Tran served with North Vietnamese forces during the Vietnam War and has been an activist for human rights and democracy in Vietnam for many years.
In his book Obsessive Grave, Tran tells the story of how North Vietnamese soldiers killed hundreds of innocents at Tan Lap commune in Dong Nai province’s Xuan Loc district during the final campaign of the war that ended with communist forces’ victory on April 30, 1975.
Tran was earlier sentenced to three years in jail in October 2009 for “conducting propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam” along with Vu Van Hung and Pham Van Troi.
Harsh treatment of political offenders
Vietnamese authorities’ treatment of the political dissidents held in its jails is typically harsh, the U.S.-based 88 Project says in a new report, “Torture and Inhumane Treatment of Political Prisoners in Vietnam, 2018-2019.”
The group says that prisoners of conscience in Vietnam are routinely denied legal representation, medical treatment, and family visits, and are often subjected to solitary confinement and punitive transfers far from their family homes.
“At least 32 individuals in 2018 and 2019, four of whom are women, were denied family visits or communications or were arbitrarily transferred to remote prisons,” the rights group said, with some prisoners “transferred or denied contact multiple times in one year.”
And though the use of torture by police is prohibited under Vietnamese law, the lack of an independent judicial system or other checks against the country’s public security forces “allow torture and inhumane treatment of dissenters and political activists to persist as a common practice in Vietnam,” the group says in its report.
“The 88 Project has identified at least 15 individuals subjected to psychological and/or physical pain [during the reporting period]: 10 in 2018, four in 2019, and one in both years. Two were women,” the rights group said.
Medical treatment is frequently used by authorities as “a bargaining tool” to coerce confessions, and Vietnam’s prisons are often unsanitary, the group said, adding, “Unclean food, overcrowding, lack of access to potable water, poor sanitation, and lack of lighting remain serious problems.”
Vietnam has increasingly rounded up independent journalists, bloggers, and other dissident voices in recent months as authorities already intolerant of dissent seek to stifle critics in the run-up to the ruling Communist Party congress in January.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Huy Le. Written in English by Richard Finney.