A Vietnamese restaurant owner detained almost two weeks ago on unknown charges has died in police custody, with his body showing signs of trauma from a beating, family members say.
Hoang Tuan Long, aged about 39, was taken into custody on Aug. 18 without explanation and died on Aug. 24 at a hospital in Vietnam’s capital Hanoi, Long’s wife Nguyen Thi Hang told RFA’s Vietnamese Service.
“On Aug. 24, at 7:55 in the morning, my mother-in-law got a phone call from a number we didn’t recognize, and the person at the other end of the line told her that [Long] had died at Ha Dong General Hospital,” Hang said.
“We were very shocked to hear this, because he was perfectly healthy and had shown no sign of disease,” she said.
Told that Long’s body was now in a morgue, Hang was told by a doctor that he had bled from his ears and died because of a hemorrhage.
“But they told my mother-in-law that he had had a stomachache and died because of that,” she said.
Hang was later present at an autopsy conducted by military doctors at the family’s request and observed a “large dent” at the back of Long’s head, she said, adding, “Four of his ribs were also broken, and there was stagnant blood in his heart and other organs were swollen.”
Reached for comment by RFA, a staffer at the Tho Quan Commune police station, where Long had been taken after being detained, said that Long had been taken into custody for possessing drugs.
“We followed protocol,” said the officer, who declined to give his name.
“We transferred him to the district police and then to Hoa Lo prison. He committed suicide, in spite of what you read on Facebook. He bit his tongue,” he said.
Long’s tongue was intact and showed no signs of injury at his autopsy, though, Hang told RFA, adding that her husband had never used or sold drugs.
Funeral disrupted by police
On Aug. 26, Long’s family organized a funeral which was disrupted by plainclothes police, Hang said.
“Our cousins used their mobile phones to record the moment when we put him in the coffin. We just wanted to keep a memory of him. But many plainclothes policemen stopped them and tried to snatch their phones away, creating a lot of noise.”
"There were also some uniformed policemen at the funeral. They surrounded the area and monitored us very closely,” she said.
New York-based Human Rights Watch has said that police brutality is systemic in Vietnam, whose Ministry of Public Security has admitted that 226 suspects and inmates died in police stations and detention facilities throughout the country between October 2010 and September 2014.
On Aug. 2, Hoang Anh, a 35-year-old farmer from Kien Giang province who joined large-scale June 10 protests over government plans to grant long-term leases to foreign companies operating in special economic zones (SEZs) and a controversial cybersecurity law, was “found dead after having been interrogated by the local police,” local rights group Defend the Defenders said in an earlier report.
The group’s director, Vu Quoc Ngu, cited local activists who said that four police officers visited Anh’s home in Chau Thanh district on Aug. 2 to question him about his involvement in the protest, and when his wife returned from making them tea, she found him “collapsed with injuries to his neck and belly.”
Anh died later that day after being brought to a district hospital, but police in Ken Giang said the farmer committed suicide. Local authorities reportedly forced Anh’s family to bury him the following day.
“Dozens of people continue to die mysteriously in custody,” despite Hanoi ratifying the UN Convention against Torture in November 2014, the rights group said.
In May last year, authorities in Vietnam’s Vinh Long province announced that Hoa Hao Buddhist follower Nguyen Huu Tan had cut his own throat with a police investigator’s letter opener and died following an interrogation, but his family members questioned the official report, noting that his head showed signs of trauma and was nearly severed from his body.
Prominent blogger Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, one of the best-known of Vietnam’s nearly 100 political prisoners and also known as Mother Mushroom, had documented 31 cases of mysterious deaths in police custody before being imprisoned last year for her online writings criticizing the government.
Surge in sentences
On Aug. 27, New York-based rights group Human Rights Work called on the Australian government to press Vietnam to improve its rights record at a bilateral Human Rights Dialogue scheduled to be held on Tuesday in Hanoi.
“Over the past year, we’ve seen a surge in lengthy prison sentences handed down to people peacefully calling for democracy and an end to one-party rule in Vietnam,” said Elaine Pearson, Australia director at Human Rights Watch.
“Australia should pressure Vietnam to set concrete and measurable benchmarks to improve its abysmal rights record,” Pearson said.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Viet Ha. Written in English by Richard Finney.