Jailed activist suffering from lung failure, former cellmate says

Vu Quang Thuan also lost half of his body weight after prison disciplinary action.
By RFA Vietnamese
2023.10.06
Jailed activist suffering from lung failure, former cellmate says Vu Quang Thuan pictured during his trial in 2018.
Cong an Nhan Dan

Updated October 6, 2023 at 4:29 p.m. ET

A jailed Vietnamese activist has dropped more than 36 kilograms (80 pounds), has lost most of his lung capacity and has had several medical emergencies in recent months, another prisoner told Radio Free Asia. 

The activist, Vu Quang Thuan, is also suffering from severe asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, according to Nguyen Viet Dung, who completed his six year sentence last week.

Dung told RFA on Wednesday that he had to alert prison guards at Nam Ha Prison in northern Ha Nam province to Thuan’s condition on several occasions.

“I was the one who voluntarily asked to move into the same room with Thuan in the last months before I was released from prison, so I could call an emergency for him,” he said. “There were nights when I had to call an emergency at 2 to 3 a.m.”

Thuan, 57, began working to protect the rights of Vietnamese workers in Malaysia in 2007. He is a key member of the Vietnam Restoration movement, which peacefully campaigns for multi-party democracy in Vietnam, ruled solely by the Communist Party. 

Thuan was arrested in early March 2017 on charges of “anti-state propaganda” and is serving an eight-year prison sentence. 

Thuan was disciplined and held separately for more than a year and was returned to the area for political prisoners in mid-May 2022. At that time, his weight dropped from 75 kilograms to 38 kilograms (165 lbs to 84 lbs).

‘He is weak and thin’

Dung said Thuan was also suffering from lung failure and only has a quarter of his lung capacity left.

“Many nights, Mr. Thuan confided that he did not know if he was still healthy enough to be able to return home to see his mother,” Dung said. 

“I always comforted and encouraged him, but inside I was really sad,” he said. “Every day he had an itchy rash with red hives all over his body.”

Thuan’s mother Nguyen Thi Nhien, who visited him on Sept. 30, confirmed that the information from Dung was correct.

“Thuan’s health is very weak. When he talks to me, he finds it difficult to breathe. Sinusitis distorts his nose. Lung disease causes shortness of breath and he is weak and thin.”

She said in the last two months, Thuan’s health had not improved even though his family provided him with medicine.

Nhien said her family asked prison authorities to allow Thuan to go for treatment at a specialized hospital, but the prison refused.

Sprayed chemicals

Dung is the second former prisoner of conscience to raise the alarm about Thuan’s poor health. In early July, Le Anh Hung completed his five-year prison term and also called for authorities to pay attention to Thuan's case.

“Vu Quang Thuan’s health is very bad,” he told RFA in July. “For a period of more than a year, he had to stay in solitary confinement, lying on wet floors due to leaking water tanks with not enough warm blankets in winter.”

RFA called Nam Ha Prison to ask about Thuan's health condition, but no one answered the phone.

Nam Ha prisoners are forced to work. Those who do not have to stay in cramped cells without a fan, Hung said.

The prisoners’ job is knitting. The raw materials are sprayed with chemicals to prevent mold, which Hung said made prisoners sick.

Although the work is hard, the prisoners are not paid and it is unclear whether the prison uses their wages to improve meals for prisoners.

After Thuan and two other members of the Vietnam Restoration movement were sent to prison, the U.S. government, Amnesty International and a number of other organizations called on Vietnam to release them immediately and unconditionally.

Translated by RFA Vietnamese. Edited by Mike Firn, Elaine Chan and Matt Reed.

Updated to recast throughout.

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