Vietnamese political prisoners face discrimination

Prisoners of conscience are ineligible for amnesty and can’t work outside their detention facilities.

Vietnamese political prisoners face discrimination

Prisoners held on political charges in communist Vietnam are being denied amnesty and work-release privileges now granted to other inmates, RFA has learned.

Vietnamese President Nguyen Xuan Phuc on Aug. 31 declared an amnesty for nearly 2,500 inmates on the occasion of Vietnam’s National Day on Sept. 2. Political prisoners were not among those scheduled for release, however.

A resolution by Vietnam’s National Assembly approved in June and coming into effect Sept. 1 similarly excludes prisoners of conscience from new programs allowing inmates to work outside their places of detention.

Vietnam’s 2018 Law on Special Amnesty making prisoners convicted of “national security” offenses ineligible for amnesty release violates Vietnam’s own promises of freedom for its citizens, the wife of one political prisoner wrote in a Sept. 2 Facebook posting.

“Don’t the rights to freedom that President Ho Chi Minh promised [in his Sept. 2, 1945 declaration of Vietnam’s independence from colonial power France] include the freedom of speech and the freedom to nominate oneself to the National Assembly?” Le Thi Na wrote.

“If so, why do parents now have to be separated from their sons, wives from their husbands, and children from their fathers, just because their family members had exercised their rights mentioned in this proclamation, as well as in Vietnam’s own constitution?”

Na, the wife of citizen journalist Le Trong Hung — now serving five years at Prison No. 6 in Nghe An province’s Thanh Chuong district for “disseminating anti-State materials” — told RFA in an interview that many of those charged with national security offenses had only spoken up to expose authorities’ wrongdoings.

“But as they are political dissidents, they are not eligible for amnesty, which is unfair and inhumane,” she said.

“And not allowing political prisoners to work outside their detention center is the quickest and most brutal way to destroy both their physical and mental health,” Na added. “Prisoners of conscience are held inside the four walls of their cell, and have no access to nature.”

Allowing political prisoners outside work would provide them a change of environment and improve their state of mind, said Hanoi-based journalist Nguyen Vu Binh, who served a seven-year prison term for publishing articles promoting human rights and democracy.

“Prisoners of conscience are disadvantaged by not being given the same rights that other prisoners enjoy,” said Binh, also speaking to RFA.

Binh added that though political prisoners are not forced to work, many want to be given something to do so that their bodies can get some exercise. No one wants to be subjected to back-breaking labor, though, he said.

Paid in 'credits'

Former prisoner Tran Thanh Phuong, who completed a jail term in March, said that political prisoners at the An Phuoc Detention Center in southern Vietnam’s Binh Duong province are permitted to work only inside the jail’s walls.

“However, inmates charged with social offenses are sent to outside workshops sometimes up to one or two kilometers away,” he said.

Phuong said that An Phuoc prison staff often pay prisoners only a tenth of market value for their work, and this is given not in cash but in credits that political prisoners can use to buy food or other commodities at the prison canteen. Credits earned by other inmates can be accrued toward possible reductions of their sentence, he said.

Current regulations on prisoner amnesty and work outside detention centers are in line with Vietnamese law, said legal expert Bui Quang Thang, speaking to RFA from Vietnam’s capital Hanoi.

“Of course, whether or not it is correct to charge someone with offenses against national security is a different matter entirely,” Thang said.

According to international and domestic human rights organizations, Vietnam currently holds hundreds of prisoners of conscience sentenced for carrying out peaceful activities such as writing articles or criticizing the government on social media.

Many groups have called on Vietnam to eliminate vaguely worded provisions in its Penal Code to bring it more in line with human rights treaties that Vietnam has signed.

The government of Vietnam says the country holds no political prisoners.

Translated by Anna Vu for RFA Vietnamese. Written in English by Richard Finney.