Speaking on the condition of anonymity, a Catholic from Con Dau Parish near Vietnam’s central city of Da Nang agreed to an interview about his detention and beating by a special anti-riot police force. He fled to Bangkok with a number of other parishioners after they were attacked when they attempted to bury a fellow worshipper in a Catholic cemetery adjacent to their church on May 4. Authorities had forcibly appropriated the land for an eco-tourism development project. The Con Dau parishioners are currently seeking refugee status in Thailand from the U.N. refugee agency.
I’ve been in Thailand for two and a half months already. I would have spoken up sooner, but was afraid for the safety of my wife and children back home. However, because of the death of my friend Nguyen Thanh Nam, I now feel I must speak up about the repression of our people by the Vietnamese government and police.
What happened to you at Con Dau?
I was arrested when I attended the funeral. The 113 Anti-Riot Police Unit beat me, using electric batons to continuously bludgeon my body. They dragged me to a driveway. Behind me others in the village were also being arrested. The police kept beating us all along the road, which is about 500 meters long. There were other people I didn’t recognize who were beating us as well.
The police put us in a car and took us to the district office. There, they made us stand and face the wall. I heard a policewoman ask if anyone dared to resist. After that I heard people screaming, the sound of slaps, and the sounds of beating.
I was stepped on a couple of times, and when I turned around, a police officer hit me straight in the face. They took away all of our cell phones and began to interrogate us. They beat us up while they questioned us. They hit me in the face, on my head, and on my back.
They asked why I had resisted government orders by listening to “bad people” and by attending the funeral. I tried to address them respectfully, calling them “Sir,” but they hit me anyway, knocking me down. I was afraid to speak. If I didn’t answer, I would get hit. If I answered them, I would get hit. At last, the police wrote something on a piece of paper and told me to sign it. I tried to read it through my tears, and ended up signing my name without knowing what I was signing.
After you signed the paper, were you released?
Not right away. After I signed the paper, they told me to go outside to rest. I saw a child with his face bruised from being beaten, and he said “I think I’m going to jail. They accused me of so many wrongdoings.” It was not just me; everyone who walked through the door got beaten up. I saw Ms. Nhan, Ms. Huy, Ms. The. Everyone’s faces were bruised. None of us who were arrested, from young to old, had done anything wrong towards the government. But our blood was shed from the rice farms all the way to the government office.
What happened to you until you were finally released?
That night we slept on the pavement, in the hallway, and in one of the offices of the police station. The next morning they interrogated us some more. There were so many of us that when they were questioning me there were five or six other people sitting beside me. Each person was being interrogated by an officer at the same time.
When the teenagers were being questioned, they were pulled into a standing position and beaten. There was a child at the funeral. I know he didn’t throw any stones, but they forced him to say that he had. He wouldn’t do it at first, but in the end he had to. Someone told me later that if he had not said what they told him to, they would have broken his wrist.
What did they make you say?
They said I had obstructed police activities and disturbed the peace.
The afternoon before you signed the piece of paper, how long did the interrogation last?
They kept saying that my statements were insincere and untruthful. They demanded that I rewrite them. I saw the policeman who was questioning me write something on the paper, but all I could make out was “question and answer.” At the time, my body ached from the beating in the village. I was dumbstruck and I was afraid to look in my interrogator’s eyes.
In total, how many statements did you write?
Six or seven, I think. I can’t remember because my head was badly hurt. I was beaten so badly that I could not think straight. I can only remember the more notable details.
When did the interrogations end?
Twelve to 13 of us were forced to remain in custody [during the day] for three days. We were released at 10 p.m. each night. I know they were afraid to release us during the day because they were afraid that people would see our bruised and gaunt faces. Each night before we left, we had to pledge that we would come back the next morning at 7 a.m. Even though our bodies were aching and sore, the next day we would still have to return to continue the interrogations.
Because we were being beaten and watching others being beaten, we were so afraid that whatever they wanted us to sign—whether it was related to papers, land ownership documents, whatever—we would just follow their orders.
Original reporting by Gia Minh for RFA’s Vietnamese service. Translation by Khanh Nguyen. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.