Families of three Vietnamese activists on the 24th day of their hunger strike in jail on Thursday are concerned over their health condition after authorities rejected requests to visit them.
Bloggers Bui Thi Minh Hang and Nguyen Thi Thuy Quynh and follower of the Hoa Hao Buddhist tradition Nguyen Van Minh had gone on a hunger strike after they were detained last month while attempting to investigate a police raid on a fellow dissident’s home in the Dong Thap province’s Lap Vo district.
Hang’s daughter Quynh Anh told RFA’s Vietnamese Service that her attempts to meet with her mother had been blocked by the Lap Vo district authorities, who informed her that Hang and the others were still on a hunger strike, and expressed concern for her condition.
“They agreed to let me write something for my mom,” she said Thursday, adding that she had hoped to encourage her with the letter, in which she enclosed a picture of Hang’s granddaughter.
“I wrote to her, telling her to eat and keep good health because she has been fasting for more than 20 days. If anything happens to her [health], they may blame her for going on a hunger strike.”
Anh said that authorities at the detention center informed her that none of the families of the three detainees could meet with them because “everything is still under investigation.”
The three were among a group of 21 taken into custody on Feb. 11 on their way to visit the home of rights lawyer Nguyen Bac Truyen’s wife in Dong Thap province two days after Truyen was taken into custody in a massive police operation.
The others were released a day after the detention, which rights groups say was part of a widening crackdown on dissent in the one party communist state.
Anh said that the authorities had not provided an official order of Hang’s arrest , issuing only “temporary detention” notices so far and that several attempts to visit her since last week had been rejected by district and provincial police.
Family members said that they had heard Hang might be charged with “disrupting traffic” and “obstructing an officer on duty,” and could face anywhere from three months to three years in prison if convicted, though they could not confirm the charges.
Fellow activists and family members say Hang, Quynh, Minh and the other 18 supporters had been “ambushed” and beaten by Lap Vo district police when they came to investigate the raid on the home of Truyen’s wife.
On Wednesday, Hang’s daughter Anh had posted an open letter online calling on the international community to pressure the Vietnamese government for her mother’s release, saying that the police had arrested her mother “to stop her activities” as part of a “calculated plot” against her.
Her letter follows an incident last week in which Truyen and his wfe Bui Thi Kim Phuong were dragged from a taxi and beaten by suspected police agents while traveling to meet with an Australian diplomat in Hanoi to press for the release of the three activists.
Targeted for beliefs
Minh’s wife Bui Thi Diem Thuy, who was among those arrested on Feb. 11 and later released, told RFA that her husband had been unfairly targeted by the authorities.
“I asked them why they arrested us and detained my husband—why they released me, but not my husband,” Thuy said.
“They told me that everything is still under investigation and that they will let me know when the investigation is finished,” she said, adding that she had also been denied the right to visit him.
Thuy said her husband was also likely to be charged with “obstructing officers on duty,” though she did not say what punishment he might face if convicted.
“[The authorities] saw that my husband runs a business and takes care of the whole family, and my father and brother are already in prison, so they arrested him,” she said.
“They want to see our family left penniless so that we leave our church.”
Thuy said her brother Bui Van Thanh and father Bui Van Trung were convicted on similar charges following their arrests in 2012 and 2013, respectively, and are now in prison, adding that they had been targeted “because they are Hoa Hao followers.”
Thanh was handed a two-and-a-half-year sentence and Trung is serving four years in prison, she said.
Meanwhile, the Paris-based Worldwide Human Rights Movement (FIDH) and the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (VCHR) on Thursday jointly called on Vietnam to “immediately and unconditionally” release what they said were at least 212 political prisoners languishing in jails across the country.
“Vietnam holds the highest number of political prisoner in Southeast Asia. That is deplorable for a country that is currently a member of the UN Human Rights Council,” FIDH President Karim Lahidji said in the joint statement.
“The recent string of convictions, assaults, and harassment of bloggers, journalists, and activists shows that the Vietnamese government’s crackdown on dissidents is intensifying. It’s time for the international community to mobilize and demand that Hanoi stop the repression of peaceful dissent and release all political prisoners.”
In addition to the 212 political prisoners behind bars in Vietnam, the two rights groups said that many more are being held under house arrest.
Among those incarcerated, they said, are lawyers, bloggers, land rights activists, Buddhist monks, journalists, writers, singers, labor activists, pro-democracy campaigners, and members of ethnic and religious minorities, including Hmong, Buddhist Khmer Krom, and Christian Montagnards.
Many of Vietnam’s political prisoners are women, they said, while many of the dissidents are serving lengthy prison terms in extremely poor detention conditions and suffering from health issues that are in need of urgent medical treatment and ongoing care.
FIDH and VCHR also urged the Vietnamese government to undertake a comprehensive review of legislation used to arrest and imprison activists who they said “have merely exercised their fundamental human rights.”
“Vietnam must immediately repeal draconian laws that severely restrict freedom of opinion and expression,” VCHR President Vo Van Ai said in the statement.
“The government’s claim that it respects and protects human rights will continue to ring hollow unless Vietnam upholds its obligations under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to which Vietnam is a state party,” he added.
The two groups noted that last month, at Vietnam’s Universal Periodic Review in Geneva, the government’s Deputy Foreign Minister Ha Kim Ngoc said that Vietnam has a “consistent policy” to respect, protect, and promote all fundamental human rights and promised that Hanoi would “expand democracy.”
Vietnam came under criticism at the review by the U.N. Human Rights Council (UNHRC) for the harassment and jailing of bloggers and government critics.