Vietnam Human Rights Defenders Weekly June 06-12: Vietnam Arrests Leading Land Petitioner Few Days after the European Parliament Urges Hanoi to Stop Persecution against Local Dissent

Vietnam Human Rights Defenders Weekly | Jun 12,2016

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Few days after being condemned by the European Parliament for its persecution against local political dissidents, social activists and human rights defenders, Vietnam on June 10 arrested former prisoner of conscience Can Thi Theu, the leading figure of hundreds of land petitioners.

Mrs. Theu, who has actively participated in peaceful demonstrations against government land seizure and on environmental and human rights issues, was charged of conducting public disorders under Article 245 of the country’s Penal Code. She will be held for two months for investigation, and if proven, she can face imprisonment up to seven years in prison.

The arrest may be the new wave of Vietnam’s suppression against the local dissent as the government is under pressure of a number of issues, including economic difficulties and the environmental disaster in the central coastal region. Vietnam completed its power transition and the new leadership wants to show their strong hands.

After three days holding four environmentalists in a local social rehabilitation center for questioning, the police in Ho Chi Minh City on June 7 released Ms. Tran Thi Thu Nguyet, Mr. Luu Van Vinh, Mr. Mac Van Phi, and Mr. Le Minh Khanh. The four activists were detained on Sunday on the city’s center although they had yet to attend a planned demonstration to demand the government’s transparency on the investigation of the causes of the massive death of marine species in the central coast. Mrs. Nguyet said she was outraged during the detention in the facility which is used for holding sex workers, criminals and drug addicts.

Police in the central province of Thanh Hoa continues to keep local medical doctor Hoang Van Giang, who was arrested eight months ago on a trumped-up allegation of possessing drugs. Giang’s arrest is arbitrary detention due to his membership of the prodemocracy group Brotherhood of Democracy, said Protestant pastor Nguyen Trung Ton, who is also member of the group.

And other important news.

=========== June 7============

HCMC Police Release Four Environmentalists after Three-day Holding, One Female Outraged

Defend the Defenders: Security forces in Ho Chi Minh City, the biggest economic hub in Vietnam, on June 7 freed four environmentalists after holding them three days in a social rehabilitation facility No. 463 on No Trang Long Street for interrogation, local activists have said.

On Sunday [June 5], the police in the city detained dozens of activists when they gathered in the city’s center to attend the planned peaceful demonstration which aims to demand the government to be transparent in the investigation of the water contamination with toxic chemicals in the central coastal region which has caused the en-mass death of marine species.

Before taking any move, all environmentalists had been detained by the local police who released the detainees on the same day but kept Ms. Tran Thi Thu Nguyet, Mr. Luu Van Vinh, Mr. Mac Van Phi, and Mr. Le Minh Khanh in the facility which is used for holding sex workers, criminals and drug addicts.

Before being transferred to the facility, Mr. Truong Huy Le was severely beaten by police officers in Ben Nghe ward police station.

During the three-day detention in the facility, the four activists had been interrogated by police officers. Ms. Nguyet conducted hunger strike after police officers took off her clothes in front of other men.

In the past three days, many activists gathered outside near the gate of the facility to demand for their unconditional release.

In this facility in mid-May, the city’s police held hundreds of environmentalists who participated in a demonstration on May 15. Before being released, detainees had been subjects of torture and interrogation by police officers. Some detainees reported that they were beaten by electrical batons.

Also on June 5, Hanoi detained around 70 activists but freed them on the day.

Authorities in major Vietnamese cities have tightened security control and arrested all political dissidents, social activists and human rights when they appear in public places in cities’ centers on Sundays after environmental groups called for nationwide demonstrations during weekends to demand the government to release the results of investigation on the massive death of millions of fish in the four central province of Ha Tinh, Quang Binh, Quang Tri and Thua Thien-Hue. Two months after the environmental catastrophe, Vietnam’s government has yet to publicize the results although the investigation was completed.

Many believe that the fish en-mass death in the central coastal region as water was polluted with heavy chemicals which came from improperly-treated waste discharged by the Taiwanese Formosa Plastic Group which has a $10 billion steel project in Ha Tinh province. The Taiwanese company admitted to imported 300 tons of very toxic chemicals such as CYC-VPrefilm900, CYC-Vprefilm400, CYC-Vclosetrol360, and CYC-VMA 796 for cleaning their machineries in the project and discharge waste into the sea through a meter-wide and kilometer-long tunnel about 15 meters below the sea surface.

