Suffering from near total blindness, Vietnamese activist granted early prison release

Do The Hoa said he was forced to wait months before he could receive medical treatment.
By RFA Vietnamese
2023.02.09
Suffering from near total blindness, Vietnamese activist granted early prison release Vietnamese prisoner of conscience Do The Hoa, known on Facebook as Bang Lĩnh, was serving a five-year prison term on the charge of 'disturbing security.'
Bang Lĩnh Facebook account

Vietnamese authorities on Thursday freed activist Do The Hoa for “good behavior” seven months before the end of his five-year sentence, but the political prisoner emerged nearly blind because he was denied medical treatment while in prison.

Hoa, also known as Facebooker Bang Lĩnh, was arrested on Sept. 1, 2018, along with seven other members of the so-called “Constitution Group” of activists promoting rule of law and constitutional reform in Vietnam.

The 55-year-old was sentenced to five years in jail for “disturbing security” and sent to Binh Duong province, where he served time at An Phuoc Prison.

On Thursday, Hoa was allowed to walk free, and returned to his home in the country’s commercial capital Ho Chi Minh City, where he will serve two years of probation.

Speaking to RFA Vietnamese, Hoa said that while he was never treated harshly or subjected to forced labor in prison, authorities ignored his requests for medical treatment for his eyes until it was too late, leaving him nearly totally blind.

“The vision in my eye with glaucoma has decreased to only 20%, making me only able to differentiate between light and dark … but unable to recognize human faces, while my other eye cannot see anything at all,” he said.

Hoa, who was near-sighted prior to his arrest, said that after noticing his eye problems, he requested that the prison send him to a hospital for treatment. However, by the time he was granted approval, there was nothing doctors could do for his condition.

“I started to suffer from the pain [caused by sore eyes] in October 2020 but could not see a doctor or get medicine to reduce my intraocular pressure until December, and my surgery did not take place until March 2021,” he said.

“I bore the pain for five months, from October to March,” he said. “During those five months, the cataract encumbered the eye nerve, causing migraines and making my eyes burn.”

Constitution Group

Hoa was part of a group who called themselves the Constitution Group, which helped organize large-scale protests of proposed laws on special economic zones and cybersecurity in Ho Chi Minh City on June 10, 2018.

Eight of the group’s members were arrested while preparing for a demonstration planned for Vietnam’s National Day on Sept. 2, 2018. Several members of the group fled to Thailand to avoid arrest.

According to the indictment by the People’s Procuracy of Ho Chi Minh City, the defendants were “dissatisfied with the authorities” and “regularly accessed bad content” on social media. They allegedly shared videos on their Facebook accounts “to incite and lure people” into participating in the June 2018 protests, it said.

Hoa is the third member of the Constitution Group to be released from prison following Doan Thi Hong and Tran Thanh Phuong, who were freed last year after having served 2.5 and 3.5 years, respectively.

A fourth member of the group, Ho Dinh Cuong, is expected to complete his sentence in March, while Ngo Van Dung and Le Quy Loc are scheduled to be released in September. Two others who received heavier sentences, Hoang Thi Thu Vang and Nguyen Thi Ngoc Hanh, are serving seven and eight-year terms.

Hoa said that during his two-year probation he will focus on improving his health and continuing medical treatment in the hope of recovering his vision.

Translated by Anna Vu. Edited by Joshua Lipes and Malcolm Foster.

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