Vietnamese prisoners of conscience continue to serve sentences far from families

Making family visits more difficult is seen as an extra punishment for prisoners.
By RFA Vietnamese
2022.09.28
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Vietnamese prisoners of conscience continue to serve sentences far from families Prisoner of conscience Can Thi Theu and her two sons, Trinh Ba Phuong (right) and Trinh Ba Tu.
Facebook: Trịnh Bá Phương

Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security continues to send prisoners of conscience far from their families to serve their prison sentences, as an additional punishment.

Most recently, Hanoi activist Nguyen Thi Tam was transferred to Gia Trung Prison camp in Gia Lai province, nearly 1,200 kilometers (746 miles) from her home. Another activist from Vietnam’s capital, Trinh Ba Phuong, was taken to An Diem Prison camp in the central province of Quang Nam, 800 kilometers (497 miles) away from his home on Sept. 21, one month after the Higher People’s Court in Hanoi rejected his appeal and upheld his 10-year prison sentence in an appeal hearing in mid-August.

Phuong’s wife Do Thi Thu and his father-in-law and sister-in-law left their hometown in Hoa Binh province on the evening of Sept. 25 and did not arrive at the prison until the next morning.

“It took us 29 hours to get to the prison and back. The cost per person was at least VND1 million (U.S.$ 44) for both ways,” she said.

Also arrested on charges of "conducting anti-state propaganda" under Article 117 of the Criminal Code for human rights activities and speaking out about a police raid in Dong Tam commune in early 2020, Thu's mother-in-law and brother-in-law, Can Thi Theu, and her son Trinh Ba Tu were both sentenced to eight years in prison.

Theu is currently serving her sentence at Prison camp No. 5 in Yen Dinh district, Thanh Hoa province while Tu is serving his at Prison camp No. 6 in Thanh Chuong district, Nghe An province, neither of which is convenient for prison visits.

Thu said to save costs her father-in-law, former prisoner of conscience Trinh Ba Khiem, rode a motorbike from their family farm in Hoa Binh to the two prisons. It took him more than two hours to reach Prison camp No. 5, and 8 hours to get to Prison camp No. 6.

prisoners-of-conscience-2.pngAccording to human rights organizations, Vietnam is holding hundreds of prisoners of conscience, although Hanoi has always insisted that there are none in Vietnam, only people who break the law.

It has been a long-running practice to send the vast majority of prisoners of conscience to serve their sentences far from their families. Those with families in the North are transferred to prisons in the Central region or the South, while those in the South are sent to the Central region or the North.

Truong Minh Duc, Vice President of the Brotherhood for Democracy was sentenced to 12 years in prison for subversion in 2018 and is currently being held at Prison camp No. 6 in Nghe An.

His wife Nguyen Kim Thanh said that from Ho Chi Minh City to Nghe An, she spends more than VND5 million (U.S.$ 211) on plane tickets, bus tickets and motorbike taxis every time. On the Lunar New Year and other public holidays, the cost of traveling to the prison may rise to over VND7 million (U.S.$ 295).

Prison No. 6 has an extremely harsh climate which affects prisoners’ health Thanh said:

“When it is sunny, the weather is too harsh. He [her husband] has to wet towels and clothes to hang on the window and his neck to cool it down,”she said.

“It would be very cold in winter because the prison is in a mountainous area. As the prison cell is not small, the cell is very cold due to wind.”

Because of bad weather conditions, Duc has headaches and high blood pressure in the hot season and colds and allergies in the winter.

Nguyen Tuong Thuy, Vice Chairman of the Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam, is serving an 11-year prison sentence at An Phuoc Prison camp in the southern province of Binh Duong. He was arrested in May 2020 on charges of "conducting propaganda against the state" in the same case as President Pham Chi Dung and editor Le Huu Minh Tuan.

His wife Pham Thi Lan takes at least two nights and one day to get from Hanoi to the prison and back, and it costs at least VND4 million (U.S.$ 168) if she can buy a cheap round-trip flight ticket between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. If she can't buy cheap airline tickets and has to get them from Vietnam Airlines, the cost can be up to VND7-8 million (U.S.$295-337) for a visit.

An activist commented that the transfer of prisoners of conscience to prisons far from their families makes prisoners unaccustomed to living in new climatic conditions, which leads to them getting sick more often, especially as prison medical care is limited. Sending them away to prison also makes it difficult for their families to find the time and money to visit.

Not all prisoners of conscience are sent a long way from their family homes. Journalist Le Van Dung (Le Dung Vova) was transferred to Nam Ha Prison camp after losing his appeal against a five-year prison sentence. His wife Bui Thi Hue said it takes her four hours and about VND1 million  (U.S.$ 42)  for each visit.

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