Languishing in Prison

A land activist and a religious activist suffer poor conditions in a Vietnamese jail.
2013-01-17
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vietnam-prison-barbed-wire-305.jpg
Barbed wire at a prison in Vietnam.
ImageSource

Two women prisoners of conscience at the K5 prison in southern Vietnam’s Dong Nai province are suffering from ill health and the authorities in Hanoi are pressuring them to confess crimes, according to relatives who visited them this month.

Mai Thi Dung, who is serving an 11-year sentence for disturbing public order for her activism in support of the Hoa Hao Buddhist sect, is suffering from a gall bladder infection at a prison cell in Dong Nai province which she shares with HIV-infected convicts.

Her husband Vo Van Bu, who visited her in prison this week, said her health was poor.

“Her health is still the same as previous times I saw her. Someone had to escort her out. They let us talk for about an hour and then they took her back in,” he told RFA’s Vietnamese Service.

He said the prison conditions were unclean and that he worried she was susceptible to getting HIV from other prisoners.

“She said she was in the same cell with people who have HIV, with a lot of blood and mucus.”

“We brought along some vegetarian food for her but they only let us leave behind 7 kilograms (15 pounds) of it for her.”

Dung, now in her forties, was imprisoned in 2005 but continues to protest the crackdown on her Hoa Hao group while in prison.

She once staged a hunger strike.

In 2007, she was admitted to the prison’s clinic for medical treatment.

Vo Van Buu, who was imprisoned at the same time as his wife and served a six-year sentence, said he had requested authorities to take her for treatment again, but they have refused.

“I had told security personnel when they came to our house that I want my wife to be sent for  treatment. We said we would pay all the expenses but they didn’t  agree.”

Tran Thi Thuy

Land activist Tran Thi Thuy, is serving time in the same prison.

Thuy, 40, was sentenced to jail in 2011 for carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the government for her affiliation with banned opposition group Viet Tan.

Her health is quickly deteriorating, her younger brother Tran Thanh Tuan said, after visiting her last week.

“Her health is deteriorating day by day. When she was at home, she was 80 kilograms [180 pounds], and now she is just about 40 kilograms [90 pounds],” Tuan said.

When Thuy was arrested in 2010 after petitioning for redress for land confiscated by the authorities, activists reported that she had been beaten in the stomach by security police during the investigative period prior to her trial, leaving injuries that have not fully healed.

But since she has no diseases, she has been required to perform forced labor cracking cashew nuts since being transferred to the prison last year.

“After being admitted to K5, she has had to crack cashew nuts. The juice from the nuts sticks to her fingers, and it’s itchy and feels as if she’s touching acid,” Tuan said.

He said the hygiene in the prison is poor.

“She only has two changes of clothes, and she is itchy all the time and can’t sleep. They don’t let her use the blanket the family sent her,” Tuan said.

Requests denied

Tuan said Thuy’s family members have sent letters about Thuy’s plight in prison to the Ministry of Police and Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, to no avail.

Both Thuy’s and Mai Thi Dung’s relatives say authorities have requested that the two should confess to their crimes.

Vo Van Buu said he had been told Dung would be allowed medical treatment if she stopped maintaining her innocence.

“They went to my house and told me to persuade my wife to plead guilty so they can send her for treatment, but I did not agree because she is innocent,” he said.

Tuan said Thuy was standing firm that she had not done anything wrong.

“She has never pleaded guilty since she was arrested. She said she only helped people.”

Reported by An Nguyen for RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.