A Vietnamese activist and RFA blogger serving a seven-year prison term for his role in protesting a chemical waste spill on Vietnam’s coast three years ago has been physically assaulted in prison and placed in solitary confinement, a fellow prisoner says.
Nguyen Van Hoa, now held at An Diem Prison in south-central Vietnam’s Quang Nam province, was throttled by a prison guard, Hoang Nguyen—younger brother of political prisoner Hoang Van Binh—told RFA’s Vietnamese Service on Tuesday.
Citing a phone conversation with his brother, now serving a 14-year sentence at An Diem, Nguyen said that Hoa had been choked and beaten “some days ago,” and was now confined in isolation.
Nguyen said he had informed Hoa’s sister about the assault, “and this morning she came to the prison but could not meet with him since he is being punished with solitary confinement for ten days,” he said.
Hoa, 24, was jailed by the People’s Court of Ha Tinh in Nghe An province on Nov. 27, 2017 after filming protests outside the Taiwan-owned Formosa Plastics Group steel plant, whose spill in 2016 killed an estimated 115 tons of fish and left fishermen and tourism industry workers jobless in four central provinces.
Hoa, who had blogged and produced videos for RFA, was arrested on Jan. 11, 2017 for “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the state” under Article 258 of the Penal Code, but the charges against him were later upgraded to the more severe “conducting propaganda against the state” under Article 88.
Blocked from meetings
Former political prisoners and other activists have meanwhile been blocked from meetings with U.S. diplomats in advance of a planned U.S.-Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue scheduled for later this week, sources said.
Hua Phi, head of an independent branch of the Cao Dai church in the central highlands province of Lam Dong, said that police in the province’s Duc Trong district had placed him under surveillance and barricaded his home to prevent him from traveling to Ho Chi Minh City, also called Saigon, to meet on May 13 with the U.S. diplomatic mission in the city.
“The police brought heavy furniture such as beds, chairs, and tables to block the door to my house,” Phi said, adding that he has assigned other members of his church to attend the meetings in Saigon, which will run for four days.
Vietnam’s government officially recognizes the Cao Dai faith, which combines elements of many religions, but imposes harsh controls on dissenting groups who do not follow the state-sanctioned branches.
Former political prisoner Le Cong Dinh was also blocked from a meeting requested by U.S. delegation members this week, with state security agents forbidding him from leaving his residence, Dinh wrote on his Facebook page.
Convicted in 2010 of involvement in a “plot to overthrow the government," Dinh—a prominent attorney who had defended bloggers and other free-expression advocates—served three years of a five-year prison sentence before being released on probation.
Vietnam now holds an estimated 128 prisoners of conscience, according to a May 13, 2019 report by rights group Amnesty International.
“The Vietnamese authorities portray individuals who are peacefully exercising their human rights as criminals,” Amnesty International (AI) said in its report, Prisoners of Conscience in Vietnam.
“However, it is the government that flagrantly contravenes international human rights law and its own constitution,” AI said.
Nguyen Kim Binh of Vietnam Human Rights Network said in December that the one-party communist state is currently detaining more than 200 political prisoners.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Viet Ha. Written in English by Richard Finney.