Jailed Vietnamese Land Activist Held in Solitary Confinement: Daughter

Can Thi Theu has been placed in a cell on her own in the summer heat, raising concerns for her health.
2021-07-02
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Can Thi Theu (R) and her son, Trinh Ba Tu (L), in an undated photo.
Human Rights Watch

Vietnamese land-rights activist Can Thi Theu is being held in solitary confinement under harsh jail conditions following her sentencing to eight years in prison for criticizing the government over its handling of a deadly land-rights clash, her daughter said Friday.

Trinh Thi Thao, Theu’s daughter, told RFA’s Vietnamese Service that her mother is currently in a prison in the seat of northern Vietnam’s Hoa Binh province, where she has been placed in a cell on her own in the heat of the country’s tropical summer after being jailed for political reasons.

“I just got a message that my mother is in solitary confinement, meaning that she is alone in a cell,” Thao said, adding that she had received the information about her mother from a source whose family member is in the same prison as Theu.

“It is very hot right now in the north, horribly hot. There were prisoners in the same prison who were sent to the hospital for heat stroke.

Thao said she is worried about Theu’s health but hasn’t been able to speak with her, and prison authorities have not allowed her to visit since her trial in early May. She said she has been given no explanation about why her mother was placed in solitary or why she cannot meet with her family members.

“My mom told her fellow inmates in other cells that if they hear her banging on the door, they should immediately yell for help so they could send her to the hospital,” Thao said. “I am worried for my mom’s health in this situation.”

Theu and her sons Trinh Ba Tu and Trinh Ba Phuong were arrested on June 24, 2020 on charges of propagandizing against the state for posting online articles and livestreaming videos critical of the government’s response to a land dispute that turned violent last year.

On Jan. 9, 2020, around 3,000 security officers conducted a raid on Dong Tam commune’s Hoanh hamlet to intervene in a long-running dispute over a military airport construction site about 25 miles south of Vietnam’s capital, Hanoi.

Dong Tam village elder Le Dinh Kinh, 84, was shot and killed by police during the operation, and Kinh’s sons Le Dinh Chuc and Le Dinh Cong were sentenced to death on Sept. 14, 2020 in connection with the deaths of three police officers who were also killed in the clash.

Theu and Tu were sentenced to eight years in prison each by a court in Hoa Binh on May 5. Trinh Ba Phuong remains in pre-trial detention.

Tu has also been refused visits with his family since his trial and authorities have yet to explain why.

Harsh forms of persecution

According to Paris-based media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF), state media in Vietnam is highly restricted, leaving bloggers and independent journalists as “the only sources of independently reported information” in the country, despite being subjected to “ever-harsher forms of persecution.”

Measures taken against them now include assaults by plainclothes police, RSF said in its 2021 Press Freedoms Index, which placed Vietnam at 175 out of 180 countries surveyed worldwide, a ranking unchanged from last year.

“To justify jailing them, the Party resorts to the criminal codes, especially three articles under which ‘activities aimed at overthrowing the government,’ ‘anti-state propaganda’ and ‘abusing the rights to freedom and democracy to threaten the interests of the state’ are punishable by long prison terms,” the rights group said.

Vietnam’s already low tolerance of dissent deteriorated sharply last year with a spate of arrests of independent journalists, publishers, and Facebook personalities as authorities continued to stifle critics in the run-up to the ruling Communist Party Congress in January. But arrests continue in 2021.

Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Anna Vu. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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