Many Vietnamese have angered as the government has no urgent actions to cope with the disaster in the central coast as well as refused to announce the real causes of the incident. Since May 1, thousands of Vietnamese activists have rallied across the nation to protest Formosa and the slow reactions of the government.

Instead of warning people about serious contamination of sea water in the central coast, local authorities have launched campaign to encourage people to buy seafood harvested by the local fishermen in the affected areas, and make holidays in the local beaches. A number of divers were reported to die in water near the place where Formosa discharges waste and many people have died and suffered seriously from consuming seafood from the affected areas.

In May, police violently suppressed many peaceful environmental demonstrations, detaining and torturing many activists.

The Office of UN High Commission for Human Rights and many international human rights organizations have condemned Vietnam’s recent suppression against local activists, calling on the communist government respect its Constitutions and its international obligations on human rights.

Vietnam has prioritized high growth rate of the country’s gross domestic products (GDP) and encouraged foreign investors to set up industrial projects nationwide without paying special attention to environmental consequences, said experts.

The contamination of sea water in Vietnam’s central coast may affect the region’s economy for decades, especially in local fisheries, tourism, fish sauce and salt production. The livelihood of tens of millions of local residents is threatened, experts said.

http://www.vietnamhumanrightsdefenders.net/2016/06/07/hcmc-police-release-four-environmentalists-after-three-day-holding-one-female-outraged/

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Vietnamese Human Rights Activist Held for Eight Months on Trumped-Up Allegation of Drug Possession

Defend the Defenders:  Human rights activist and outspoken medical doctor Hoang Van Giang from Vietnam’s central province of Thanh Hoa has been in police custody since mid-October last year on the trumped-up allegation of possessing drug, local activists have reported.

Mr. Hoang Giang was arrested on October 14 and accused of illegal possession of drug, said Mr. Nguyen Trung Ton, a local human rights activist. If found guilty, he could face long-term imprisonment as the country’s law imposes heavy punishment for the trade and possession of drugs.

Mr. Ton, who is a member of the pro-democracy group Brotherhood of Democracy, said that on the day of his arrest, Dr. Giang worked in his private clinic. One of his regular clients invited him to a cafeteria and when they were inside the cafeteria with a third friend, police came to conduct administrative checks. They then found a certain amount of narcotic on his friend. Police immediately arrested the duo and placed them under investigation for drug possession.

Since then, Dr. Giang, who is also a member of the Brotherhood of Democracy, has been in police custody. So far, the activist has rejected all allegations, claiming he has neither used nor possessed drug.

His family said the Thanh Hoa province’s police have come to threaten and persuade his relatives to tell him to admit that he had illegally possessed drug. Police have pledged that if he confesses wrongdoing, he will enjoy leniency with lighter punishment.

The family also said that the police asked VND100 million ($4,400) for his release. However, the offer was turned down. The family had refused even when the police lowered the sum to VND20 million.

Police have continued to meet the family in order to ask relatives to pressure him to confess, however, Dr. Giang reaffirmed that he is innocent and being framed in the case.

In recent years, many Vietnamese human rights activists have been arrested and imprisoned on the basis of trumped-up criminal charges of causing public disorders or committing tax evasion. The victims include land rights activist Bui Thi Minh Hang, human rights lawyer Le Quoc Quan and social activist Truong Minh Tam.

The communist party, which has ruled Vietnam for decades, has vowed to maintain the country under a one-party regime. Its government has used controversial articles in the Penal Code to silence local political dissidents, social activists and human rights defenders.

According to the New York-based Human Rights Watch, Vietnam is holding at least 100 political prisoners while Hanoi always denies imprisoning any but only law violators.

====== June 8======

Vietnamese Police Question Montagnards Living in Phnom Penh

RFA: Vietnamese police questioned a group of Montagnards living in Phnom Penh in what appears to be a failed attempt to get them to return to their native country, RFA’s Khmer Service has learned.

