Nguyen Van Kha’s family waiting for an explanation for December death in custody

The family say they want to know the truth to prevent others suffering the same fate.
By RFA Vietnamese
2022.09.09
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Nguyen Van Kha (left) and policemen (right) trying to calm local residents protesting police abuse.
Nguoi Lao Dong /Facebook: Nguyen Van Tuan Em

The family of a man who died in police custody in Vietnam’s southern An Giang province say they have heard nothing from authorities since his death in December last year.

Nguyen Van Kha, 56, died after being taken to the local police headquarters on the night of Dec. 28. The local police said he died of a heart condition, but the family continues to claim his death was the result of a beating. They told RFA they want the incident fully investigated so there will be no more deaths in custody.

On the night of the incident, Kha and his son, Nguyen Van Tuan Em, 34, were beaten by the police in front of their house before being taken into custody in Nhon My commune.

Shortly after their arrest, the authorities announced that Kha had died of a stroke.

Em’s wife, Nguyen Thi Nguyet Trinh, told RFA in the past eight months, the family has repeatedly submitted petitions and phoned senior officials of the An Giang Provincial Police, but received no response.

Immediately after the incident, the family contacted then-An Giang provincial Police Director, Colonel Dinh Van Noi, Trinh said, but he did nothing about the information they gave him. In August, Noi was transferred to work as director of the Quang Ninh provincial police, having made no attempt to investigate the case.

“The next evening [after Kha’s death] I tried to call him but couldn't, so I texted ‘uncle’ Noi,” Trinh said.

“At 11 o'clock at night ‘uncle’ Noi called me to ask 'how was the case?' I told ‘uncle’ Noi, and he listened to me.”

“Since that day, I have heard nothing. ‘Uncle’ Noi didn’t call back and the province’s leaders didn’t say anything."

The family initially refused to accept Kha's body without an explanation of his death. A representative of the An Giang provincial Police and another from the Cho Moi district police finally persuaded the family to collect the body for burial, promising to investigate the case.

The provincial police performed an autopsy and concluded that the cause of Kha's death was "cardiovascular disease."

The victim's family repeatedly phoned the provincial police representative who had promised a full investigation but he did not answer their calls.

Trinh said two to three weeks ago, her mother-in-law and her husband submitted a petition to the provincial police, but she said "they didn't receive it and didn't talk at all." 

Family’s finances affected

Kha had been working as a construction worker and was the main earner in his family. His son Nguyen Van Tuan Em also works to cover the cost of his two young children’s education.

Em’s wife said he suffered lung damage due to the police beating and often has to take time off work without pay putting a financial strain on the family.

Trinh continues to push the authorities to explain what really happened on Dec. 28 and punish the perpetrators.

"My family's request is for the state authorities to investigate and clarify the death of my father-in-law,” she said. 

“If my father-in-law was guilty, my family would apologize to the police. If my father-in-law was innocent and those people are not punished… I can't accept that."

Trinh said that while convincing the family to receive the body for burial, the An Giang provincial government offered to compensate the family. Her mother-in-law agreed but asked those who beat Kha and his son to apologize to the family.

The family said it has still not received any compensation and the police who beat Kha have still not apologized or offered condolences.

What happened on December 28?

According to state media reports, the chief of police at Nhon My commune led plain clothes police officers to an abandoned house to break up a local gambling ring. 

The police left their motorbikes outside Kha's house and chased gamblers from the nearby building.

The Ho Chi Minh City police newspaper quoted the commune police as saying Kha and his two sons, Nguyen Van Tuan Em and Nguyen Van Tuan Anh, were drunk and quarreled with a policeman who was guarding the motorbikes. The police said the three took the motorbikes into their house and beat the policeman.

According to the police, while they were taking the offenders to the local police station Kha showed signs of fatigue, so they took him to the Nhon My clinic for treatment, where he died.

However, videos of the incident and field experiments show that the incident happened in a completely different place.

The family said Kha and his sons took the motorbikes into their house because they did not know who they belonged to, leading to the scuffle with plain clothes policemen.

Kha and Em were beaten, handcuffed and taken on motorbikes to the commune police headquarters, not the clinic. The police later announced that Kha had died of a stroke.

Videos of the incident were shared on social networks at that time, generating a lot of angry responses but the police’s forensic examination still gave the cause as "death due to heart disease." No independent forensic agency was involved in the autopsy.

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