Authorities in Vietnam should launch an independent probe into the death of a farmer who took part in rare, large-scale protests, amid reports that he was tortured in police custody, London-based rights group Amnesty International said Monday.
Last week, local rights group Defend the Defenders told RFA’s Vietnamese Service that Hua Hoang Anh, a 35-year-old farmer from Kien Giang province who joined the June 10 protest of government plans to grant long-term leases to foreign companies operating in special economic zones (SEZs) and a controversial cybersecurity law, was “found dead after having been interrogated by the local police.”
The group’s director, Vu Quoc Ngu, cited local activists who said that four police officers visited Anh’s home in Chau Thanh district on Aug. 2 to question him about his involvement in the protest, and when his wife returned from making them tea, she found him “collapsed with some injuries to his neck and belly.”
According to Defend the Defenders, Anh died later that day after being brought to a district hospital—likely from hemorrhaging—but police in Ken Giang have said the farmer committed suicide. Local authorities reportedly forced Anh’s family to bury him the following day.
On Monday, Clare Algar, Amnesty International’s director of global operations, urged authorities to “immediately initiate a thorough and impartial investigation into allegations that police officers tortured and killed Hua Hoang Anh.”
Algar noted that the right to freedom of peaceful assembly is provided for in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and upheld by Article 25 of Vietnam’s Constitution, adding that it “must be respected and protected by Vietnamese authorities.”
“They must also protect at all times the absolute rights to life and to freedom from torture and other Ill-treatment, and part of that means immediately initiating efficient, independent investigations into cases in which a person dies suspiciously in police custody,” she added.
RFA was unable to immediately contact Anh’s family, and officers who answered the phone at the Chau Thanh and Ken Giang police departments said they had no knowledge of his case.
Over the weekend of June 9 and 10, thousands of people demonstrated on the streets of Vietnam’s capital Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and other cities against the policies on SEZs and cybersecurity.
According to Amnesty International and sources interviewed by RFA’s Vietnamese Service, hundreds of protesters were beaten, arrested and interrogated by police and about 40 people were convicted and sentenced to prison sentences of between eight months and 3.5 years on charges of “disturbance of public order” under Article 318 of the penal code.
Late last month, a court in Vietnam ordered the deportation of U.S. citizen William Nguyen after finding him guilty of “disturbing public order” while taking part in the protests. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had traveled to Vietnam earlier in July and urged government officials to find a quick resolution to Nguyen’s case.
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.
Defend the Defenders says the situation in Vietnam has not improved, as “dozens of people continue to die mysteriously in custody,” despite Hanoi ratifying the UN Convention against Torture in November 2014.
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, but his family members questioned the official report, noting that his head showed signs of trauma and was nearly severed from his body.
Prominent blogger Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, one of the best-known of Vietnam’s nearly 100 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.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Viet Ha. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.