A Vietnamese political prisoner who had served more than three decades in jail has died in captivity due to medical complications, according to his sons.
Truong Van Suong , a former military officer for South Vietnam’s Army serving a life sentence for his role in a failed attempt to overthrow the communist Vietnamese government, died Monday morning in Nam Ha prison in Ba Sao at the age of 68.
Truong Tan Tai, his son, said he was notified by prison authorities later in the day.
“Around 1:00 p.m., someone from the prison called my brother, saying our father had passed away at 10:20 a.m.,” he said.
“After I got the news, I called a representative of the prison to confirm. The person said the situation was serious and that I needed to go there as soon as possible. I asked him again to tell me what happened, but he just told me to go there quickly.”
Tai said his brother called again and was told by the same prison official that his father had died.
A prison official contacted by RFA would not confirm the report.
“We don’t know. We don’t have a responsibility to answer you. You must speak with my supervisor,” the prison official said, without providing his name.
One of Suong’s sons was on the way to the prison at the time of publishing.
Truong Van Suong was born in Vietnam in 1943 to a Chinese-Vietnamese father and a Cambodian-Vietnamese mother.
During the Vietnam War, he served as an officer in Southern Vietnam’s Army fighting the Communist Vietcong alongside the U.S. Army until 1975 when the north invaded Saigon.
At the end of the war, he spent six years in a reeducation camp in Quang Binh, in central Vietnam.
After his release, Suong fled to Thailand, where he joined the The United Front of Patriotic Force for the Liberation of Vietnam led by French national Tran Van Ba in fighting to bring freedom and democracy to his homeland.
Unbeknownst to them, the Vietnamese government had embedded a spy in the group and after returning to Vietnam, Suong and Ba were among 200 people arrested by authorities and charged with treason in 1983.
Ba was tried and executed, while Suong was given life in prison for a lesser role in the organization.
Suong was transferred to several different facilities, but eventually was placed in Nam Ha, where he would spend the majority of his sentence and live out his final days.
In November 2010, prison officials at Ba Sao notified Suong’s family that he had developed a serious heart condition and would be granted medical parole for one year.
He spent his parole convalescing at a medical center along with Catholic priest and democracy activist Nguyen Van Ly, who had been granted medical parole from prison for the treatment of a brain tumor.
On Aug. 19, authorities suddenly returned Suong to prison, despite objections from his sons who said his heart was still too fragile to survive the conditions of captivity.
Phil Robertson, of the New York-based Human Rights Watch, condemned the Vietnamese government for returning Suong to prison when he "urgently needed proper medical treatment."
"By locking him up again in such terrible health, the government of Vietnam essentially condemned him to die alone, separated from family and friends in his last days,” he said in a statement.
Including his time in reeducation camp, Suong had spent more than 33 years in Vietnam’s prison system.
Reported by Gwen Ha for RFA’s Vietnamese service. Translated by Viet Ha. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.