The move by the Vietnamese authorities on Tuesday was condemned by civil society as intimidation of the Montagnards, who rights groups say have been victims of persecution and repression in Vietnam. Rights groups also questioned how foreign police were allowed to enter and operate in Cambodia.

“Those Montagnards fled their country due to racial, political and religious oppression, and threats,” Suon Bunsak general secretary of the Cambodian Human Rights Action Coalition (CHRAC) told RFA’s Khmer Service.

“If officials from their country of origin came to visit them, it is a threat to their personal safety,” he added.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) also questioned the meeting.

“No one who seeks asylum should be forced to meet the representative of the government they accused of tormenting them,” UNHCR official Vivian Tan told RFA.

Among the Vietnamese authorities who interrogated the group of about 150 Montagnards was the chief of Gai Lai provincial police, the Montagnards told RFA.

Afraid to go back

While the Vietnamese police attempted to persuade the Montagnards to return to Vietnam, the asylum seekers refused for fear of what might happen if they returned, they told RFA. The Montagnards also expressed fear that Vietnamese would kidnap them or that the Cambodian government would send them back.

Tan Sokvichea, head of the Immigration Department’s Refugee Division, told RFA he was unaware of the Vietnamese police visit.

“I did not receive any information because this is at the political level,” he said. “The leaders discussed it, but we as the implementing officials did not know about that.  The U.N. was not involved. They just said that Cambodia needs to implement legal principles in accordance with international law.”

While immigration officials may have been unaware of the visit, the Montagnards told RFA that Cambodian police accompanied the Vietnamese.

Attempts to reach the ministry’s spokesperson Khiev Sopheak were unsuccessful, but Suon Bunsak told RFA that the visit was a black eye for the Cambodian government.

“First, if we talk about foreigners, whether they are civilian or state officials, if they enter the territory of the Kingdom of Cambodia without our knowledge, that points out the weakness of our administrative system,” he said. “Secondly, those who entered the country are illegal. Those who enter Cambodia without our knowledge are the subject of legal action.”

Vietnam’s Central Highlands are home to some 30 tribes of indigenous peoples, known collectively as Montagnards or the Degar. This group of Montagnards comes from the mountainous region of Gia Lai, Dak Lak, and Kon Tum provinces in central Vietnam bordering Rattanakiri and Mondulkiri provinces of Cambodia.

They are among the more than 200 Montagnards who fled their country and crossed the border into Cambodia seeking help from UNHCR, citing oppression by the Vietnam’s government.

Among the 200, some were sent back to Vietnam by the Cambodian authorities, while 13 were recognized by the Cambodian government as legitimate refugees in early 2016. They were relocated to the Philippines by the U.N. in May.

Status unknown

The rest are undergoing the process of determining their status by the Cambodian authorities. The UNHCR’s Tan said that some of them were already interviewed, but she does not know the result yet.

In 2015, at least four of three dozen Montagnards deported to Vietnam by Cambodian authorities after they were discovered hiding in the forest had disappeared from their home villages in Vietnam, other members of the group told RFA at the time of their disappearance.

The Montagnards have clashed with Vietnamese authorities before, and they were allies to the U.S. during the Vietnam War.

Early in the last decade, thousands of Montagnards staged violent protests against the confiscation of their ancestral lands and religious controls, prompting a brutal crackdown by Vietnamese security forces that saw hundreds of them charged with national security crimes.

Vietnamese Police Question Montagnards Living in Phnom Penh

========= June 9==========

European Parliament Condemns Continuing Violations of Human rights in Vietnam

European Parliament, press release: The European Parliament deplores the worsening climate for opposition politicians and human rights activists in Cambodia, calls on Tajikistan to allow opposition groups, lawyers and journalists to operate freely, and urges Vietnam to put an immediate end to all harassment, intimidation, and persecution of political activists, journalists, bloggers, dissidents and human rights defenders, in three resolutions voted on Thursday.

Members of the European Parliament deplore continuing human rights violations in Vietnam, including “political intimidation, harassment, assaults, arbitrary arrests, heavy prison sentences and unfair trials, perpetrated against political activists, journalists, bloggers, dissidents and human rights defenders”, and call on the government of Vietnam to put an “immediate stop to all harassment, intimidation, and persecution” of these individuals.

