Vietnamese prisoner under constant surveillance: family member

Huynh Minh Tam is in solitary confinement with a camera in his cell, says his sister.
By RFA Vietnamese
2024.01.24
Vietnamese prisoner under constant surveillance: family member Huynh Minh Tam and his sister Huynh Thi To Nga at their trial on Nov. 28, 2019.
Dong Nai Newspaper

UPDATED on January 25, 2024 at 10:37 a.m. ET.

Vietnamese prisoner Huynh Minh Tam, who is serving an eight-year prison sentence for “anti-state propaganda,” has claimed he has been kept in solitary confinement for four years, with a camera monitoring his every move.

Tam told his sister Huynh Thi To Nga about the surveillance when she visited him at Gia Trung Prison on Sunday.

Tam and Nga were both arrested in Jan. 2019 and sentenced in November of the same year. They were both accused of contacting dissidents in Vietnam and abroad, using the internet to research “reactionary subjects,” and posting articles on social media that prosecutors said distorted facts and incited people to oppose the government.

Speaking to Radio Free Asia on Wednesday, Nga said her brother was in a 12 meter square cell with a usable area of ​​only about 9 square meters.

“Tam has been locked alone in a room since he arrived at the camp for nearly four years and the room has a surveillance camera installed,” she said.

“There is no way to cover up personal activities, from eating and sleeping to bathing and personal hygiene.”

Former criminal justice lawyer Le Quoc Quan called the move unacceptable.

“The Vietnamese Constitution, the Penal Code, and the Law on Execution of Criminal Judgments all recognize the human rights and personal rights of prisoners,” he told RFA Vietnamese. 

“Cells for national security prisoners are very small and all activities are in one room, so cameras can monitor all activities even when the door is locked [such as] going to the bathroom or changing clothes. It is an insult to the prisoner’s dignity.”

He said while putting cameras in common areas was acceptable, putting them in cells violated the prisoner’s rights under Article 32 of the Civil Code.

Tam’s sister Nga said that the political prisoner’s detention area has dozens of cells but only two rooms have cameras installed. One is Tam’s cell, the other is empty.

Tam told his sister he was being held alone in a room with a camera because he opposed the forced labor of prisoners and spoke out about problems receiving parcels from families.

To protest the prison’s monitoring of his activities, he said he covered the camera with paper but a guard came to remove it. 

RFA tried to contact Gia Trung Prison to ask about the camera but no one answered.

Installing cameras in political prisoners’ cells is not uncommon in Vietnam according to former inmates.

Activist Le Quy Loc said his cell in An Phuoc Prison was fitted with a camera which even captured him using the toilet.

Nguyen Viet Dung, who left Nam Ha Prison at the end of September 2023, said his cell was equipped with cameras and recording equipment and the prisoner's bathing area was also under surveillance.

Translated by RFA Vietnamese. Edited by Mike Firn and Taejun Kang. 

Updated to include accusations against Tam and Nga in 2019.

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