Woman Activist Harshly Treated in Jail

A rights group says a Vietnamese land activist with a serious health condition has been singled out for abuse in jail.

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landprotest-305.jpg Demonstrators protesting a land dispute gather outside the National Assembly office in Hanoi, April 27, 2011.

A Vietnamese woman land rights activist serving an eight-year jail sentence for “subversion” is being treated harshly in prison despite severe health problems, an opposition group said Monday, seeking “urgent intervention” by the international community.

Viet Tan, an organization banned in Vietnam that monitors human rights in the country, said in a statement that 40-year-old Tran Thi Thuy had been “singled out for degrading and harsh treatment” at her prison, citing individuals who have come into contact with her.

“The reason for the harsh treatment is that Tran Thi Thuy refused to enter into a confession or admit wrongdoing,” the statement said.

“Security police have repeatedly urged her to accept guilt in order to receive lighter punishment.”

Thuy, a member of Viet Tan, was sentenced during a one-day trial in May 2011 along with six other activists from southern Vietnam’s Ben Tre province for “subversion.” She received eight years in jail.

Viet Tan said that the activist had been beaten in the stomach by Ben Tre province security police during the investigative period prior to her trial, leaving injuries that have not fully healed.

Since her imprisonment, the group said, Thuy has been subjected to forced labor and ordered to perform workloads reserved for male prisoners.

She is currently required to spend extended periods of time husking and skinning cashew nuts, the oils of which have caused caustic burns on her skin.

Thuy also has experienced repeated fainting spells as a result of the long hours she is forced to work in a weakened state, the group said.

Viet Tan said that Thuy is being jailed with common criminals who have been “utilized by prison authorities to physically intimidate her.”

The land activist is only allowed two sets of clothing and has been refused medical care, despite repeated requests to alleviate symptoms from “serious” health problems.

The group said that authorities also recently moved Thuy to Prison Camp K5 Long Khanh in Dong Nai province, also in the south, without notifying her family.

“The severe mistreatment of Tran Thi Thuy by the Vietnamese authorities is a further violation of her human rights,” Viet Tan said.

“Viet Tan urgently calls on the international community and human rights defenders to press for the well-being and ultimate freedom of land rights activist Tran Thi Thuy,” the group said.

Rights champion

Tran Thi Thuy, a Hoa Hao Buddhist follower, had been struggling with authorities for many years to regain her family’s land, which was confiscated by local officials.

She had championed land rights and actively petitioned for redress for herself and for other families whose land had been taken away by the government with the promise of meager compensation, though many are never paid at all.

Thuy was arrested on August 10, 2010 when members of the Public Security forced their way into her home without producing an arrest warrant, according to Viet Tan.

After 10 days of being held incommunicado, her family received a communique informing them of her arrest under Article 79 of the Vietnamese penal code.

She was sentenced on May 30, 2011 to eight years of prison in a closed, one-day trial.

In September 2011, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention ruled that the Vietnamese government had violated international law by arbitrarily detaining Thuy for exercising her right to the fundamental freedom of association and called her tribunal a violation of her right to an open and fair trial.

New land trial

Viet Tan’s call for intervention in Thuy’s case came as a court prepared to try three land activists in northern Vietnam’s Bac Giang province Monday on charges of “conducting propaganda against the state.”

Nguyen Kim Nhan, 63, Dinh Van Nhuong, 54, and Do Van Hoa, 46, face up to 20 years in prison if convicted of the alleged crime.

They were slapped with the charges after leading a campaign to expose corruption and wrongdoings committed by local authorities against farmers in the province, according to New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW).

Phil Robertson, deputy director of HRW’s Asia Division, said the trial should “never have taken place.”

“Evidently the Vietnam government’s intolerance for speech critical of the government seems to know no bounds,” he said.

“Rather than place them on trial, the government should be praising these three activists for supporting the rights of local farmers to petition the government for redress and for exposing local government malfeasance.”

Robertson said allowing such trials to proceed demonstrates that Vietnam’s central authorities are not working in the interest of the people.

“Silencing farmers and their proponents will not solve these problems, especially as long as unjust land confiscations and corruption continue throughout Vietnam,” he said.

“It’s time that governments providing support for Vietnam’s development and trade demand that Hanoi cease using rights-violating laws to criminalize free speech, assembly and association.”

Reported by Joshua Lipes.


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