Five Vietnamese Police Officers to Stand Trial in Beating Death of Detainee

Vo Tan Minh, a drug trafficking suspect, died in Sept. 2017 after being beaten and kicked in a cell by detention center guards.

A policeman, flanked by local militia members, guards the outside of the Ho Chi Minh City People's Court in a file photo.

Five policemen charged in the beating death last year of a detainee in southern Vietnam’s coastal Ninh Thuan province will go on trial Sept. 13, according to a lawyer assigned by the victim’s family to attend the hearing.

Speaking to RFA’s Vietnamese Service on Tuesday, attorney Vo An Don said the detainee, Vo Tan Minh, was killed on Sept. 8, 2017, after he was transferred from police custody in the province’s Thuan Bac district to a detention center in Phan Rang-Thap Cham city, the provincial capital.

On entering a cell in the new facility, Minh was attacked by five others in the cell, and the detention center’s director ordered guards to investigate the assault, Don said.

“Vo Tan Minh was sent to a room where he was slapped in the face, while guards wearing boots kicked him in the abdomen, chest, and other parts of his body,” Don said, adding, “They also used a plastic-wrapped wooden bar to beat him, and then they handcuffed him and suspended him from the iron bars of the window with his legs cuffed to a table.”

“He died after that,” he said.

State media in earlier reports said that Minh, who was being held on a charge of trafficking in drugs, had died in a hospital in the province after being found injured in his cell.

On Sept. 19, the director of the Ninh Thuan provincial police announced that five police officers had been suspended for their handling of Minh, with the deputy director of provincial police later telling reporters on Nov. 24 that the five were being charged with using “torture” in the case.

Police brutality common

New York-based Human Rights Watch has said that police brutality is systemic in Vietnam, whose Ministry of Public Security has admitted that 226 suspects and inmates died in police stations and detention facilities throughout the country between October 2010 and September 2014.

On Aug. 24, a Vietnamese restaurant owner detained two weeks earlier on unknown charges has died in police custody, with his body showing signs of trauma from a beating, family members said.

And in May last year, authorities in Vietnam’s Vinh Long province announced that Hoa Hao Buddhist follower Nguyen Huu Tan had cut his own throat with a police investigator’s letter opener and died following an interrogation.

Family members questioned the official report, however, noting that his head showed signs of trauma and was nearly severed from his body.

In April 2014, a court in Vietnam’s Phu Yen province convicted five police officers for their role in the beating death of a criminal suspect, Ngo Thanh Kieu, during questioning, handing the five light sentences ranging from one-and-a-half to five years.

Prominent blogger Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, one of the best-known of Vietnam’s roughly 130 political prisoners and also known as Mother Mushroom, had documented 31 cases of mysterious deaths in police custody before being imprisoned last year for her online writings criticizing the government.

Call to release


Meanwhile, in a separate case, Human Rights Watch called this week on Vietnamese authorities to drop all charges against, and immediately release, democracy campaigner Nguyen Trung Truc, who is scheduled to stand trial on Wednesday in Quang Binh province.

A member of the online advocacy group Brotherhood for Democracy, Truc has been charged under Article 79 of Vietnam's penal code with "activities that aim to overthrow the people's administration."

"Nguyen Trung Truc is yet another victim of the Vietnamese government's campaign against people who advocate human rights and democracy," HRW's deputy Asia director Phil Richardson said in a Sept. 11 statement.

"The country is now becoming a giant prison for anyone who speaks up against the government or acts to advance basic rights," Richardson said.

Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by An Nguyen. Written in English by Richard Finney.