Ex-Vietnamese Political Prisoner Blames Jail Conditions for HIV Infection

Huynh Anh Tri (R) with his brother Huynh Anh Tu in an undated photo.
Photo courtesy of an RFA listener.

A former Vietnamese political prisoner who had served 14 years in jail says he has been tested positive for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, blaming the infection on inhumane conditions during his imprisonment, including mass sharing of shaving razor blades.

Huynh Anh Tri was released in December last year from Xuan Loc prison camp together with his brother Huynh Anh Tu after they were arrested in 1999 and convicted two years later of “terrorism” with intent to overthrow Hanoi’s one-party, communist government .

Tri acknowledged in an interview with RFA’s Vietnamese Service that he believed he contracted the deadly virus in prison, saying he was too weak to even talk.

“Please talk with my brother, I’m too tired. I can’t talk now,” he said, handing the phone to Tu, who alleged that the Vietnamese authorities deliberately let dissidents live in inhumane conditions in jails to make them vulnerable to deadly diseases such as AIDS.

He said his brother could have contracted the HIV virus between 2002 and 2004 when Xuan Loc prison was run by a superintendent who allowed mass sharing of shaving razor blades among prisoners.   

“[The superintendent] forced people to cut hair and shave faces with the same razor,” said Tu.

About 100 prisoners were forced to share one communal razor then and “the possibility of contracting HIV was very high,” he said.  


Political prisoners who do not bribe prison wardens were also forced to use shackles which were “unclean” and “stained with blood.”  Constant shackling can cause prisoners to bleed.

“If you did not bribe the prison managers, you would have contracted diseases because after two weeks, you were bleeding too,” Tu continued.

“Many prisoners had to bargain to have clean shackles and paid for them. Stubborn prisoners had to use the unclean shackles.”

After their release, Tri and Tu faced great difficulty in finding a place to stay, but were eventually helped by a church, reports said.

Tu suspects that about a dozen prisoners may have contracted the HIV virus during the 2002-2004 period, adding that some of them could have even died.

The Paris-based Vietnamese Committee on Human Rights (VCHR) said in a statement last year that dissidents were subjected to a “particularly harsh regime" and inadequate medical care in the political section of the Xuan Loc prison facility.

It identified one inmate, 53-year-old Do Van Thai, as having also contracted the HIV virus while in prison, saying he was receiving no treatment for the condition.

Reported by Mac Lam for RFA’s Vietnamese Service.  Written in English by Di Hoa Le.


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