“The increasing levels of violence perpetrated against Vietnamese protesters” demonstrating throughout the country in May 2016 to express their anger over “an ecological catastrophe that decimated the nation’s fish stocks” are worrying, note MEPs. The Vietnam government should respect the right to freedom of assembly in line with its international human rights obligations, the findings of the investigations into the environmental disaster should be published and those responsible should be held accountable, they add.

The resolution also calls on the Vietnam government to put an end to religious persecution in the country, to amend legislation on the status of religious minorities and to withdraw the fifth draft of the law on belief and religion, currently being debated in the National Assembly, as it is “incompatible with international norms of freedom religion or belief”.

Human rights: opposition in Cambodia, prisoners of conscience in Tajikistan, continuing violations of human rights in Vietnam

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Vietnam Calls Elections Successful, Communists Continue to Dominate New Rubber Stamp Parliament

Defend the Defenders: Vietnam has declared the elections on May 22 for the country’s legislative body National Assembly and local People’s Councils successful, with the continued domination of the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV), state media reported Friday.

Speaking at a press conference in Hanoi on June 9, Nguyen Hanh Phuc, general secretary of the National Election Council said nearly 67.05 million out of nearly 67.48 million of eligible voters participated in the ballot and elected 496 members for the parliament, 3,908 members for the provincial People’s Councils, 25,179 members for the district People’s Councils and 291,273 members for the communal People’s Councils.

Only two non-communists won their seats in the new parliament while the remaining 494 are members of the ruling communist party, including 19 members of the party’s Politburo members and nearly 100 members of the Central Committee.

Incumbent Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, Defense Minister Ngo Xuan Lich, Finance Minister Dinh Tien Dung, Deputy PM Vuong Dinh Hue and Minister of Public Security To Lam won the vote with highest voting of between 95.16% and 99.48%, according to the released results.

As many as 160 legislators from the 13th parliament in the 2011-2016 were re-elected and the remaining 336 people will take their first term in the NA for the next five years.

Only six winners have yet to have graduated universities. The new parliament will have 133 female lawmakers and 86 representatives from ethnic minorities.

As many as 17 entrepreneurs won their seats in the new parliament, including six from the capital city of Hanoi.

There were shortcomings during the election, said Mr. Phuc. Many people had not gone to the poll but hired others to do it for them. In addition, the elimination of some candidates who earned strong support from their localities has caused public dissatisfaction, he added.

The National Election Council will acquire letters of complaint within five days and consider them within one month, ensuring that all of the qualified legislators could attend the first meeting of the new parliament scheduled in July, said Phuc, who is also the general secretary of the rubber stamp NA in the 13th tenure.

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Vietnam Rejected US Assistance in Mass Fish Death Probe

Voice of America: A top U.S. diplomat says Vietnamese officials rejected U.S. offers of technical assistance with an investigation into a mass fish death along the Southeast Asian country’s central coast.

Addressing the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) Wednesday, U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam Ted Osius said overtures of assistance, made in late April, were immediately declined.

“Pretty much right away, I offered technical assistance from the United States if the government of Vietnam wanted it for figuring out what had happened, and the reasons that so many fish had died along the central coast,” he said. “That immediate offer of assistance was not accepted.”

The massive die-off of marine life has sparked outrage and nationwide protests, most of which have been broken up by police. Demonstrators blame the catastrophe, which left an estimated 100 tons of dead fish along central coastline beaches in late April, on the release of toxic chemicals from a new Taiwanese-owned steel mill.

Although an official investigation has found no links between the fish deaths and the $10.6 billion coastal steel plant run by a unit of Taipei-headquartered Formosa Plastics, public anger against the company has not abated.

In May, nearly 140,000 Vietnamese nationals submitted a petition urging the Obama administration to launch an independent probe of the event.

Last week, the Vietnamese government said it had identified the cause of fish deaths, but needed more hard scientific evidence before making public allegations. Critics have repeatedly condemned the government’s delayed response to the massive die-off.

In late April, Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, who took office earlier that month, ordered a thorough inspection of the fish deaths. On April 26, government officials said findings of the probe would be released within a week.

