Vietnam: Stop Torture of Political and Religious Detainees

New Report Shows Police Use Electric Shock, Beatings, Water Torture to Extract Confessions

(Washington, D.C., January 16, 2014) – A report issued today by human rights activists urges the Vietnamese government to stop the systematic torture by law enforcement officials of people who have been arrested for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association, assembly, and religious belief, or for seeking protection and political asylum abroad.

Police in Vietnam routinely hold political and religious detainees incommunicado for months, torturing and abusing them during interrogation, and prohibiting them from communicating with their families or lawyers, according to a report issued today by the Campaign to Abolish Torture in Vietnam (CAT-VN).

The 136-page report, entitled “Vietnam: Torture and Abuse of Political and Religious Prisoners,” provides a rare, in-depth account of abuses in Vietnam’s notoriously inaccessible prisons and detention centers, laying bare the harsh methods used by various levels of the Vietnamese government to silence and punish its critics and remove them from the public eye.

Vietnam’s human rights practices will come under review by the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on February 5, 2014 under the UN’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR), a procedure every member state must go through every five years.

“The right to be free from torture is among the most fundamental and unequivocal human rights,” said Dr. Nguyen Dinh Thang, executive director of Boat People SOS, a US-based organization that works on human rights, refugees, and related humanitarian matters in Southeast Asia. “Torture can never be justified under any circumstances.”

The prohibition of torture is enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Vietnam has been a member state since 1982. Nevertheless, the report indicates that detainees in Vietnam-common criminal suspects as well as political and religious detainees-are regularly subjected to torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. In a disturbing number of cases the torture and abuse is so severe that victims die in detention or shortly after their early release from custody.

The report is based on first-hand testimony from 60 former religious and political prisoners and detainees from Vietnam, the majority of whom had been released from custody within five years of their interview with CAT-VN. The former prisoners and detainees provided detailed descriptions about their treatment in 43 different prisons, jails, police lockups, border police stations, detention centers, and re-education camps; two military detention centers; and one psychiatric hospital. These facilities are located in 20 different provinces and municipalities throughout Vietnam.

The report found that all of the former detainees and prisoners interviewed by CAT-VN had been subjected to torture-the deliberate infliction of severe mental and physical pain and suffering-during interrogation by police or prison officials. For the vast majority, the torture and abuse took place while the detainee was being detained incommunicado during pre-trial detention, and before he or she had access to legal representation, was brought before a judge, or was charged with any crime.

“It’s time to recognize that police torture of dissidents in Vietnam is not only pervasive, but it is an intrinsic part of police investigation and interrogation of detainees,” said Thach Ngoc Thach, president of the Khmers-Kampuchea Krom Federation (KKF), which advocates on behalf of the ethnic Khmer minority group living the Vietnam. “Police use torture to force detainees to sign confessions or provide information, to punish detainees, or to intimidate detainees and others from engaging in future acts of peaceful dissent or independent religious activity.”

After detainees are sentenced to prison under Vietnamese national security laws that criminalize the expression of internationally recognized rights, the abuses continue, including torture, egregiously harsh conditions of detention, and forced labor.

The report estimates that more than 600 people are currently imprisoned in Vietnam for peaceful expression of their political and religious views.These prisoners, most of whom have been subjected to torture, include dissenting intellectuals, human rights defenders, members of unsanctioned religious groups and opposition political parties, land rights advocates, labor union organizers, indigenous rights activists, independent bloggers and journalists, and religious freedom activists.

In November 2013, Vietnam was elected a member of the UN Human Rights Council and signed the UN Convention against Torture, which formalizes and makes explicit the absolute prohibition against torture in international law. These developments present opportunities for Vietnam to vastly improve its record on human rights-particularly the right to be free from torture.

“Essential safeguards against torture in pre-trial detention, such as the right to legal representation and limits on incommunicado detention, do not exist for most political and religious prisoners in Vietnam,” said Vu Quoc Dung of the Human Rights Defenders Network VETO! in Germany. “Vietnam continues to violate the very rights that the UN Human Rights Council is mandated to protect.”

