Vietnamese blogger, currently serving a jail sentence, may have “lost an arm”
in prison, a human rights watchdog said Wednesday, expressing concern over his
critical health condition.
The London-based Amnesty International cited the wife of Nguyen Van Hai, better known by his pen name Dieu Cay, as saying that a prison security guard informed her that her husband had “lost his arm,” although the guard refused to elaborate on what had happened.
Hai's wife, Duong Thi Tan, had told RFA that she met with Lieutenant Colonel Dang Hong Diep earlier this month to inquire about her husband’s health.
Tan said that when she asked Diep why she had never received any notifications about her husband, the officer responded, “If we haven’t sent you any notifications, how can you know that Nguyen lost his arm?”
“The truth is that I never knew anything about it until that day. I’m shocked. Now I want to know how this happened, if it’s true,” Tan said in an interview.
The Amnesty statement followed an open letter from a group of Vietnamese bloggers that had been circulating online Tuesday which asked members of the international community to send representatives to visit Hai to determine his state of health.
The letter also demanded that the Vietnamese government “immediately and unconditionally” release Hai from prison.
Hai had completed a two-and-a-half-year sentence for alleged “tax fraud” in October last year, but authorities told his family that he would continue to be held while investigated for charges of “conducting propaganda” against the state.
He remains in captivity at the Xuan Loc prison northeast of Ho Chi Minh City, and his family, lawyer, and doctor have been refused repeated requests to visit him and bring him food and medicine.
Amnesty International called prison conditions in Vietnam “harsh,” adding that poor food and limited health care force prisoners to be reliant on additional supplies from their families.
Amnesty said that in 2009, Hai was held incommunicado for several months after being transferred to a prison further from his home in Ho Chi Minh City, making it difficult for his family to visit him.
“Political prisoners held incommunicado are particularly vulnerable to torture and ill-treatment.”
Tan said last year that the family had expected Hai to be released on Oct. 19, but instead awoke to a police raid before dawn on Oct. 20.
She said police beat her and informed her neighbors that Hai was facing new charges.
"My husband has been in prison for over two years now. How could he commit any new crime?" she asked at the time.
Hai was convicted for failing to pay 10 years of back taxes for rental of part of his house, although some rights groups believe he was thrown in jail for blogging about territorial disputes between China and Vietnam, and for his criticism of the Vietnamese government for allegedly kowtowing to its northern neighbor.
The co-founder of the independent Free Vietnamese Journalists’ Club, Hai had publicly criticized government policies before his arrest in April 2008 and spoke out for human rights in Vietnam in his blogs.
Vietnamese bloggers have been targeted previously for criticizing the government and exposing corruption.
New measures were introduced on Jan. 20, 2009 requiring bloggers to provide personal information and forbidding them from disseminating material banned by Vietnam’s press law.
Blog platform hosts are required to regularly provide the government with information about the activities of their clients.
The U.S.-based Human Rights Watch has accused Vietnam of mounting a sophisticated and sustained attack on online dissent that includes detaining and intimidating anti-government bloggers.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese service. Translated by Khanh An. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.