A Vietnamese blogger held in a psychiatric hospital while awaiting trial for criticizing Vietnam’s one-party communist state in postings online has been beaten, tied to his bed, and forcibly injected for refusing to take medication for his supposed mental illness, Vietnamese sources say.
Vietnam’s already low tolerance of dissent has deteriorated sharply this year with a spate of arrests of independent journalists and Facebook personalities, and activists say things are likely to get worse in the run-up to the ruling Communist Party congress in January.
Le Anh Hung, a member of the online Brotherhood of Democracy advocacy group who had blogged for the Voice of America, was arrested in July 2018 on a charge of “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the state” under Article 331 of Vietnam’s criminal code.
He was transferred from jail to Hanoi’s Central Mental Hospital No. 1 for “observation and treatment” in April 2019, and if convicted at trial could serve up to seven years in prison.
Medical staff at the hospital are forcing Le to take medication that he insists he does not need as he is not mentally ill, independent journalist and fellow blogger Nguyen Vu Binh told RFA’s Vietnamese Service on July 16.
“Therefore he protests, and as a result they beat him and tie him up, and then inject him with the drugs,” Nguyen said.
“They beat him very cruelly,” he said, adding, “Early this week, a nurse named An used a metal folding chair to beat him and then fastened him to his bed, injecting him with sedatives that left him unconscious.”
Attempts to reach Le’s mother Tran Thi Niem and hospital authorities rang unanswered on Thursday.
Mental, physical suffering
Tran had called on authorities in June 2019 to release her son from his forced stay in the mental hospital, where she said he was being forced to take medicine and was suffering “both mentally and physically.”
Le, in his mid-30s, had lost weight and looked ragged, gaunt, and depressed, Tran told RFA following a May 2019 visit to her son in the hospital, adding that he had undergone psychiatric assessments twice between October 2018 and April without his family being informed.
Vietnam, with a population of 92 million people of whom 55 million are estimated to be users of Facebook, has been consistently rated “not free” in the areas of internet and press freedom by Freedom House, a U.S.-based watchdog group.
Dissent is not tolerated in the communist nation, and authorities routinely use a set of vague provisions in the penal code to detain dozens of writers and bloggers.
“Criminal penalties apply to those who disseminate materials deemed to oppose the government, threaten national security, or promote ‘reactionary’ ideas,” said Human Rights Watch in an annual survey of Vietnam’s rights conditions in 2019.
“Authorities block access to websites, frequently shut blogs, and require internet service providers to remove content or social media accounts deemed politically unacceptable,” the New York-based group said.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Huy Le. Written in English by Richard Finney.