Three prominent political prisoners in Vietnam on hunger strike for nearly a week say they will not end their protest until authorities inform them of the whereabouts of a fellow inmate, according to the mother of one of the activists, who expressed concerns about their health.
Dinh Nguyen Kha, Dang Xuan Dieu and Nguyen Hoang Quoc Hung began their hunger strike at the Xuyen Moc prison in Ba Ria Vung Tau province along with their cellmate Tran Vu Anh Binh on March 19 in protest of poor conditions, Kha’s mother Nguyen Thi Kim Lien told RFA’s Vietnamese Service following her visit with him over the weekend.
However, Binh, who is a Catholic, was handcuffed and taken away the same day following an argument with guards who had torn off his rosary beads during a search, Lien said. The other three prisoners had since vowed to continue their hunger strike until authorities informed them of Binh’s whereabouts and condition, she added.
Prison authorities confirmed to her that Kha had declined to take food, adding that it was against policy to let inmates go hungry.
Lien said her son had informed her Dieu and Hung were both “very ill” because of the strike, and that guards cut her hour-long visit with Kha short by 20 minutes because he had been told not to talk about other prisoners.
“They said that they had already warned him not to mention other inmates, otherwise they would cut short the visit,” she said.
During her last visit in January, Lien said Kha told her that he, Dieu, Hung and Binh had held a 10-day hunger strike earlier that month in protest of ill-treatment at the prison after authorities had refused them newspapers, books and a Vietnamese-English dictionary sent by supporters.
Kha said the four men had ended their protest after officials from the Ba Ria Vung Tau prosecutor’s office agreed to investigate their complaint.
“The [prison] warden told me [at the time] they would not respond to any request [about conditions] and that the requests were illegal. That was why Kha sent his petition against the prison to … the prosecutor’s office for Ba Ria Vung Tau,” she said.
“[The prosecutor’s office] did go to the prison and talked with Kha and the warden. They told Kha he would need another inmate present with him to act as witness to his complaint, but the warden would not allow that.”
The refusal to consider their complaint about prison conditions prompted the four to start another hunger strike last week, Lien said.
Former political prisoner Truong Minh Tam, who had served time with Dieu at Prison No. 5 in Thanh Hoa province, and who has visited him regularly at Xuyen Moc, told RFA that he was concerned the hunger strike would seriously affect his health, which he said was already frail to begin with.
“Ill-treatment in Prison No. 5 and his previous hunger strikes—the longest of which was seven months—have made him very sickly,” he said.
“Based on what I’ve seen, in his current situation, if Dieu continues his hunger strike for another three to five days, he may end up in critical condition.”
A computer technician, Dinh Nguyen Kha was arrested in October 2012 on charges of spreading anti-state propaganda over leaflets he distributed at a protest over territorial disputes with China in the South China Sea.
He was initially jailed for eight years in May 2013 but, in a rare reversal by authorities, his sentence was reduced to four years in August that year.
Engineer Dang Xuan Dieu was jailed for 13 years in 2013 on charges of plotting to overthrow the authoritarian government in Hanoi.
Nguyen Hoang Quoc Hung was accused of inciting workers to go on strike at the My Phong footwear company in Tra Vinh province in southern Vietnam’s Mekong Delta region, where thousands protested in January and February 2010 for better working conditions and higher wages.
Hung was sentenced on Oct. 27 that year to nine years in prison on charges of disturbing public order and “acting against the people’s administration,” according to Article 89 of Vietnam’s Penal Code.
Ho Chi Minh City-based musician Tran Vu Anh Binh was sentenced in October 2012 to six years in jail for producing “propaganda against the state” after allegedly contributing to a blog run by the Patriot Youth, an overseas political opposition group.
Several popular singers in Vietnam have preformed music by Binh, who is a choir member with the Catholic Redemptorist Order and has written songs against the imprisonment of dissidents.
Reported by Hoa Ai for RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.