Three detained activists in Vietnam are said to have recently begun a hunger strike to protest conditions in prison, sources in the country told RFA.
According to the wife of one of the activists, the three prisoners in the Xuan Loc detention camp in Vietnam’s southeastern Dong Nai province began their strike Sept. 5 to call attention to human rights violations there.
“My husband’s fellow inmate told me that he has been on a hunger strike for 18 days in an attempt to claim benefits for himself and other prisoners,” Nguyen Thi Chau, wife of detained environmental activist and blogger Nguyen Ngoc Anh, told RFA’s Vietnamese Service Wednesday.
Nguyen Ngoc Anh, a shrimp farming engineer, was arrested in August 2018 in nearby Ben Tre province for criticizing the government on Facebook.
He was convicted on charges of “making, storing, spreading, and declaring transmitted information and documents to combat the State of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam,” under Article 117 of Vietnam’s 2015 Criminal Code and is now serving a six-year term.
Authorities said his writings had slandered Vietnam’s one-party communist government and state. They included criticisms of the government’s handling environmental damage resulting from a massive toxic waste spill in 2016 that left thousands without work in three coastal provinces.
“I asked about my husband’s health and [the inmate] said my husband was being held separately, but he and two others held in another cell joined the hunger strike together,” said Nguyen Thi Chau.
“Since my husband was sent to Xuan Loc, he has never left his cell. The prison guards hate him because he was always trying to claim his rights, so they hold him there all day. They won’t allow him to have any outdoor activities like other prisoners,” she said.
“Now that he is on a hunger strike, I am getting more and more worried about his situation,” she added.
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Earlier on Wednesday, Nguyen Thi Chau posted about the hunger strike on her Facebook account, detailing the conversation she had with the inmate, who was recently released from Xuan Loc.
She named the two other hunger striking prisoners, Nguyen Van Duc Do and Huynh Duc Than Binh, who were held separately from her husband along with another prisoner, Pham Long Dai, who did not join the strike.
Nguyen Ngoc Anh and Nguyen Van Duc Do are continuing their hunger strike, while Huynh is believed to have stopped according to the Facebook post.
“I wonder whether I should go to the camp right now, but I am afraid that if I do, the prison guards will not allow me to meet with my husband because of COVID-19. But I think I have to go there for further information about my husband’s situation,” Nguyen Thi Chau said.
“If I stay at home, I won’t be able to know about his situation, so I’d rather go whether I can or can’t meet my husband. I can at least fight for his rights instead of staying home,” she said.
Huynh’s mother Nguyen Thi Hue told RFA that she saw Nguyen Thi Chau’s Facebook post, which seemingly confirmed information she had learned earlier this month.
“In early September, I received information from Nguyen Van Duc Do’s family that my son and the two Nguyens went on a hunger strike lasting a week, but my son was tired and stopped. Maybe Nguyen Van Duc Do and Nguyen Ngoc Anh are still striking,” she said.
Huynh is serving a 10-year sentence after he was convicted of “activities against the people's government” for attending a peaceful demonstration against the Draft Law on Special Economic Zones in Ho Chi Minh City.
Nguyen Van Duc Do, meanwhile, is serving an 11-year sentence for “activities aimed at overthrowing the government,” as he protested the same 2016 chemical spill as Nguyen Ngoc Anh.
Nguyen Van Duc Do had himself begun a hunger strike with other prisoners in October last year to protest inflated prices being charged to political prisoners for food at the prison cafeteria.
Nguyen Ngoc Anh’s lawyer Dang Dinh Manh told RFA that he was trying to find out why the prisoners were staging a hunger strike.
“I am planning to meet with the state agencies to learn about this issue. Normally if prisoners start a hunger strike, the guards will not share any information or explain the reason,” he said.
Dang said that this was the case for Trinh Ba Tu, another of his clients, held at a detention camp in Hoa Binh province, in the northern part of the country near the capital Hanoi.
“I sent documents asking them to clarify and answer about [Trinh’s] case, but they said they did not want to share any information under the jurisdiction of the investigating police,” Dang said.
“As a lawyer I make all efforts, but I can’t really expect results,” he added.
Trinh Ba Tu, his brother Trinh Ba Phuong and mother Can Thi Theu were all arrested June 24 for critical social media postings about the Jan. 9 Dong Tam clash, in which 3,000 police stormed barricaded protesters’ homes at an airport construction site about 25 miles south of the capital, killing a village elder. Three police officers died in the battle.
Trinh Ba Tu is said to have been on hunger strike since early August.
RFA reported in late August that his family learned of the strike 20 days after the fact.
Trinh Ba Khiem, the family patriarch had attempted to learn more about the situation and meet with his hunger-striking son, but bureaucracy got in the way, with the Hoa Binh detention camp and two separate police jurisdictions pointing to each other as responsible for Trinh Ba Tu’s visitation rights.
Hoa Binh detention camp commissary records show that Trinh Ba Tu and his mother stopped buying food on Aug. 6.
The family has not heard any information about the hunger strike since first learning about it.
Vietnam, with a population of 92 million people, of which 55 million are estimated to be users of Facebook, has been consistently rated “not free” in the areas of internet and press freedom by Freedom House, a U.S.-based watchdog group.
Dissent is not tolerated in the communist nation, and authorities routinely use a set of vague provisions in the penal code to detain dozens of writers and bloggers.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Huy Le, Written in English by Eugene Whong.