Vietnamese Land Activist Sent to Mental Hospital for Refusing to Speak to Police

2021-03-22
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Vietnamese Land Activist Sent to Mental Hospital for Refusing to Speak to Police Vietnamese land-rights activist Trinh Ba Phuong (center) is shown with his mother, Can Thi Theu, and brother, Trinh Ba Tu, in an undated photo.
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Vietnamese land-rights activist Trinh Ba Phuong is being held in a state-run mental hospital after being transferred from his former detention center, according to his wife, who was informed of his whereabouts on Monday.

After visiting Hanoi police on March 22 to ask about her husband, Phuong’s wife Do Thi Thu was told he had been sent to the hospital in Hanoi’s Thuong Tin district for “evaluation” after refusing to cooperate with investigators, Thu told RFA on Monday.

“It was [investigating officer] Le The Bac who told me in person that my husband had been sent to the National Psychiatric Hospital No. 1 on March 1,” Thu said, adding she was told that her husband had been “uncooperative” with police, refusing to look at his interrogators or answer their questions.

“Because of this behavior, prosecutors asked that an assessment of Phuong’s health be carried out for around four to six weeks,” Thu said she was told.

Investigators had previously summoned Phuong’s family members on Sept. 3, 2020 to ask about Phuong’s behavior at home and whether there was a history of mental illness in the family, Thu said. “I told them that when he was at home, Phuong was healthy and loved his wife and children, and that there is no one in my family with mental health problems.”

“Then, in December, Phuong asked someone to call me, and that person told me that Phuong had said he would uphold his right to silence until he could see his lawyer. That person also said that Phuong wanted to remind us not to say anything to police ourselves, as we too have the right to silence.”

Calls seeking comment from the National Psychiatric Hospital No. 1 were answered by a receptionist who said she did not know of any patient there named Trinh Ba Truong and that there were over 600 patients in the hospital.

Calls to the hospital’s General Planning Department were not picked up on Monday.

The right to maintain silence

Speaking to RFA, Phuong’s defense attorney Dang Dinh Manh said his client was within his rights under Vietnam’s Criminal Code “not to give testimony against himself or to plead guilty,” adding that he plans to file a complaint in the case with prosecutors and the Hanoi Security Investigation Office.

“The Criminal Code stipulates that defendants have the right to maintain silence,” the lawyer said. “Thus I was very surprised to hear that not giving responses [to investigators] should be taken as a sign of mental illness and that ‘assessments’ are needed.”

“Because I got this information from Phuong’s family and not in an official notice given to me as his lawyer, I’ll ask the Security Investigation Office to confirm it," he said.

"And if they do, I’ll take further legal steps which could include filing a complaint about Phuong’s transfer for health assessments without legal justification."

A well-known land-rights activist in Hanoi, Trinh Ba Phuong was arrested on June 24, 2020 with his younger brother, Trinh Ba Tu, and his mother, Can Thi Theu, on charges of “creating, storing, and disseminating information, documents, items and publications opposing the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.”

The three family members had been outspoken in social media postings about the Jan. 9, 2020 clash in Dong Tam commune in which 3,000 police stormed barricaded protesters’ homes at a construction site about 25 miles south of the capital, killing a village elder.

They had also offered information to foreign embassies and other international figures to try to raise awareness of the incident.

While all land is ultimately held by the state, land confiscations have become a flashpoint as residents accuse the government of pushing small landholders aside in favor of lucrative real estate projects, and of paying too little in compensation to farming families displaced by development.

Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Chau Vu. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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