(New York) – The Vietnam government should immediately release two ailing dissidents and ensure their proper medical treatment, Human Rights Watch said today. Nguyen Van Hai, the blogger known as Dieu Cay, 59, is believed to have suffered a serious injury in prison. Father Nguyen Van Ly, 65, a veteran political activist who had been given medical parole because of three strokes and other serious illness, was re-incarcerated in July.
“A great way for Vietnam to celebrate its National Day would be by freeing all those imprisoned for the peaceful exercise of their human rights,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The unconditional release of dissidents needing urgent medical treatment should be at the top of the list.”
Vietnam usually celebrates its National Day, September 2, with a partial amnesty of prisoners. This year the government announced it will release 10,244 prisoners. According to Vietnamese state media, only five of them are prisoners incarcerated for “national security crimes.” Frequently, the authorities punish critics who peacefully exercise their rights to association, assembly, and free expression with criminal convictions under the mantle of “national security crimes.” Hundreds of dissidents convicted of such crimes remain behind bars.
Two of the five who reportedly are to be released are the democracy activists Nguyen Van Tinh and Tran Duc Thach, a 2010 winner of the Hellman/Hammett award for writers who have been victims of political persecution.
Human Rights Watch is deeply concerned for the health of Nguyen Van Hai, popularly known by his blog moniker Dieu Cay. He is co-founder of the Club for Free Journalists, established in September 2007 to promote freedom of expression and independent journalism. He was arrested on April 20, 2008. On September 10, 2008, a criminal court sentenced him to 30 months in prison on a trumped-up tax evasion charge. In 2009, he received the Hellman/Hammett award.
On October 20, 2010, police transferred Nguyen Van Hai from Xuan Loc (Z30A) prison in Dong Nai province, where he had been serving his prison term, to the headquarters of the Security Investigative Bureau of the Ho Chi Minh City Municipal Department of Public Security at No. 4 Phan Dang Luu Street. Both decades-old facilities are notorious for their horrific conditions and the long-term imprisonment and ill-treatment of political prisoners.
On July 17, 2011, Nguyen Van Hai’s former wife, Duong Thi Tan, filed a complaint with the Ho Chi Minh City Municipal Department of Public Security about his health and safety. She alleged that a police officer told her on July 5 that “Mr. Hai has lost an arm.” Concerns have been heightened by the Ho Chi Minh City police’s rejection of an application from Nguyen Van Hai’s lawyer to represent him and multiple requests by his family to visit him. His current whereaboutsand health condition are unknown.
“The Vietnam government shamelessly constructs charges to keep peaceful critics like Dieu Cay behind bars and then deny them any outside contact,” Robertson said. “Denying access to counsel and family members is all the more egregious when there are concerns about his health.”
Father Nguyen Van Ly was returned to prison on July 25. He had been sentenced to eight years in prison in March 2007 for pro-democracy activities, including issuing a manifesto calling for peaceful struggle to establish human rights and democracy in Vietnam. The authorities charged him with disseminating “anti-government propaganda” under penal code article 88.
The authorities released Ly on temporary medical parole on March 15, 2010, and sent him to his parish in Hue. His release came after he suffered three strokes while in solitary confinement in 2009. He was returned to prison in July to serve the remaining five years in his term.
Since 1977, Ly has spent a total of 15 years in prison for his peaceful campaigning for religious freedom, democracy, and human rights. He was one of the principal architects of the democracy movement known as Bloc 8406, named after the date of its founding on April 8, 2006. In 2004 and 2008, he received Hellman/Hammett awards.
Ly needs continuing medical treatment for his serious health problems, which include a three-centimeter brain tumor that may have contributed to paralysis of his right leg and arm while in prison, and carotid atherosclerosis, which can cause strokes.
“Father Ly was convicted solely for expressing peaceful political beliefs and he should never have been imprisoned in the first place,” Robertson said. “We are concerned that his return to prison when he is so ill is putting his life at grave risk.”