Vietnam’s Top Court Rejects Request to Reinvestigate Death-row Inmate’s Case

vietnam-ho-duy-hai-crop.jpg Ho Duy Hai in an undated photo.
Courtesy of Ho Duy Hai's family

UPDATED at 4:21 P.M. ET on 2020-05-18

Vietnam’s Supreme People’s Court has rejected a request by the country’s Supreme People’s Procuracy to reinvestigate the case of death-row inmate Ho Duy Hai, prompting his family members to petition lawmakers over the decision Monday.

Hai was arrested in March 2008 and convicted nine months later of plundering property and the murder of two female postal employees in Long An province. The People’s Court of Long An province sentenced him to five years for the theft, and gave him the death penalty for the murders. These sentences were combined, resulting in a death sentence.

On May 8, a 17-member jury led by Chief Justice Nguyen Hoa Binh rejected the Supreme People’s Procuracy’s petition to throw out the verdict in Hai’s trials and reinvestigate his case, saying he had admitted guilt for his crimes and that, while the investigation and judgments had shortcomings, the basic facts supported the decisions by the courts of first instance and appeals, according to state media reports.

Following the ruling, Hai’s mother Nguyen Thi Loan collapsed, while family members outside the building decried what they said was a lack of justice in Vietnam’s courts.

On Monday, Hai’s younger sister Ho Thi Thu Thuy told RFA’s Vietnamese Service his family had petitioned National Assembly deputies Luu Binh Nhuong and Truong Trong Nghia “in the hopes that they will speak out in favor of a re-investigation.”

Hanoi-based lawyer Ngo Anh Tuan told RFA over the weekend that he was “shocked” by the unanimous ruling, calling it “an unjust sentence not only for Ho Duy Hai, but for the many others in Vietnam who expect an objective and fair judgment.”

Another lawyer from Hanoi named Nguyen Duy Binh said Hai’s case was litigated unfairly and “should be re-investigated.”

While last week’s ruling exhausts Hai’s legal avenues to overturn his sentence, the lawyers pointed out that he could be granted amnesty by President Nguyen Phu Trong or have his case reinvestigated if the Supreme People’s Court reconsiders its decision.

Tuan said Hai’s sentence is unlikely to be carried out in the near-term and noted that several verdicts in Vietnam have been overturned as a result of popular opposition.

Lawyer Nguyen Vu Binh acknowledged that petitioning President Trong for amnesty is a longshot for Hai.

“If it works, he wouldn’t face death, but instead serve life in prison,” he said.

“However, this has seldom ever been offered. Normally, it requires an extremely special set of circumstances for the president to grant amnesty to prisoners.”

Lawyer Nguyen Duy Binh said that the National Assembly’s Standing Committee can order the Supreme People’s Court to reconsider its decision but is unlikely to do so.

“The Committee generally refrains from interfering in the judiciary, so I believe the chance to reconsider this case has ended,” he said.

Errors and lack of evidence

Observers have pointed to several procedural errors in Hai’s case, including that it was largely based on a confession that he later recanted, saying he had been forced to do so by police during his detention.

Additionally, prosecutors lacked crucial evidence, as no time of death for the two victims was ever established, fingerprints at the crime scene did not match Hai’s, and the murder weapons were misplaced by the forensic team.

London-based rights group Amnesty International has cited Hai’s mother as saying that he was tortured in prison, citing his deteriorating health and loss of weight.

Hai was originally set to be executed on Dec. 5, 2014 but was granted a stay a day earlier by then-President Truong Tan Sang.

In February 2015, the National Assembly’s Committee on Judicial Affairs declared after a reinvestigation into the case that during both the initial trial and the appeal, there had been “serious violations of criminal procedural law.”

The committee urged that the case be reviewed on appeal, but in Dec. 2017, Long An province’s procuracy pushed for execution.

In November last year, Amnesty International sent a petition with 25,000 signatures to President Trong calling for Hai’s acquittal.

Between August 2013 and June 2016, Vietnam executed 429 people, while 1,134 people were given death sentences between July 2011 and June 2016, according to government figures released in 2018.

Reported and translated by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this report incorrectly said that the murders occurred in Ho Chi Minh city. They occurred in Long An province.

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