Family members of jailed Vietnamese prominent dissident Nguyen Van Hai say they are concerned about his well-being after being informed by prison officials that he has been transferred to yet another prison camp without any explanation.
Hai, popularly known by his pen name Dieu Cay, is serving a 12-year jail sentence from September for “conducting propaganda against the state” after his online articles slammed one-party communist rule in Vietnam and highlighted alleged abuses by the authorities.
The blogger’s ex-wife Duong Thi Tan and the couple’s son Nguyen Tri Dung learned on Sunday when they went to visit Hai at the Xuyen Moc prison camp in southern Vietnam’s Ba Ria-Vung Tau province that he had been transferred out of the facility on April 26 “without any notification to his family,” Tan said.
Prison officials refused to let them know where Hai, who suffers from health problems, is being held.
Tan and Dung accused the prison authorities of not adhering to basic rules on the treatment of prisoners.
Hai has been held at nine different prison camps since his arrest in 2008 and his case has been adopted by the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.
Tan and Dung wrote letters this week to prison authorities and the police, complaining about his maltreatment.
They have also issued a desperate statement of appeal to international human rights groups and foreign governments to pressure Hanoi to be transparent about his whereabouts and provide better medical care for his leg and spinal ailments.
“We have no idea about his whereabouts, so we had to send a plea for help to all the embassies and human rights groups,” Tan told RFA’s Vietnamese Service, saying that prison officials were punishing Hai for his criticism against the state.
“What they have done with their powers can be considered revenge,” she said.
In February, they had traveled to the Bo La prison camp in Binh Duong province to visit Hai, only to be informed he had been moved to the Xuyen Moc prison camp a week earlier.
'Disregard for regulations'
Based on recent visits with Hai and dealings with officials at Xuyen Moc prison camp, Tan and Dung submitted three official petition letters to the prison superintendent, the head of Vietnam’s Supreme Procuratorate, and the Minister of Public Security.
He has received medication for his health problems while in prison, but it has had little effect, and officials have not taken him for further treatment, at least not as far as relatives have been informed, they said.
Prison officials have also forced Hai to give up his belongings, kept him from receiving newspapers mailed to him by relatives, and limited the length of their visits with him, they said.
“We lodged complaints about the guards' abuses of power and disregard for legal regulations, and the disregard of human rights committed by the government which are clearly spelled out in the legal codes and the Vietnamese Constitution,” Tan said.
Isolated from other prisoners
Hai was isolated from other prisoners since his arrival at Xuyen Moc on Feb. 1, but when Tan and Dung asked for the legal justification for the move, an official was unable to provide valid reasons, according to a copy of the letter to the authorities.
In another letter on Tuesday, Tan and Dung called on international rights groups to press Vietnam to take action to protect Hai’s rights in prison.
“We insist that governments and international human rights NGOs voice their concerns to demand that the Vietnamese authorities put an end to violations of the law, discrimination, spirit suppression, and restriction of health-care service concerning Mr Nguyen Van Hai’s imprisonment,” the letter said, according to a copy translated and posted online by another blogger.
Hai, an outspoken blogger who co-founded the “Free Journalists Club Website,” was first detained in October 2008 after participating in anti-China protests ahead of the Beijing Olympics and served 30 months in jail on tax evasion charges critics have said were trumped up.
Upon his scheduled release in 2010, he was immediately rearrested on “antigovernment propaganda” charges for hundreds of articles he had written online along with two other members of the website.
The three were convicted under Article 88 of the country’s criminal code, a controversial provision rights groups say the government has used to silence online dissent.
Hai's case has been raised by U.S. President Barack Obama, who said in May last year "we must not forget [journalists] like blogger Dieu Cay, whose 2008 arrest coincided with a mass crackdown on citizen journalism in Vietnam."
Reported by Gwen Ha for RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by An Nguyen. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.