Bloggers, Activists Stage Starvation Strike Over Vietnam Jail Circumstances    | Voice of America

A blogger arrested for a toxic spill after filming protests, along with two other prisoners of conscience, went on hunger strike for unfair treatment at An Diem Prison, Vietnam.

25-year-old Nguyen Van Hoa, blogger and employee of the Radio Free Asia (RFA) Vietnam Service, protested against the conditions of detention with human rights defender Nguyen Bac Truyen and blogger and activist Pham Van Diep.

In a call to his home, Truyen said he started his hunger strike in November and will continue until detention conditions and treatment improve, his wife Bui Thi Kim Phuong told VOA Vietnamese on November 28.

“He told me that the reasons for the hunger strike were unfair treatment by the prison officials. They protested the lack of access to medical care and the confiscation of letters from prisoners to their families without explanation, ”Phuong said.

Truyen tried to send two letters home in April, but the prison authorities blocked them, Phuong said, without describing the contents of the letters.

In 2019, Truyen filed a request for medical examination and medical examination with the prison authorities in An Diem, which is under the supervision of the Ministry of Public Security, but it was ignored, Phuong said.

“It has been more than three years since he was arrested and he has not had a health check-up,” she said.

Several prisoners also requested transfers to prisons closer to their families. Political prisoners of conscience are often detained far from their homes, making it difficult to visit their families.

Truyen’s parents and wife live in Ho Chi Minh City. His parents are unable to make the 900 km trip to the prison to see him, and Phuong says that after each visit she gets sick because of the long journey. The journey takes 14 to 16 hours if she is traveling by train or car.

Declining health

Blogger Hoa’s health is extremely bad, said his sister Nguyen Thi Hue. When she spoke to the RFA’s Vietnamese service on November 27, the day after she last saw her brother, he had been on a hunger strike for at least eight days.

“I couldn’t believe it was him because he looked so sick and tired, and he needed someone to help him go to the visitors’ booth because he was too weak to go alone,” said Hue . “This was the first time in four years that I saw my brother’s health be so compromised.”

Hue said her brother told her that prison guards had confiscated letters he would send and forbade him to share information about official misconduct and conditions in the camp with outside contacts.

The Ministry of Public Security did not respond to VOA Vietnamese’s email asking for a comment on the hunger strike.

Phuong told VOA Vietnamese that her husband and the other prisoners understand the health risks of an ongoing hunger strike, but said it was a last resort because they believe they have no other option to demand improved conditions.

Demands for rights

Truyen was previously on a hunger strike. In May 2019, Christian Solidarity Worldwide, a UK-based organization promoting religious freedom or belief, reported that Truyen and three others were coordinating a hunger strike to protest the mistreatment of Hoa.

In a statement last week, the organization’s founder, Mervyn Thomas said: “The fact that Nguyen Bac Truyen and others were forced to go on hunger strike as the only way to hear their demands reflects the sad reality of the non-violent situation political prisoners in Vietnam. “

This photo from the Vietnam News Agency, taken on November 27, 2017, shows activist Nguyen Van Hoa standing trial in a people’s court in the central province of Ha Tinh.

Thomas added: “[We] urge the Vietnamese authorities to ensure that those who campaign for human rights in the country can do so without fear of harassment, violence or imprisonment. “

In October, the Norwegian human rights organization Stefanus Alliance International awarded Truyen the Stefanus Prize for its work to promote human rights in Vietnam, including freedom of religion.

The 52-year-old activist is a Hoa Hao Buddhist and has long fought for the rights of religious minorities and other human rights in Vietnam. There are two groups of Hoa Hao Buddhists in Vietnam: one government-sponsored and one unregistered group that Truyen belongs to.

On July 30, 2017, Truyen was attacked and arrested by plain clothes police while he was waiting for his wife outside his office in Ho Chi Minh City. On April 5, 2018, a court sentenced him to 11 years in prison and three years probation for “activities to overthrow the government”.

Filmed protests

Blogger Hoa was arrested on November 27, 2017 after filming protests outside Formosa Plastics Group’s Taiwanese steel mill. A toxic spill in 2016 killed an estimated 115 tons of fish and left fishing and tourism workers in four central provinces unemployed. Hoa, who blogged and produced videos for RFA, was arrested on January 11, 2017 for “abusing democratic freedoms to harm the interests of the state”.

The charges were later raised to “anti-state propaganda”. Hoa is serving a seven-year prison sentence followed by three years probation.

RFA and VOA are independent networks funded by the US Congress.

The third person on hunger strike, Diep, is a 54-year-old activist from northern Thanh Hoa Province. In 2019 Diep was sentenced to nine years in prison for “disseminating distorted information defaming the Communist Party and the Vietnamese government”. Diep is a human rights lawyer and government critic who used his blog, and later his Facebook account, to discuss human rights violations.

Vietnam has been consistently rated “not free” in the areas of internet and freedom of the press by Freedom House, a US-based surveillance group.

Reporters Without Borders ranks Vietnam 175 out of 180 on the 2020 World Press Freedom Index, with 1 being the freest. About 25 journalists and bloggers are being held in Vietnam’s prisons “where abuse is common,” said the Paris-based surveillance group.

This story comes from the Vietnamese VOA.

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