The law includes provisions related to arrest procedures and the treatment of detainees prior to case adjudication. Police and other investigative agencies usually executed warrants for arrest, custody, and temporary detention. By law police generally needed a decision by the People’s Procuracy to arrest a suspect, although in some limited cases they needed a court decision. In most cases the People’s Procuracy at the state, provincial, and district levels issued such arrest warrants. Under urgent circumstances, such as when evidence existed a person was preparing to commit a crime or when police caught a person in the act of committing a crime, police could make an arrest without a warrant. In such cases the People’s Procuracy must issue a decision to approve or not to approve the arrest within 12 hours of receiving notice from police.
The People’s Procuracy must issue a decision to initiate a formal criminal investigation of a detainee within three days of arrest; otherwise, police must release the suspect. The law allows the procuracy to request two additional three-day extensions allowing for an extension of the custody time limit to a maximum of nine days.
The law affords detainees access to counsel from the time of their detention, but authorities continued their use of bureaucratic delays to deny timely access to legal counsel. In cases investigated under national security laws, the government had the authority to prohibit by access defense lawyers to clients until after they completed an investigation and formally charged the suspect with a crime, most often after approximately four months.
By law investigations in national security cases may be extended and access to counsel denied for up to 20 months. In many such cases, attorneys were not provided access to their clients or the evidence against them until immediately before the case went to trial and without adequate time to prepare their cases. By law only cases involving juveniles, individuals with mental or physical disabilities, and persons formally charged with capital crimes require authorities to request the local bar association or the VFF to appoint an attorney.
The law requires authorities to inform persons held in custody, accused of a crime, or charged with a crime of their rights under the law, including the right to an attorney. Under most circumstances, once advised, the accused are responsible for obtaining their own attorney. By law defense attorneys are obligated to begin the defense of their client from the time authorities issue custody decisions.
The law allows defense counsel to be present during interrogations of their clients. The law also requires authorities to give defense attorneys access to case files and permit them to copy documents. Attorneys were usually able to exercise these rights. Those representing politically sensitive detainees reported significant difficulty carrying out their responsibilities and exercising their rights under the law. Many detainees, especially those held on national security charges, reported limited access to materials and information that would assist in the preparation of their legal defense, including the penal code itself.
Police generally informed families of detainees’ whereabouts, but family members could visit a detainee only with the permission of the investigator. During the investigative period, authorities routinely denied detainees access to family members, especially in national security cases. Before a formal indictment, detainees had the right to notify family members, although the MPS held a number of detainees suspected of national security violations incommunicado. Time spent in pretrial detention counted toward time served upon conviction and sentencing.
For example, early in the year, authorities denied requests for family visitation to activists Bui Thi Minh Hang and Nguyen Van Minh for six and five months, respectively.
For crimes infringing on national security as well as some exceptionally serious offenses, courts may impose probation or administrative detention upon an individual for a period of one to five years after completion of the original sentence. Terms of the probation typically included confinement to a residence and deprivation of the right to vote, run for office, or perform government or military service.
According to the previous law on administrative sanctions, sex workers and drug users could be subjected to confinement at “compulsory treatment institutions” (often referred to as “05” and “06” centers for sex workers and drug users, respectively). Beginning on January 1, sex workers are no longer subject to confinement under the law, while authorities may confine drug users to “compulsory detoxification establishments.” This new legal provision requires authorities to close all 05 centers. Furthermore, the new law requires a judicial proceeding before any individual is sent to a compulsory detoxification establishment. As such district people’s courts began to review these cases rather than the chair of the district-level people’s committee, which was the regular practice in the past. According to official statistics, authorities held more than 43,000 individuals in the country’s 121 drug detention centers as of December, the vast majority of whom were sent to the centers before the new legal provisions came into effect and as a result had administrative assignment to forced detoxification and no judicial review.
At these centers, according to a 2011 NGO report, authorities allegedly forced individuals to perform “labor therapy” such as garment sewing and brick making under harsh conditions (see section 7.b.). According to the new law, detainees in the compulsory detoxification establishments may work no more than three hours per day. The Ministry of Labor, Invalids, and Social Affairs (MOLISA) announced publicly the goal of reducing the number of compulsory detoxification establishments from 121to 40 by 2020.
