BANGKOK—Police in Vietnam’s northeastern province of Bac Giang used tear gas and batons to break up a protest by hundreds of villagers over the apparent death in police custody of a local youth, witnesses said.
Witnesses who asked not to be named said an unknown number of people were injured, while others were seen being taken into custody. One witness said protesters had set fire to several police cars.
“On Sunday afternoon, there were too many people in the march to Bac Giang Province People’s Committee headquarters. The crowd was so dense it was difficult to move,” said one woman who asked not to be identified.
“There were some shots. Some people were beaten in the yard of the People’s Committee premises. One [man] near my house, named Hong, was among those beaten. He’s home now,” said the woman, a resident of Nghi Thiet Commune, Hong Thai village, Viet Yen district.
The woman said she was a neighbor of Nguyen Van Khuong, 21, who died Friday after police detained him for a traffic violation on his motorbike, according to the youth’s uncle, Nguyen Van Toan.
Khuong’s girlfriend, who was with him when he was stopped, was told two hours later that he had been taken to a hospital, where doctors said he had likely been dead for 10 minutes before his body arrived there, Toan said.
Police abuse common
Phan Thanh Son, a cadre from Nghi Thiet Commune, said authorities have now agreed to conduct an autopsy and release the result in two weeks’ time.
“At first, they insisted he died from a cold, but the young man’s girlfriend has said her boyfriend was taken through the back gate of the police station to the hospital,” Son said.
“The atmosphere Sunday afternoon [July 25] was a mess. Some protesters attacked the People’s Committee premises. Police used tear gas to disperse the crowd. Eight people were arrested. Some are in the hospital with injuries,” he added.
Duong Thanh Nghi, deputy head of the Bac Giang city police, refused to comment when reached by telephone.
Truong Van Nam, a provincial government spokesman, said he was too busy to speak with a reporter.
In its latest report on human rights practices around the world, the U.S. State Department said that while “professionalism in the police force improved, corruption remained a significant problem, and members of the police sometimes acted with impunity.”
“The law prohibits physical abuse; however, police commonly mistreated suspects physically during arrest or detention,” it said, adding that provincial, district, and local police are all accountable to the people's committees at each level.
Original reporting by An Nguyen for RFA’s Vietnamese service. Translated from the Vietnamese by An Nguyen and Viet Long. Service director: Khanh Nguyen. Executive producer: Susan Lavery. Written in English by Sarah Jackson-Han.