A prominent dissident jailed in Vietnam for trying to “overthrow the state” has begun a hunger strike after accusing the authorities of ignoring complaints of “unsuitable” prison conditions that have affected his health, according to his wife.
Nguyen Thi Duong Ha, the lawyer wife of imprisoned activist and legal expert Cu Huy Ha Vu, said that her husband had begun fasting on Monday for an indefinite period.
She said that Vu felt that his heart condition had worsened due to unsatisfactory prison conditions which he had first raised with the authorities in November last year.
Vu had singled out the actions of a prison guard, identified as Le Van Chien, who he said had left windows open at night as part of a bid to sicken him.
Vu had written a letter about Chien to his supervisor Luong Van Tuyen, but Ha said no action had been taken.
His requests particularly to have Chien assigned to another work detail were repeatedly ignored, she said.
“[Vu] announced he would go on a hunger strike … to protest,” Ha told RFA’s Vietnamese Service concerning her husband, who suffers from cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure.
“They have completely ignored his request, so he had no option other than going on a hunger strike to protect his basic rights.”
Ha said she had recently visited her husband at No. 5 Prison in northern Thanh Hoa province and learned that he had been suffering from “chest pains” and “difficulty breathing” to such an extent that he had collapsed and had required emergency medical treatment.
“On May 12, he had serious chest pain at night. On the morning of the same day was the shift of Le Van Chien, whom Vu accused of intentionally harming him,” she said.
“On the evening of May 13 he collapsed. His inmate had to shout out for help so the doctor would come to give him an injection.”
Letters of complaint
Ha said she had sent fresh letters of complaint on Monday to Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang, the chairman of parliament, or National Assembly, the lead judge of the Supreme Court, the minister of police and other relevant National Assembly committees, accusing Chien of intentionally harming Vu.
In her letter, Ha stated that charges that her husband tried to topple the one-party communist government were baseless.
Vu was detained in November 2010 after he filed a lawsuit against Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung for allegedly violating laws on environmental protection, national security, and cultural heritage by approving Chinese-built bauxite mining projects in the Central Highlands.
He was convicted five months later and sentenced to seven years in jail. He lodged an appeal but it was rejected in August 2011.
Ha wrote in the letter that her husband’s sentence went against basic articles in both the United Nations rights treaty and the Vietnamese constitution.
“This is against the stipulation in Article 19 of the [U.N.’s] International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which says that everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference,” the letter said, adding that Vietnam has been a signatory to the treaty since 1982.
“This is also against the stipulation in Article 69 of the [Vietnamese] constitution, which says citizens shall enjoy freedom of opinion and speech, freedom of the press, the right to be informed, and the right to assemble, form associations, and hold demonstrations in accordance with the provisions of the law.”
Monday’s letter followed one sent to Supervisor Tuyen by Ha on Nov. 11, 2012 about Chien allegedly attempting to sicken Vu by leaving windows open at the prison and an open letter published online later that month demanding an investigation into the authorities at No. 5 Prison. Neither letter received a response, Ha said.
She also accused Tuyen of knowingly subjecting her husband to harsh prison conditions despite his health condition and “violating his other basic rights,” including preventing him from seeing her in his cell.
“On several occasions they have violated his right to send letters or receive necessities from the outside,” Ha said.
“I request the relevant authorities and offices to urgently stop this crime by No. 5 Prison supervisor Luong Van Tuyen and to take steps to protect the life and other basic rights of my husband.”
Ha said that despite the conditions he faced in jail, Vu has hope he will soon be exonerated as he has noticed that the government appears more tolerant towards the views that landed him in prison.
“In general, he is very happy and believes that he may be freed soon because everything he had fought for before, like [amending] the constitution, allowing a multiparty political system and pluralism, and suing the prime minister in relation to the bauxite project … is what many people nowadays are requesting,” she said.
“Everything he asked for before is now what other intellectuals are asking for. That is why he believes that he will be freed soon.”
Reported by Gia Minh for RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.