The law allows for bail as a measure to replace temporary detention, but it was rarely used. The law authorizes investigators, prosecutors, or courts to allow for the depositing of money or valuable property in exchange for bail. An interagency committee provided implementing guidelines for this legal provision in November 2013.
Arbitrary Arrest: Arbitrary arrest and detention, particularly for political activists, remained a serious problem (see section 2.a.).
Authorities arrested and detained individuals on allegations of revealing state secrets, subversion, taking advantage of democratic freedoms to infringe upon the government’s interest, conducting propaganda against the state, undermining the unity of the state, and other crimes as a means to suppress political dissent and public advocacy.
The Law on Handling of Administrative Violations became effective in July 2013, except for some provisions related to the handling of cases by the people’s courts that became effective on January 1. Among other provisions the law outlines new judicial procedures to replace the system of administrative detention with a judicial process for committing individuals to forced detoxification centers. The Ministry of Justice reported it was drafting 26 decrees to implement the new provisions.
Authorities also subjected religious and political activists to varying degrees of informal detention in their residences and blocked their movement within the country. For example, activist Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh claimed Nha Trang police detained her for nine hours on July 29 to prevent her from attending a seminar in Hanoi on nonstate media. Pham Ba Hai, Nguyen Van Trang, and Ta Minh Thu also alleged police prevented them from attending the same seminar.
According to widespread independent reports, Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi police continued to monitor and block the movement of prominent activists Nguyen Dan Que, Nguyen Bac Truyen, Pham Ba Hai, Pham Chi Dung, Le Ngoc Thanh, Nguyen Van Dai, Pham Hong Son, and Le Cong Dinh, among many others.
Pretrial Detention: The law defines four levels of crimes: less serious offenses, serious offenses, very serious offenses, and especially serious offenses. The allowable time for temporary detention during an investigation varies depending on the level of offense. Activists often reported some of these investigations exceeded these prescribed periods.
The law allows for the following lengths of detention: two months’ detention and one extension of two months for a maximum temporary detention of four months for less serious offenses (punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment); three months’ detention and two extensions of three months and two months for a maximum of eight months for serious offenses (punishable by up to seven years’ imprisonment); four months’ detention and two extensions of four months for a maximum of twelve months for very serious offenses; four months’ detention and three extensions of four months each for a maximum of 16 months’ detention for exceptionally serious offenses (punishable by more than 15 years’ imprisonment or capital punishment); and national security cases allowed for an additional four-month extension for a maximum of 20 months of “temporary” detention.
On May 5, MPS officials arrested Nguyen Huu Vinh, one of the best-known activist bloggers in the country. Authorities accused Vinh, who launched the Ba Sam news website and aggregator in 2007, of “abusing democratic freedoms” under article 258 of the penal code. Police also arrested Vinh’s employee Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy. Both Vinh and Thuy were indicted under article 258 in early November and were pending trial at year’s end.
Amnesty: The government released 10 prisoners of conscience under amnesty provisions. On March 21, President Sang granted amnesty to Nguyen Huu Cau, a former officer in the South Vietnam army after he served 32 years in prison. Authorities suspended the sentence and released Dinh Dang Dinh, a teacher in Dak Nong Province who served more than two years in prison on charges of “conducting propaganda against the state.” President Sang later granted amnesty to Dinh, who died shortly thereafter of stomach cancer, a condition the family claimed was exacerbated by his lack of access to adequate medical care while in detention.
Authorities granted amnesty to Vi Duc Hoi, a writer and former CPV member convicted for “propaganda against the state” who served four and one-half years of a five-year term. Authorities also granted amnesty to Nguyen Tien Trung after he served approximately five years of a seven-year sentence for “subversion.”
On June 26, authorities granted amnesty to Do Thi Minh Hanh, convicted of “disrupting security against the state”; she had served more than four years of a seven-year sentence.
In September authorities amnestied Tran Tu, Nguyen Tuan Nam, Dau Van Duong, Tran Hoang Giang, and Nguyen Long Hoi.
Some provincial authorities in Dong Nai, Tay Ninh, Ca Mau, Phu Yen and Lai Chau granted amnesty to nonpolitical prisoners.