One of Vietnam’s most prominent jailed dissidents, Nguyen Van Hai, has ended a five-week long hunger strike after judicial authorities agreed to investigate his complaint over abusive treatment in prison, his son said Friday.
Hai, who is also know by his pen name Dieu Cay, had reached the 35th day of his hunger strike last week at Prison No. 6 in Nghe An province, where he had been held in solitary confinement for refusing to sign a statement admitting guilt to offenses he says he did not commit.
Hai’s son Nguyen Tri Dung, who was allowed a brief visit with his father on Friday, said the 61-year-old ended his fasting protest on July 27 when he was informed that the Nghe An branch of the Supreme People’s Procuracy, Vietnam’s highest prosecutors’ office, would investigate his petition over alleged abuse in jail.
Dung said that he and his mother were kept waiting for two hours at the prison before they were finally able to see Hai.
“He said someone had come to the prison [on July 27] to see him to let him know that the complaint petition had been received [by the People’s Procuracy] and he suggested [my father] begin eating again,” Dung told RFA’s Vietnamese Service.
“[My father said] his main goal was achieved—people were made aware of the bad situation facing prisoners of conscience and also the authorities confirmed they had received the petition … The goal was reached and my father has begun taking his meals again.”
Dung said his father informed him that the man who had come to see him on July 27 was a Nghe An People’s Procuracy official surnamed Nha, who said that he had received the petition and agreed to investigate it.
Hai, who as of last week was severely weakened from his hunger strike and unable even to sit up on his own, had submitted the petition more than a month earlier on June 24 in protest against the actions of prison officials who tried to force him to make a false confession, according to his family.
Hai was handed a 12-year prison sentence for conducting anti-state propaganda in September last year amid a crackdown on bloggers in the one-party state after his online articles slammed communist rule and highlighted alleged abuses by the authorities.
His case has been adopted by the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and raised by U.S. President Barack Obama, whose administration has called on Hanoi to release all political prisoners in Vietnam.
At the trial in Nghe An, Hai, who had previously been jailed for tax evasion, pleaded not guilty to the charges of “conducting propaganda against the state” in articles he had written as a founding member of the “Free Journalists’ Club” website.
His last appeal was turned down in December and authorities have repeatedly transferred him from one prison to another.
Refusing to sign
Hai’s ex-wife Duong Thi Tan said he had started his hunger strike after authorities at Prison No. 6 tried to force him to sign documents confessing guilt in the charges for which he was convicted.
Prison officials put Hai in solitary confinement for three months as punishment for his refusal, she said.
Hai had protested the decision in official complaints to provincial judicial authorities, including in a letter sent to the Nghe An People’s Procuracy believed to be backed by another petition signed by political prisoners in his cell block.
But he received no response to the petitions, prompting him to go on hunger strike, according to Tan.
The aim of his strike was “to ask for his legitimate rights and protest wrongdoing by authorities at Prison No. 6.”
New York-based Human Rights Watch had last week expressed concern over Hai’s health, calling for his release and urging authorities to stop any “abusive and discriminatory treatment” towards him.
Hai previously went on a hunger strike that lasted for 29 days in 2011.
His latest hunger strike followed fasting protests held in June by two other dissidents—rights lawyer Cu Huy Ha Vu and Catholic activist Tran Minh Nhat—over what they said was inhumane treatment in prison.
Last month, prisoners in the Xuan Loc jail in Dong Nai province, one of the country’s main facilities for political prisoners, rioted over jail conditions.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Viet Long. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.