New report shows horrors faced by Vietnam’s political prisoners

By: Logan Connor - Posted on: July 13, 2016 | Current Affairs
political prisoners
Vietnam’s security forces are accused in a new report of badly mistreating political prisoners. Photo: EPA/Luong Thai Linh

Political prisoners in Vietnam are regularly beaten, tortured and kept in solitary confinement, according to Amnesty International

Political prisoners in Vietnam are often subjected to extreme abuse, including intense physical torture and prolonged periods of isolation, according to a new report released by Amnesty International.

“Prisons within Prisons: Torture and ill-treatment of prisoners of conscience in Viet Nam” is based on more than 150 hours of interviews with 18 former detainees who collectively spent more than 77 years behind bars.

According to Amnesty’s report, the term “prisons within prisons” was repeatedly used by different interviewees to describe a system of “physical and emotional isolation” that aimed to drive prisoners to confess to crimes and meted out punishments for challenging the government’s authority. Some of the torture was even conducted by other inmates under the direction of prison staff.

A former prisoner featured in the report, named as Lu, was allegedly tortured every day for four consecutive months. The report says guards regularly beat him until he fell unconscious and forced him to consume food that had been left uneaten by a dog.

“On one occasion, pens were placed between his fingers and his hands were twisted around, causing excruciating pain,” the report says. “On another, the legs of a table were placed on his toes and police put all their body weight on the table resulting in unbearable pain and causing his toes to bleed”.

Amnesty says in its report, which describes isolation as a primary method of torture, that it has documented a number of cases involving the use of solitary confinement for prolonged periods.

Dar, the pseudonym of an ethnic Montagnard who spent the first ten months of his sentence in solitary confinement, told Amnesty researchers that police taunted him with threats that he would never leave the blackened cell.

“When they arrested me they threw me into a dark cell for ten months… They told me that this was all for my crimes but all I had done was demonstrate, to ask for freedom, land rights and religious equality,” he said. “They told me that I would die in prison, that I would die in that cell and my family would never know.”

John Coughlan, Amnesty International’s Vietnam researcher, told Southeast Asia Globe the government is “quite sophisticated in how it operates, and generally tends to avoid international criticism for its human rights record”. He said Amnesty released the report to spur “the international community to take action, and to look for Vietnam to change its rhetoric and cooperate”.

According to Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, activists and dissidents in Vietnam are frequently attacked by “thugs that most observers believe are either government officials out of uniform or groups mobilised by the government”. He added that these attacks are becoming more commonplace as the government in Vietnam grows “increasingly tired of receiving continuous international criticism for the growing number of political prisoners being held”.

Yet Robertson said this kind of international attention is necessary to pressure Vietnam to reform. “The international community has to haul Vietnam’s practices into the spotlight and embarrass Vietnam at the UN Human Rights Council and other international forums.”