Vietnamese authorities on Monday asked the family of a man who died in police custody to withdraw a letter they had written to the United Nations Human Rights Council requesting an investigation of his death, the man’s mother said.
Police detained Do Dang Du, 17, from Dong Phuong Yen village in Hanoi’s Chuong My district, on Aug. 5 for committing petty theft. The district police chief signed an order to hold him for two months while officers investigated the crime.
But on Oct. 4 while Du was still in custody, he was beaten unconscious and remained in a coma until he died six days later.
Do Thi Mai, Du’s mother, told RFA’s Vietnamese Service that a representative from the People’s Council, a local body of power in the authoritarian state, came to her house and asked her to withdraw the letter, which the she wrote to the U.N. on Oct. 16.
“He was not a policeman,” Mai said. “He told us to withdraw our letter and not to do anything, just wait for the police to compensate us, and that I could receive the money at home or go to the village office to get it.”
But Mai told the representative that the family had authorized lawyers to represent them, so they would have to consult their attorneys about his suggestion, she said.
She said the family had decided to contact the U.N.’s Human Rights Council and lawyers inside Vietnam for help because they believed that police brutally beat Du and killed him.
“I don’t understand the law because I did not go to school, so I had to ask for help from lawyers,” she said.”
Tran Thu Nam, one of the family’s lawyers, said he had advised Du’s relatives on how to work with the U.N., and that someone from the organization’s Human Rights Council had contacted the family.
“They asked me for advice, and I told them if the person [who contacted them] is truly from the U.N., then they will be better protected,” he said.
“If the U.N. Human Rights Council gets involved, this could have a huge impact on the government of Vietnam,” he said. “I only gave them advice on how to cooperate with the council. I don’t know how they met or who connected them.”
Nam said he saw in the media and on Facebook that authorities asked the family to withdraw the letter, but he had not received any further information from them.
“We should not jump to conclusions, even with information given by the family, because it’s too early for them to see through things. … We need to be cautious when judging an event. As a lawyer, I need to have evidence [to present].”
Many people, especially the poor, do not know much about the law and their legal rights, Nam said.
Although Vietnam offers legal services for poor people, many do not know how to use them, so the services are not very popular, he said.
“With the Do Dang Du case, they will know how important the role of lawyers is in finding the truth and protecting their rights according to the law,” he said.
Blame it on the cellmate
Vietnam’s state-controlled media reported that Du’s cellmate, Vu Van Binh, beat him on Oct. 4. After Du collapsed, police took him to the emergency room at a hospital in Hanoi’s Ha Dong district, but doctors transferred him to Bach Mai hospital, a highly specialized medical center in Dong Da district.
Du’s family, who found out about his hospitalization on Oct. 6, told VOA earlier this month that the injuries covering Du’s body indicated that the police had tortured him.
On Oct. 8, two days before Du died of his injuries, the Hanoi police issued a decision to prosecute Binh for beating Du to death.
Police brutality in Vietnam is a common human rights violation. Scores of people detained on minor charges often die each year while in custody, where they are beaten to extract confessions, sometimes for crimes they say they did not commit, or for criticizing police officers.
Tran Thi Nga, a human rights activist and member of the independent movement Vietnam Women for Human Rights, said Du’s family contacted her organization to publicize the story of their son’s death on social media.
“They [the family] knew that I was the one who publicized news about other cases like [those of death-row prisoners] Ho Duy Hai and Nguyen Van Chuong, so they contacted me and wanted my help to spread the news and give them legal advice,” she said.
Nga was one of four rights activists physically attacked by policemen and several unidentified individuals on Aug. 29 in the Central Highlands province of Lam Dong, following a celebration for the release of human rights journalist Tran Minh Nhat.
Some human rights activists visited Du’s family after he died, when his relatives had taken his body back to their village for burial, she said.
But police harassed them along with others who went to pay tribute to Du, and officers badly beat activist Truong Van Dung, Nga said.
Du’s family needs more support in their quest for justice, she said.
“If people do not say anything about the Do Dang Du case, then in the future there will be more like it where people die in police custody,” Nga said.
Reported by Gia Minh for RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Viet Ha. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.