Jailed Vietnamese Democracy Advocate Hospitalized as Hunger Strike Hits Day 50

Jailed Vietnamese Democracy Advocate Hospitalized as Hunger Strike Hits Day 50 Vietnamese democracy advocate Tran Huynh Duy Thuc is shown at his trial in Ho Chi Minh City, Jan. 20, 2010.

A jailed Vietnamese democracy advocate has been hospitalized in failing health in Nghe An province after reaching the 50-day mark in a hunger strike launched to appeal for a reduction in his prison term, family members say.

Tran Huynh Duy Thuc, now serving a 16-year sentence for subversion for writing online articles criticizing Vietnam’s one-party communist state, was admitted on an emergency basis to the Vietnam-Poland Hospital in Nghe An’s Vinh City, Tran’s younger brother Tran Huynh Duy Tan told RFA on Thursday.

The date of Tran’s admission to hospital is still unclear, but reports of the hospitalization, previously denied by hospital staff, were confirmed to his family by the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi, Tran’s brother said.

“The U.S. Embassy told my family that the reports circulating that my brother had been urgently hospitalized in Nghe An were correct,” Tran Huynh Duy Tan said, adding that reports that his brother was in hospital were also confirmed by family friends in Nghe An.

Launched on Nov. 24, 2020, Tran’s hunger strike had already left him in a severely weakened state, Tran’s brother told RFA on Monday following a Jan. 9 visit to Tran at Camp No. 6 of Nghe An’s Thanh Chuong detention center.

”My brother’s health was very poor, and he said he had by then reached the 47th day of his hunger strike,” Tran Huynh Duy Tan said.

Arrested in May 2009 because of his writings online, Tran Huynh Duy Thuc was convicted in 2010 on charges of plotting to overthrow the government under Article 79 of Vietnam’s 1999 Penal Code.

He is now calling for the charges against him to be changed to involvement in “preparations to commit a crime,” an offense calling only for a five-year term of imprisonment under Vietnam’s revised 2015 Penal Code, and Tran’s family and lawyers have petitioned authorities several times for his sentence to be reduced in line with the new law.

Reached for comment on Thursday, a hospital staff member confirmed Tran had been admitted, saying, “Did you ask about a person from the No. 6 detention camp in Nghe An? Yes, he is here now.” But ten minutes later, after being called for more details, a staff member denied Tran was there.

“He was staying at the No. 6 detention camp, not at my hospital,” the staff member said. “He didn’t have any illness, so why should he be hospitalized?”

An email seeking comment from the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi received a reply stating they had “nothing to share,” while an email to the German Embassy received no response.

Long hours at hard labor

An Australian citizen jailed in Vietnam on charges of engaging in terrorism is meanwhile being subjected to long hours at hard labor in prison, Australia’s ABC news service said on Wednesday, citing information received from a former prison inmate.

Chau Van Kham, an ethnic Vietnamese resident of Sydney, Australia, and member of the banned U.S.-based Viet Tan opposition party, was sentenced on Nov. 11, 2019 to a prison term of 12 years, while his colleagues Nguyen Van Vien and Tran Van Quyen were handed terms of 11 and 10 years respectively.

Labeled a terrorist group by Vietnam in October 2016, Viet Tan describes itself instead as committed to peaceful, nonviolent struggle to promote democracy in Vietnam.

Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has raised Chau’s case nine times between January 2019 and June 2020 over humanitarian concerns, but Chau’s family and lawyers have criticized the Australian government for what they say has been a ”lack of urgency” in pursuing the case, ABC reported.

Rights activists and relatives of political prisoners in Vietnam called this week for sanctions to be imposed under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, a U.S. law, on Vietnamese officials deemed responsible for torture and other abuses in the country’s jails, as criticisms of Hanoi’s repression of critics and dissenters mounts around the world.

The call comes as authorities in Hanoi prepare for the Jan. 25 launch of the 13th ruling Communist Party Congress, cited by activists and rights experts as the reason Vietnam’s already low tolerance of dissent deteriorated sharply in 2020 with the round-up of independent journalists, publishers, and Facebook commentators.

Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Huy Le. Written in English by Richard Finney.


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