A jailed Vietnamese blogger serving an 11-year prison term for writing articles criticizing Vietnam’s government is struggling with poor health and needs help to look after himself in the harsh conditions of his new detention center, sources close to his family said on Tuesday.
Nguyen Tuong Thuy, an independent journalist and former RFA Vietnamese Service blogger, was moved earlier this year from a Ho Chi Minh City Police detention center and sent to the Bo La prison in Binh Duong province, sources told RFA in an earlier report.
Thuy, 71, is older than many of the other inmates held at Bo La, and is often last in line when the prison canteen is opened for purchases of food, the wife of a former fellow prisoner told RFA’s Vietnamese Service on Tuesday after speaking with her husband the week before by phone.
“He is slower than the others and can’t catch up, and by the time he arrives there, nothing has been left for him to buy,” said Huynh Thi Kim Nga, the wife of Thuy’s former cellmate Ngo Van Dung.
Transferred on March 29 from Bo La and sent to An Phuoc Prison, also in Binh Duong, Dung told his wife on April 1 that a painful injury to Thuy’s hand has left him unable to do anything for himself.
“When my husband was there, he could help Thuy, but now he wonders if anyone is still there who will help,” Nga said, adding that Thuy and other prisoners held at Bo La on political charges are refused permission to receive family visits or to talk to relatives on the phone.
Speaking to RFA on Tuesday, Thuy’s wife Nguyen Thi Lan expressed concern at the news of her husband’s health, saying that even though suffering high blood pressure at home, “he had never relied on others to serve him” and went himself to buy over-the-counter medications.
“As for his injured hand, I believe that is the due to the wrench he received from the security officers on the day they arrested him and forced him to give them the code to open his mobile phone,” she said.
“His hand was already hurting him before at the Phan Dang Luu detention center,” Lan said, adding, “I have bought medication to be sent in to him, but I don’t know if he’s receiving the right medication.”
Lan, who lives in Hanoi, had tried to visit Thuy at Bo La near Ho Chi Minh City on March 25, but was turned away by prison guards citing COVID-19 concerns and instructions from city police, Lan told RFA in an earlier report.
Even with concerns over COVID-19, the guards should have allowed her to see her husband at a distance or speak to him on the phone, Lan said.
Repeated calls by RFA seeking comment from Bo La Prison have rung unanswered.
Civil rights, freedom of speech
Thuy, who had blogged on civil rights and freedom of speech issues for RFA’s Vietnamese Service for six years, was sentenced on Jan. 5 with two other bloggers—like Thuy members of the Vietnam Independent Journalists’ Association—who were handed lengthy jail terms at the same time.
Arrested in May 2020, Thuy was indicted along with Pham Chi Dung and Le Huu Minh Tuan on Nov. 10 for “making, storing, and disseminating documents and materials for anti-state purposes” under Article 117 of Vietnam’s Penal Code.
Sentenced with Thuy, Pham Chi Dung was given a 15-year prison term, while Le Huu Minh Tuan was jailed for 11 years.
Thuy later refused to appeal his sentence, tearing up a petition form given to his after prison guards told him what to write on it, Thuy’s lawyer told RFA in an earlier report.
Dangerously high doses
A Vietnamese blogger held in a mental hospital while awaiting trial for criticizing Vietnam’s one-party communist state is meanwhile being given dangerously high doses of medication to treat his supposed mental illness, sources told RFA this week.
Le Anh Hung, a member of the online Brotherhood of Democracy advocacy group who had blogged for Voice of America, was arrested on July 5, 2018 on a charge of “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the state” under Article 331 of Vietnam’s criminal code.
He was later transferred in April 2019 from jail to Hanoi’s Central Mental Hospital No. 1 for “observation and treatment.” If convicted at trial, he could serve up to seven years in prison.
Speaking to RFA on April 5, Hung’s mother Tran Thi Niem said that Hung had recently called her on a borrowed phone to say he is being forced to take much higher doses of medication than usual.
“He spoke to me the day before yesterday and told me that the dose of medication he is being given has now been increased to 12 pills per day,” Niem said. “I said this was a potentially fatal dose, and asked one of Hung’s friends, Nguyen Van Binh, to put out an urgent call for intervention on the internet.”
Writing on his Facebook page on April 4, Binh condemned the hospital’s treatment of his friend.
“This morning I got the phone call from Niem, Hung’s mother. She told me that the hospital had increased his daily dose to 12 pills, and that if he resisted taking it, he was tied up and injected with sedatives,” he said.
“This is so barbaric and wicked!” Binh said.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) ranked Vietnam 175 out of 180 in its 2020 World Press Freedom Index. About 25 journalists and bloggers are being held in Vietnam’s jails, “where mistreatment is common,” the Paris-based watchdog group said.
Vietnam’s already low tolerance of dissent deteriorated sharply last year with a spate of arrests of independent journalists, publishers, and Facebook personalities as authorities continued to stifle critics in the run-up to the ruling Communist Party Congress in January.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Chau Vu. Written in English by Richard Finney.