Man dies in custody after cockfighting arrest

Nguyen Ngoc Diep's family say he had a stomach complaint and died after a long interrogation session.
By RFA Vietnamese
2022.07.13
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File photo of Nguyen Ngoc Diep and his altar.
Photos provided by Diep's family

A middle-aged Vietnamese man died after 10 hours in custody at the Ke Sach district police headquarters in Soc Trang province.

Nguyen Ngoc Diep, 49, was arrested with 10 others who were watching a cockfight at the Chi Be Ba restaurant on the afternoon of July 1. Betting on cockfighting is illegal in Vietnam but popular, particularly in the south of the country.

Diep, who worked growing fruit trees, only had the equivalent of 90 cents on him when he was arrested, according to his family.

They said Diep suffered from a stomach disorder and they brought food and medicine to the Ke Sach district police headquarters, asking officers to give it to him. Despite repeatedly telling the police about his medical condition Diep’s family said the police ignored them.

The family asked the police to let Diep out of jail, since they didn’t think watching cockfighting was a serious offense and only warranted a fine. They said Diep would return the following day to answer police questions. However, the police refused to let him go home and interrogated him repeatedly about betting on the fight. Diep reportedly collapsed the same night and died.

“I warned them that if they kept him locked up for a while, it would be dangerous for him because he's very sick,” Diep’s wife Nguyen Thi Hong told RFA. “They didn’t care and I had to wait outside. I told the police my husband had a serious stomach complaint and would not be able to stand a long detention. At 11 p.m. he fainted and died. The police took him to hospital but the emergency doctor said he was dead on arrival.”

Diep's brother, Nguyen Van Do, witnessed the forensic examination of his brother's body by Soc Trang provincial police the following morning. He said Dieps lungs were swollen and blood had pooled in his heart.

“There was a small bruise on the bottom of his eyelid but the medical examiner said that was not the cause of death,” he said.

Diep’s body was returned to the family after the medical examination.

As of this Tuesday the family had not received the autopsy report. The district police have not commented on the case and did not sent a representative to offer condolences, according to the family.

RFA called the Soc Trang Provincial Police Director, but he hung up as soon as the reporter introduced himself. The Deputy Directors did not pick up the phone and the Ke Sach police chief also failed to answer RFA’s calls. State media have not reported on the incident.

Diep’s wife said she did not believe her husband died from a beating during interrogation. However, she said the family was upset about the police ignoring their repeated warnings about Diep’s health and she believed he died from being confined too long with no rest.

"The family wants the police to be held accountable for my brother's death because they were warned [about his health] but disregarded it,” Diep’s elder brother said. “They have to properly explain it to our family."

The district police released the other prisoners directly after Diep’s death, the family said, asking them to report back to the station in the following days to deal with paperwork related to illegal beatings.

At the end of 2014, Vietnam’s National Assembly ratified the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel Treatment. In spite of the law numerous suspects and prisoners have been tortured to death or seriously injured in police stations across the country.

RFA statistics, based on information from state newspapers, show that at least 16 people died in police stations and prisons from 2019 to the end of last year.

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