The report also documents the torture and mistreatment of dissidents who have been arbitrarily detained without trial in mental institutions and re-education camps under Vietnam’s “administrative detention” laws, and of refugees and asylum seekers, particularly those forcibly returned to Vietnam after unsuccessfully seeking asylum abroad.

The report offers specific recommendations to the Vietnamese government and international stakeholders on practical approaches to systematically abolish torture in Vietnam.

For detailed accounts of torture by several of the people interviewed for the report, please see Annex A.

For more information, please contact:
– In Washington, D.C.: Dr. Nguyen Dinh Thang (English and Vietnamese), +1 703-538-2190.
– In Frankfort, Germany: Vu Quoc Dung (English, German, and Vietnamese ), +49 6171 59828.
– In Ontario, Canada: Thach Ngoc Thach (English, French, Cambodian, Vietnamese), +(856) 655-2117 (cell), +(519) 659-3920 (home).
– In Virginia: Sara Colm (English and Cambodian) : +1 301-980-8835 (cell).

* * * * *
Annex A: Accounts of Torture by People Interviewed for this Report
Political and religious detainees in Vietnam are subjected to a number of different forms of torture by police and prison officials. They are beaten with truncheons, belts, and leather sandals, boxed on the ears until they bleed, slammed against concrete walls, kicked with military boots, and shocked with electric batons.
Some have their heads forcibly submerged in water during interrogation, or are forced to drink soapy water and then punched in the stomach. Others are injected with drugs that cause permanent memory loss and make them numb, weak, and unable to speak and think clearly.
Detainees describe being hung up by their handcuffed wrists to the ceiling or the upper ledge of a window while being beaten with batons or shocked with electric rods. One man was forced to crawl on his knees on rough gravel with a piece of prickly fruit on his back, while balancing a piece of wood on his upraised arms. A woman was burned by a piece of heated metal placed against her leg, leaving a three-inch scar.
Many are forced to maintain uncomfortable positions, such as sitting, squatting, lying down with arms and legs raised, or standing on one leg, for long periods of time. Others describe how police insert writing pens between their fingers and then tightly tie their hand with a rope, squeezing and crushing the fingers; or set two legs of a chair on the detainee’s foot and then sit on the chair while interrogating the detainee.
In addition to physical abuse, police and prison authorities in Vietnam use various types of psychological techniques, some clearly amounting to torture, on detainees. These include isolation, threats, sexual humiliation, stress positions, denial of natural light, water torture, forced renunciation of faith, and erratic scheduling of interrogation sessions. Political and religious detainees have also been subjected to compulsory commitment to mental institutions and pharmacological manipulation (forced medication), which are also considered forms of psychological torture.
Several former detainees reported abuses that took place after they were forced to strip naked, such as guards standing on their legs and arms, attaching plastic bottles filled with water to the penis, shooting rubber bands at the penis, using electric shock to inflict pain on the groin and genitals, and conducting humiliating, invasive body searches.
One man, whose young child was with him when police arrested and tortured him, told us: “The worst part was that they forced my three-year-old son to sit on my lap the entire time, even though he was crying uncontrollably.”

Catholic Parishioner Tran Thanh Tien
Tran Thanh Tien was among 62 people in his village who were arrested and severely beaten by police in May 2010 for participating in a funeral procession and protest march to a cemetery located on disputed land in Da Nang. Police shocked him with an electric baton and beat him in his chest and arm pits from 3 pm until 10 pm. When he passed out, they threw soapy water on him. They hit him on his back with hardened plastic kitchen stools. They hung him by his handcuffed wrist from the window ledge for an entire afternoon, beating him as he hung there. After his release, when he refused to report on other villagers, police beat him again.
“There were two men beating me, one on each side. They boxed both ears, one ear then the other. They hit me with their fists, and slapped me. They beat me so hard that the inside of my body still hurts today.”
“Before this happened to me, I never heard of any torture in police stations before this. Nobody dares to speak about it. I realized that people who are tortured by the police don’t dare speak about it.
“I never imagined I’d be beaten like that. This is our tradition in burying the dead, to send them to the last place. I never expected police to crack down on a funeral procession like that.
“The last words the police told me were, we know you are a farmer, you are a strong man. We guarantee that after you are released you will not be able to farm anymore.
“In fact, it’s true. Since I was released I don’t feel very well. I have chest pains, back pain, coughing, and blurred vision. My ears ring and I have hearing problems. I can’t carry heavy weights any more – the police pulled my muscle when they handcuffed my hand and hung me by my wrist from the window ledge, beating me on my knee joints and groin.
“Sometimes when I’m tired I have nightmares. The fear goes back to my mind. When I have that dream I can’t get up, I’m so weak with fear- it takes two or three hours to recover. After the nightmare it’s several hours before I can move or get up.”

