UPDATED at 4:14 P.M. ET on 2020-05-18
Two deputies of Vietnam’s National Assembly have called for assembly oversight in the case of prominent death row inmate Ho Duy Hai, who last week was rejected in his bid for a new trial that would have sparked a reinvestigation into his murder case.
Ho was arrested in March 2008 and convicted nine months later of plundering property and murdering two female postal employees in Long An Province. The People’s Court of Long An province sentenced him to five years for the theft, and gave him the death penalty for the murders. These sentences were combined, resulting in a death sentence.
Vietnam’s Supreme People’s Court rejected a request by the country’s Supreme People’s Procuracy to reinvestigate the case, prompting his family members to petition lawmakers over the decision Monday.
Ho’s younger sister Ho Thi Thu Thuy told RFA’s Vietnamese Service Monday that his family had petitioned National Assembly deputies Luu Binh Nhuong and Truong Trong Nghia “in the hopes that they will speak out in favor of a re-investigation.”
Luu and Le Thanh Van, another assembly deputy, put in the request Thursday while sending a letter to the Communist Party of Vietnam’s chief, the president, and the assembly’s chairman, asking them to look into five specific issues in the case that they say need to be solved in a cassation case.
Deputy Luu told RFA that the letter was also aimed to maintain state discipline and the party’s prestige, to ensure justice and human rights, as well as to maintain confidence in the people’s courts.
On Thursday, the Ho family’s legal advisor Tran Hong Phong told RFA he sent a petition and evidence of Ho’s alibi to President Nguyen Phu Trong. According to Tran, who reexamined the case files, evidence shows that the killer was left-handed, while the prosecution argued that Ho killed the women using his right hand in the initial and appeal cases.
Le Van Triet, who was once Vietnam’s trade minster, told RFA Thursday that the petition was justified, and it is the correct procedure for citizens to bring their concerns before the National Assembly.
The petition opens the door for the case to be reinvestigated.
“I think the deputies’ petition has a certain value. The Judiciary Committee will also have to address a petition about this case and I hope that it will be able to be reconsidered,” Ngo Anh Tuan, a lawyer from Hanoi, told RFA on the same day.
The appeal by assemblymen is rare in Vietnam, a traditional one-party Communist state without independent courts or media and no separation of powers, with a legislature designed to rubber stamp ruling party decisions.
But the Supreme People’s Court’s rejection of the cassation trial caused a social media frenzy, but the government dismissed it as an attempt by activists to smear the judiciary system.
“It was more dangerous when some national assembly deputies spoke untruths of the Ho Duy Hai case, because their ideas are based on news spread on Facebook, making the case out to be more complicated [than it actually is.]” said the Vice Chief Justice of the court, Nguyen Tri Tue at a press briefing Tuesday, shortly after the rejection.
Several Vietnamese activists defended the role of social media platforms like Facebook in Vietnamese societal discourse.
“I believe that Facebook at present has an important position in our society,” Dang Dinh Manh, a lawyer, told RFA on Wednesday.
“[Facebook] not only helps to popularize slogans to the community, it also [can be used to] consolidate strong power in a way that is independent from traditional media, the legislature, the executive branch and the judiciary,” said Dang.
“That is why the assembly deputies take advantage of social media to relay their sentiment to the public effectively,” he said.
But the fact that Facebook is their only means to get their views out shows that deputies Le and Luu are also victims of the government’s censorship, according to a Ho Chi Minh City-based independent journalist.
“[It] proves that they –party members—representatives for the people, are also having their freedom of expression suffocated,” Nguyen Ngoc Gia told RFA Wednesday.
Another Ho Chi Minh City-based journalist told RFA that the two deputies are merely getting with the times.
“Posting their opinion one social media is a very progressive move. It means they read Facebook often and understand the sentiments of the people [they represent],” said Suong Quynh
In Vietnam some local governments have enacted regulations that ban or limit civil servants’ use of Facebook, but except for the police, there is no official ban from the central government. Civil servants are, however, discouraged by Hanoi from expressing views publicly on platforms like Facebook.
The death of justice
Critics of the Supreme People’s Court’s decision not to reinvestigate the trial say that upholding the death sentence for Ho is the same as sentencing justice itself to death.
“If Ho Duy Hai is sentenced to death, this regime’s justice and fairness will also be sentenced to death along with this society and all its institutions,” Pham Dinh Trong, a writer, told RFA.
Ngo said the prestige of the judiciary would take a massive hit in the eyes of legal professionals if they refuse to reconsider the case.
“For those who have knowledge about legal matters, we will lose faith in Vietnam’s judiciary, because we will have realized that the serious wrongdoing [during the investigation] was not considered objectively at the national-level courts,” said Ngo
Others reacted to the decision, saying that the court ignored irregularities in the investigation.
“I felt indignant about the judgment,” said Suong, who said she had protested on Ho’s behalf for the past seven years.
“They rejected the petition even though there is much evidence of wrongdoing during the process of the investigation,” she added.
Suong and others, along with civil organizations, signed a petition May 9 requesting clarification of the truth in Ho’s case.
Ngo said he had been optimistic that the death sentence would be canceled, but he does not think so anymore.
“For the past few days I had trust in the [the judicial process], but now I can only say that I hope the case will be reconsidered.”
The case so far
Observers have pointed to several procedural errors in Ho’s case, including that it was largely based on a confession that he later recanted, saying he had been forced to do so by police during his detention.
Additionally, prosecutors lacked crucial evidence, as no time of death for the two victims was ever established, fingerprints at the crime scene did not match Hai’s, and the murder weapons were misplaced by the forensic team.
London-based rights group Amnesty International has cited Ho’s mother as saying that he was tortured in prison, citing his deteriorating health and loss of weight.
Ho was originally set to be executed on Dec. 5, 2014 but was granted a stay a day earlier by then-President Truong Tan Sang.
In February 2015, the National Assembly’s Committee on Judicial Affairs declared after a reinvestigation into the case that during both the initial trial and the appeal, there had been “serious violations of criminal procedural law.”
The committee urged that the case be reviewed on appeal, but in Dec. 2017, Long An province’s procuracy pushed for execution.
In November last year, Amnesty International sent a petition with 25,000 signatures to President Trong calling for Ho’s acquittal.
Between August 2013 and June 2016, Vietnam executed 429 people, while 1,134 people were given death sentences between July 2011 and June 2016, according to government figures released in 2018.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Huy Le. Written in English by Eugene Whong.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this report incorrectly said that the murders occurred in Ho Chi Minh city. They occurred in Long An province.