SOCIALIST REPUBLIC OF VIET NAM: The secretive world of torturous ‘prisons within prisons’

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21 Jul 2016
[International Secretariat]

A new report published by Amnesty International today casts a rare light on the torture and other harrowing treatment of prisoners of conscience locked up in Viet Nam’s secretive network of prisons and detention centres.

 Prisons within Prisons: Torture and ill-treatment of prisoners of conscience in Viet Nam details the ordeals endured by prisoners of conscience in one of the most closed countries in Asia, including prolonged periods of incommunicado detention and solitary confinement, enforced disappearances, the denial of medical treatment, and punitive prison transfers.

The report is based on one year’s research – including more than 150 hours of interviews with 18 former prisoners of conscience, who spent between one month and a decade in incarceration.

Five of these men and women described to Amnesty International how they spent lengthy periods of time in solitary confinement in dark, fetid cells without access to fresh air, clean water and sanitation. Some were frequently beaten in clear contravention of global and national prohibitions on torture.

Enforced disappearances, and other acts of torture and other ill-treatment

For many of the former prisoners, their ordeal began from the moment that they were picked up by Vietnamese authorities. Four people told Amnesty International they were subjected to enforced disappearances.

‘Dar’, an ethnic Montagnard, was arrested for organizing peaceful demonstrations over religious freedom and human rights. He was tried and convicted without legal representation and without his family present.

During the first 10 months of Dar’s five-year detention, he was kept in solitary confinement in a tiny cell, in total darkness and complete silence. For the first two months, he was hauled from his cell each day to be interrogated and beaten.

For many of the former prisoners Amnesty International spoke to, the torture and ill-treatment was especially intense during pre-trial detention, as authorities aimed to extract a “confession”.

Incommunicado detention and solitary confinement

Every former prisoner of conscience that Amnesty International spoke to was subjected to a lengthy period of incommunicado detention – ranging from a month to two years. The right to access lawyers, medical professionals and family members is an important safeguard against torture and ill treatment, and critical to the right to a fair trial.

Tạ Phong Tần, who was imprisoned for her blogging and advocacy activities, told Amnesty International that during her four years in prison, only her sister was allowed to visit her. After being denied access twice, on 30 July 2012 Tần’s mother self-immolated in front of a government office in protest, dying as a result of her burns.

Abuse and denial

When prisoners have not been kept in isolation, they have been left vulnerable to abuse by other prisoners.

A number of former prisoners of conscience said they were cramped into small cells, where other prisoners known as “antennae” were believed to have colluded with prison authorities and incited to attack them. This kept them under the constant threat of imminent violence.

Withholding or denying medical treatment for periods of months and even years is another punitive measure prisoners described to Amnesty International. Interviewees also alleged that they were drugged by prison staff.

“Viet Nam’s authorities should seize the moment as the country’s amended penal and criminal procedures codes are being reviewed. Now is the time to make good on their international obligations, by bringing to book those responsible for torture and other ill-treatment, and ensuring this appalling practice ends,” said Rafendi Djamin.

12 July 2016

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