A Vietnamese democracy advocate held in Dong Nai province’s Xuan Loc prison has gone on hunger strike to protest inflated prices being charged to political prisoners for food at the prison cafeteria, supporters of the jailed activist said.
Nguyen Van Duc Do, who is serving an 11-year term for “activities aimed at overthrowing the government,” joins other prisoners of conscience held at Xuan Loc who have also stopped eating to call for beater treatment at the facility.
Do launched his strike on or around Oct. 13, a friend, Nguyen Duc Hai, told RFA’s Vietnamese Service on Monday, saying that his brother had gone to visit Do at Xuan Loc on Friday, Oct. 18, and that Do had not eaten for five days.
“Do objected to the fact that the cafeteria in the camp sold food to political prisoners at a very high price—sometimes four to five times higher than the prices charged to other prisoners—yet still refused to allow family members to bring them more than 5 kg of food per month,” Hai said.
“He protested this wrongdoing by writing on the surface of a table, ‘Down with Communists and down with the prison that suck the blood of political prisoners!’” Hai said, adding that Do then showed what he had written to other prisoners who were present.
Arrested in November 2016, Do and four other activists were convicted on Oct. 5, 2018 in a Ho Chi Minh City court after being found guilty in a one-day trial of involvement in a political group that authorities deemed to have challenged Vietnam’s Communist one-party system.
The group had been charged under Article 79 of Vietnam’s Penal Code, one of a set of vague provisions in the law used to detain writers, activists, and bloggers, and had been held without trial for almost two years.
Authorities said their group, the Vietnam National Self-Determination Coalition, had knowingly worked to damage the image and policies of the country's ruling Communist Party.
The group had previously been active in protesting the government’s handling of a massive chemical spill in April 2016 that devastated the country’s central coast, leaving fishermen and tourism workers jobless in four central provinces.
Group leader Luu Van Vinh was given 15 years. Nguyen Quoc Hoan was sentenced to 13 years, Nguyen Van Duc Do to 11 years, Tu Cong Nghia to 10 years, and Phan Trung to 8 years.
Their sentences were upheld on appeal on March 18, 2019.
Others also on strike
Do now joins other political prisoners held at Xuan Loc who have also launched hunger strikes in recent weeks, including Nguyen Hoang Nam—a follower of Hoa Hao Buddhism—who stopped eating on Oct. 11 to protest being moved to a cell occupied by a prisoner convicted of drug offenses.
Jailed Vietnamese democracy activist Huynh Truong Ca had earlier gone on hunger strike on Oct. 4 to call for urgent medical treatment and to protest the harsh conditions in the prison where he is being held, family members told RFA.
Fellow prisoners of conscience held at the Xuan Loc then joined Ca in his strike in support.
Vietnam holds an estimated 128 prisoners of conscience, according to a May report by rights group Amnesty International.
Nguyen Kim Binh of Vietnam Human Rights Network said in December 2018 that the one-party communist state is currently detaining more than 200 political prisoners.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Channhu Hoang. Written in English by Richard Finney.