Democracy Activist Bui Kim Thanh

Bui Kim Thanh was arrested by police and involuntarily committed to mental hospitals three times, in 1995, 2006, and 2008. During one eight months’ stay at Central Psychiatric Hospital No. 2 in Bien Hoa, she received no therapy or counseling, but was forced to take injections three times a day.
“I tried to ask what the injection was, but they would not tell me. The effect of the injection was either I immediately passed out unconscious, or I felt as if paralyzed. Afterwards, there were more reactions: drooling, stiff neck, my whole body was paralyzed, sometimes I passed out….Whenever I objected to the injection, they tied me to my bed with cords for a few hours.”
“The room was five feet by six feet-enough room for a regular iron bed, a small space to stand, and a toilet. There was no mattress or mosquito net. My family brought me a straw mat and later they were allowed to bring a mosquito net and a blanket.
“There was no window in the room, only an opening with bars on the door-some air came in that way. A small light was turned on when darkness fell but it was not reliable because of power outages. The toilet was very dirty-there were rats, maggots.”

Buddhist Monk Kim Muon

Ven. Kim Muon was forcibly defrocked, expelled from the monkhood, and imprisoned in Soc Trang province in 2007 after participating in a protest with 200 other monks calling for religious freedom.
“When you enter the interrogation room, you feel very afraid. There was a table and chair; windows but they did not open. There were two people in the room. The one who asked the questions was not the one who beat me. He would call the others in to beat me.
“Every time I was interrogated, they beat me. They used a water bottle to hit me under my arms, on both sides. I must raise my arms, or they would hit me in the face.
“They smashed my head against the wall. The wall had been specially made, with concrete lumps in it, for torture.
“During interrogation they would use different methods if I did not confess. Sometimes they put a rug on my head to smother me. They would make me eat dog meat, which as a monk I cannot eat. Or they would put underwear on my head. They insulted and cursed me, tried to make me mad. They said I’d become a monk in order to become involved in politics.
“Sometimes they took my head and pushed it into water until I was unconscious. Two people held my arms on each side and pushed my head down.
“Afterwards, we have to sign the confession that they wrote up themselves. My writing was not clear because I was in handcuffs. So they took my hand and forced me to sign.”

Writer Thanh Tran Khai Thanh Thuy

At Detention Center No. 1 (Hoa Lo) in Hanoi, Thanh Tran Khai Thanh Thuy came close to death when she was deprived of medication she must take every day for diabetes and tuberculosis.
“In Hoa Lo, they took my medicine away. I was without my medicine for diabetes and TB for one month and four days, from October 8 until December 2009. They were fully aware of the consequences. For my diabetes I must take two pills in the morning and two in the evening. If no medicine, it can kill you. Without my medicine, I was totally exhausted. They came to my cell eight times to provide ‘ER'[critical care]-that means they gave me two paracetamol.
“It was very dangerous. I was sweating profusely, my lips turned black, my arms and legs were very heavy. I felt I could die at any time. My blood pressure jumped up, and it was impossible to control my bladder. Without my medicine I had no control over urination. I had to go to the toilet dozens of times a day; sometimes I was going constantly. At times I had to pee into my rice bowl.
“The diabetes affects my nerves. I had strong headaches and it was impossible to sleep. My only resort was to yell throughout the night.”

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