More than 20 social activists and relatives of political prisoners were attacked by assailants wearing civilian clothes when they attempted to visit a detention center in north-central Vietnam’s Nghe An province on Friday, members of the group said.
The attackers used helmets and clubs to beat the group, which included women and elderly family members, with at least one of those assaulted recognizing those attacking them as plainclothes policemen and ordinary criminals, one member of the group said.
“Yes, I recognized them, because I was also imprisoned in this camp in the past,” Trinh Ba Khiem, a former political prisoner at Nghe An’s Camp No. 6, told RFA’s Vietnamese Service in a phone interview.
A prison officer named Du, had appeared to direct the assault against the visiting group, Khiem said, adding that a prisoner named Phuong serving a 20-year sentence on a drug charge was also present with other criminals among the attackers.
“The police let them out to attack us,” Khiem said.
Among those attacked was Nguyen Thuy Hanh, founder of the 50K Fund to support political prisoners’ families, who said that police had at first blocked her visiting group’s approach to Camp No. 6.
“The police stopped us from entering the area by moving a large truck so that our car couldn’t pass. We then had to walk, and about 50 men began to attack us,” she said.
'Four or five men jumped him'
Hanh said the assailants first attacked her husband, Huynh Ngoc Chenh, a former journalist for the Thanh Nien (Youth) Newspaper in Ho Chi Minh City and later a popular blogger and freelance journalist, who was leading the group.
“He had argued with them when they blocked our way,” she said.
“Four or five men jumped him, and I shouted out and rushed in trying to save him, and then a thug hit me and punched me in the nose. They trampled me down into a ditch and then attacked the rest of us.”
Nguyen Thi Kim Thanh, the wife of jailed journalist Truong Minh Duc, was not allowed to visit her husband, but was beaten and forced to walk from the camp while still recovering from a recent abdominal operation, Hanh said.
At least four political prisoners at Camp No. 6—including Truong Minh Duc, Dao Quang Thuc, Nguyen Van Tuc, and Tran Phi Dung—are believed to be now on hunger strike to protest poor conditions in detention, including the removal of electric fans from cells in the soaring summer heat.
Vietnam now holds an estimated 128 prisoners of conscience , according to a May 13, 2019 report by rights group Amnesty International.
Nguyen Kim Binh of the Vietnam Human Rights Network said in December however that the one-party communist state is currently detaining more than 200 political prisoners.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Channhu Hoang. Written in English by Richard Finney.