Vietnamese Dissident on Hunger Strike in ‘Very Bad’ Health

2013-06-17
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Cu Huy Ha Vu (2L) attends his appeal trial in Hanoi, Aug. 2, 2011.
Cu Huy Ha Vu (2L) attends his appeal trial in Hanoi, Aug. 2, 2011.
AFP PHOTO / HO / Vietnam News Agency

UPDATED at 1:35 p.m. EST on 2013-06-20

The health condition of an imprisoned Vietnamese prominent dissident on hunger strike for more than three weeks has deteriorated rapidly, but he plans to continue with his protest until the authorities look into his complaint of mistreatment in jail, according to his wife, who visited him over the weekend.

“His health is bad—very bad—but his spirits are high and strong,” Nguyen Thi Duong Ha told RFA’s Vietnamese Service after meeting with her 56-year-old husband Cu Huy Ha Vu on Saturday at the No. 5 Prison in Thanh Hoa province where he began fasting on May 27.

“He won't end the hunger strike until he is officially informed” that the authorities have responded to his complaints about detention conditions that he had first raised last year, in particular abuses by one of his guards, according to Duong Ha.

Vu, a legal scholar and blogger, who has chronic heart trouble and high blood pressure, has spent the past two and a half years in prison for “conducting anti-state propaganda” through his online articles critical of Vietnam’s authoritarian government.

He began the hunger strike after prison officials failed to respond to his complaints about detention conditions that he had first raised last year, specifically abuses by a prison guard who he claimed had left windows open at night as part of a bid to sicken him.

Vu is among dozens of dissidents who have been thrown in jail since the one-party communist state stepped up a crackdown three years ago.

On Saturday, authorities detained prominent blogger Dinh Nhat Uy on “anti-state” activity charges—the third arrest of an online activist in less than a month.

Gratitude for support

Duong Ha, who is also Vu’s defense lawyer, said that while she is moved by her husband’s determination, she can not help but feel frightened by his noticeable frailty.

“To tell the truth, I felt great anguish, but I decided to be firm for him and not to be depressed,” she said.

“When I hugged him goodbye he cried out loud, and I realized how much pain he was in.”

Duong Ha said ahead of the visit that she would be discussing plans with him to appeal his seven-year sentence.

International rights groups, including London-based Amnesty International, have called for Vu’s immediate release, while several prominent activists in the U.S. and Vietnam have staged their own hunger strikes in solidarity with the dissident.

Vu was detained in November 2010 after he filed a lawsuit against Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung for allegedly violating laws on environmental protection, national security, and cultural heritage by approving Chinese-built bauxite mining projects in the Central Highlands.

He was convicted five months later and sentenced to seven years in jail under Article 88 of the penal code, a provision rights groups say Hanoi routinely uses to silence dissent. He lodged an appeal, but it was rejected in August 2011.

Duong Ha said that Vu expressed his gratitude to his supporters both inside and outside of Vietnam, as well as to the organizations and foreign governments that have backed him in his “fight with a noble cause.”

Blogger arrested

Duong Ha’s visit with her husband on Saturday came as authorities in southern Vietnam arrested blogger Dinh Nhat Uy, 30, for “anti-state” activities as part of a growing crackdown on dissent that has seen three online activists detained in less than a month.

The state-run Vietnam News Agency reported on its English language website Monday that Uy would be held for three months while he is investigated on suspicion of “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe the State's benefits, rights and legitimate benefits of citizen organizations.”

The charge, under Article 258 of Vietnam’s Penal Code, carries a maximum seven-year prison sentence.

Investigators had accused Uy of “compiling and publishing distorted and untrue articles and pictures on his blog, tarnishing the prestige of State bodies,” the report said.

He is the third blogger to be taken into custody in recent weeks, following Pham Viet Dao on Thursday, and prominent blogger Truong Duy Nhat in late May.

Uy was taken into custody while at work in Thu Thua district in southern Vietnam’s Long An province and escorted to his home, where security personnel confiscated several of his family’s belongings, according to family and friends.

“A large force comprised of police and other security personnel came and searched his family’s home,” blogger Nguyen Hoang Vy told RFA’s Vietnamese Service.

Vy said that Uy had been summoned by the police several times since his brother, 25-year-old computer technician Dinh Nguyen Kha, was arrested last October along with university student Nguyen Phuong Uyen on charges of spreading anti-state propaganda. The two were jailed for eight years in May.

“They escorted Dinh Nhat Uy to his home [Saturday] afternoon and read out a statement notifying him that he would be temporarily jailed for three months,” he said.

Uy’s mother, Kim Lien, said that her son did not have a key to their home, so local police were ordered to remove the lock with bolt cutters.

“More than 20 people entered our home to search it and took things away,” Lien said.

“[Many of] Uy’s father’s belongings were taken. So were computers, phones, flash drives, books, and laptops.”

Uy is known for speaking out against China’s alleged aggression in the disputed South China Sea and Hanoi’s reluctance to take a stronger stand against its northern neighbor.

‘Vague’ charges

Ha Huy Son, the attorney representing Uy’s brother Kha and his co-defendant Uyen, said that the police were making use of increasingly vague articles in Vietnam’s penal code to crack down on dissent.

“The police are no longer making use of Articles 88 and 79 to arrest people,” Son said, referring to earlier charges used to jail dissidents such as Cu Huy Ha Vu. “They have switched to Article 258.”

“Article 258 contains vague wording that [the authorities] can apply arbitrarily. It includes several paradoxes and is not very accurate. Application [of the law] can lead to injustice.”

Vietnam bans private media, and all newspapers and television channels are state-run. Lawyers, bloggers, and activists are regularly subject to arbitrary arrest and detention, according to rights groups.

So far in 2013, at least 46 activists have been convicted of anti-state activity and sentenced to often lengthy jail terms under what rights groups say are vaguely defined articles of the penal code.

Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Viet Long. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story mistakenly referred to Nguyen Thi Duong Ha's meeting with Cu Huy Ha Vu as the first since he began fasting on May 27.

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