Prisoners in Vietnam Believed to be Ill After Lengthy Hunger Strikes

Family concerned about prisoner’s health after missed phone call.
Prisoners in Vietnam Believed to be Ill After Lengthy Hunger Strikes Activist Tran Huynh Duy Thuc at trial in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, on January 20, 2021

The families of two hunger-striking Vietnamese political prisoners are concerned about their health due to months-long hunger strikes over what they see as unfair sentencing and poor prison conditions, the families told RFA.

Tran Huynh Duy Thuc, who has already served 11 years of his 16-year prison term, was arrested in May 2009 for writing online articles criticizing Vietnam’s one-party communist state and was convicted in 2010 on charges of plotting to overthrow the government under Article 79 of Vietnam’s 1999 Penal Code.

Family members became increasingly concerned about his health after he missed a scheduled phone call from Detention Center No. 6 in the northern province of Nghe An on Tuesday, family told RFA’s Vietnamese Service.

He began a hunger strike in late March, demanding that charges against him be changed to involvement in “preparation 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 tried several times to petition authorities for his sentence to be reduced.

“Our family are very worried about his health condition,” Thuc’s brother Tran Huynh Duy Tan told RFA.

“When he called home last month, he said that he had been on hunger strike for nearly 100 days already. As of today, he would be on the hunger strike for more than 120 days,” Tan said.

Tan said that his brother said during their last phone call that he accepted the possibility that he could die, causing great concern among the family. 

The family has tried to call the detention center for updates on Thuc’s condition, but they were unable to get any new information. The family said it also has sent letters to Vietnamese government leaders to intervene in case of emergency.

“My brother is on a hunger strike because he wants the Supreme People’s Court to waive his remaining jail term and respond to the various petitions he’s been sending out since a long time ago,” Tan said.

According to the revised criminal code, the sentence for the same charge should be only five years, instead of 16, Tan said.

“The remaining penalty should be waived. He is not asking for amnesty. The thing is, the government must do this as a matter of course as it complies with the new law. My brother should not need to ask for it,” he said.

Le Cong Dinh, Le Thang Long, and Nguyen Tien Trung, all of whom stood trial together with Thuc 11 years ago have since been freed.

Four others on strike

In neighboring Quang Nam province, four political prisoners at An Diem Prison have been on a hunger strike that has lasted more than 85 days, the brother of one of the inmates told RFA.

Hoang Duc Binh, Nguyen Thai Binh, Le Duc Dong, and Phan Cong Hai have refused to eat since late April in protest against what they see as unfair verdicts.

Hoang Nguyen, the younger brother of Hoang Duc Binh, told RFA that his brother said he was in poor health after revealing the four-man hunger strike during a phone call Wednesday.

“Since April 26, 2021, or for over 85 days, my brother and some of his fellow inmates… are not accepting any food provided by the An Diem Detention Center,” said Nguyen.

“Yesterday he said that he was losing weight and he had a huge canker sore and a backache that isn’t getting better, so he asked the family to send some medicine,” he said.

Nguyen said that the family sent his brother six kilograms (more than 13 pounds) of goods that included cereals, seeds, and fertilizer so he can grow vegetables.

Binh also receives from the family 1.5 million dong (U.S. $65) to purchase food from the prison’s canteen.

Hoang Binh was an independent union activist and member of Vietnam’s Labor Movement.

He was arrested in 2017 after joining a group of Nghe An petitioners marching from Nghe An province to nearby Ha Tinh province to file a lawsuit against the Taiwan-owned Formosa Plastics Group steel plant, from which a toxic spill in 2016 killed an estimated 115 tons of fish and left fishermen and tourism workers jobless in four central provinces.

In February 2018, Hoang Binh was sentenced to 14 years in prison on charges of “assaulting officers on official duty” and “abusing the rights to freedom and democracy to violate legitimate interests of the State, organization and individuals.”

Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Anna Vu. Written in English by Eugene Whong.


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