Vietnamese Authorities Detain Former Political Prisoners Visiting Fellow Dissident

Vietnamese authorities on Tuesday detained and interrogated three former political prisoners, beating one of them severely, as they traveled to visit a fellow ex-prisoner of conscience at his home outside the capital, a member of the group said.

Writer Huynh Ngoc Tuan, blogger Pham Ba Hai and lawyer Le Thi Cong Nhan traveled from Hanoi to visit democracy activist Pham Van Troi at his home in Thuong Tin district’s Truong Duong village when they were approached by plainclothes police after exiting their taxi, Nhan told RFA’s Vietnamese Service.

Nhan, whose husband Ngo Duy Quyen and son Luca accompanied her on the visit, said the group was taken from Troi’s home to the district police station, located about 200 meters (650 feet) away, where they were interrogated.

“They asked who we were, where we came from, and why we had come there,” Nhan said.

“We demanded that they behave correctly as civil servants, but they cursed at us right from the beginning, showing us disrespect and using offensive words.”

Nhan said that when fellow activist Tuan explained to the officers that as Vietnamese citizens, members of the group had the right to visit their friend, their interrogators “focused on him.”

“In the commune’s police station, they separated us into different rooms … and they beat Huynh Ngoc Tuan—my husband and I saw that,” she said.

“I knew they would do it to him so when they took him to another room, I tried to follow and scream … There were people in the office but nobody paid us any attention as though they thought the police had the right to beat people.”

Nhan said that her yells of “police harassment” and “murder” caused the officers to force her and her husband into a separate room before they returned to Tuan.

“They took Huynh Ngoc Tuan to a room where three policemen beat him. They kicked and punched him and cursed at him very cruelly … I was almost beaten as well,” she said.

Hanoi clinic

According to Nhan, the group was held for about three hours before being released at around 7:00 p.m., at which point they took Tuan—still injured from the beating he received—to the privately run Hong Ngoc clinic in Hanoi.

“When I got there I could recognize plainclothes policemen who used to follow me and harass me. They pretended to be employees of the clinic,” she said, adding that even the doctor who treated Tuan behaved “arrogantly” with him.

Nhan said that she “confirmed [the police] had forced the clinic to take in their own people,” although she did not reveal how she obtained the information.

Although she did not specify what injuries Tuan had suffered as a result of the beating in detention, Nhan said that doctors at the clinic advised her group that he was fine after the medical examination.

“They told us Tuan was fine after the procedure was over, but we don’t believe the diagnosis.”

Former political prisoners

Troi, Nhan, Tuan, and Hai are veteran dissidents who have all served time in prison for acts related to their promotion of democracy and human rights.

Troi had been charged under Article 88 of Vietnam’s legal code with “spreading propaganda” against the state and was handed a four-year prison term in October 2009.

Prosecutors had accused him of sending emails and exchanging documents calling for multiparty democracy in one-party communist Vietnam.

Earlier this year, Troi was among the first to sign up for membership in the new online group Brotherhood for Democracy after his early release from prison at the end of 2012.

Nhan, a well-known dissident and rights lawyer, was given a three-year prison sentence in March 2007 followed by three years of house arrest under Article 88 after she was found guilty of “misinterpreting government policy on trade unions and laborers in Vietnam,” among other crimes.

She was also found guilty of joining the Bloc 8406 democracy movement and the Vietnam Progressive Party, conducting human rights seminars, and possessing and distributing documents promoting human rights and democracy.

Writer Tuan had previously served 10 years in jail for his calls for freedom and democracy and his children have expressed criticism of the government online.

He and his family have been frequently targeted for harassment by unidentified men believed to be agents of local security forces angered by his online writings.

Blogger Hai, a fellow Bloc 8406 member, was arrested in 2006 and sentenced to five years in prison in 2008 for “spreading propaganda against the state,” but was released in 2011.

Ongoing crackdown

Vietnamese authorities have jailed and harassed dozens of activists, bloggers, and citizen journalists since stepping up a crackdown on protests and freedom of expression online in recent years.

Many have been imprisoned under Article 88 of the Vietnamese Criminal Code for “conducting propaganda against the state,” and international rights groups and press freedom watchdogs have accused Hanoi of using the vaguely worded provision to silence dissent.

Reported by An Nguyen for RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.