=========10-06===========

Vietnam Land Petitioners’ Leader Arrested, Charged with Causing Public Disorders

Defend the Defenders: Vietnam’s security forces on June 10 arrested Mrs. Can Thi Theu, a leading figure among thousands of land petitioners in the Southeast Asian nation, and charged her with allegation of “causing public disorders” under Article 245 of the country’s Penal Code.

Mr. Trinh Ba Phuong, the older son of Mrs. Theu said in the very early morning of Friday, authorities in Hanoi deployed around 70 police officers to a private residence of her family in the northern province of Hoa Binh to arrest her.

Police handcuffed Mrs. Theu and searched her house in Ngoc Luong commune in Yen Thuy district, confiscating her cell phone, Phuong said, adding that authorities afraid of protests from other land petitioners so they deployed the large number of armed police on the arrest.

The police said they arrested her due to her public disturbing activities in Hanoi’s Dong Da district on April 8. She may be detained for 60 days for investigation and if is proven guilty, she may face imprisonment of up to seven years in jail, according to the Vietnamese law.

This is the trumped-up allegation against hear mother, Mr. Phuong said. On April 8, Mrs. Theu and many other activists planned to hold a peaceful meeting to mark the 10th anniversary of the pro-democracy group Bloc 8406 and demand for unconditional release of human rights lawyer Nguyen Van Dai, who is detained on December 16 last year on allegation of conducting anti-state propaganda under Article 88 of the Penal Code. However, the security forces violently suppressed the meeting and detained eight participants, including Theu. All detainees were released on the same day. (You can read about the event and the violent suppression of the Hanoi police here: http://www.vietnamhumanrightsdefenders.net/2016/04/09/seven-vietnamese-activists-brutally-beaten-detained-while-talking-about-human-rights-democracy/)

Mrs. Theu is a former prisoner of conscience. On April 25, 2014, she was arrested while filming Hanoi’s land seizure in her village in Duong Noi commune in Ha Dong district. The city’s authorities took large areas of land from Duong Noi farmers, including Theu’s family with very low compensation prices to give private investors for property development.

The land grabbing of Hanoi’s authorities made hundreds of farmers in Theu’s village without production tools.

Two years ago, Theu was severely beaten by police upon the arrest. Later, the local authorities charged her with “resisting on-duty state officials” under Article 257 of the Penal Code and sentenced her to 15 months in prison. Her husband, Mr. Trinh Ba Tu, was also imprisoned for 15 months for the same charge.

After being released in July last year, she has actively participated in peaceful demonstrations to demand for land return, or in peaceful protests on environmental issues and against China’s violations of Vietnam’s sovereignty in the East Sea (South China Sea). She was detained many times by Hanoi’s police, and sometimes severely beaten by police officers.

Theu’s arrest was made few days after the European Parliament issued a resolution to condemn Vietnam’s ongoing persecution against local political dissidents, social activists and human rights defenders.

In its press release on June 9, the European Parliament said its members deplore continuing human rights violations in Vietnam, including “political intimidation, harassment, assaults, arbitrary arrests, heavy prison sentences and unfair trials, perpetrated against political activists, journalists, bloggers, dissidents and human rights defenders”, and call on the government of Vietnam to put an “immediate stop to all harassment, intimidation, and persecution” of these individuals.

“The increasing levels of violence perpetrated against Vietnamese protesters” demonstrating throughout the country in May 2016 to express their anger over “an ecological catastrophe that decimated the nation’s fish stocks” are worrying, said the press release, adding the Vietnam government should respect the right to freedom of assembly in line with its international human rights obligations, the findings of the investigations into the environmental disaster should be published and those responsible should be held accountable.

Some observers said her arrest is a start of new suppression wave of the government after the ruling communists asserted their power with the recent formal election of the rubber-stamp parliament and the People’s Committee in provincial, district and communal levels. The communists continue to dominate the country’s legislative body National Assembly as only two out of 496 selected members of the institution are not members of the ruling party. The situation is the same in the local levels.

Vietnam has applied a zero tolerance for government’s criticism and considers unregistered civil organizations as “reactionary groups.” The police forces have violently suppressed all spontaneous demonstrations which may challenge the government.

Vietnam has prioritized high growth rate of gross domestic products (GDP), giving many incentives for industrial and property developers. The government has seized large areas of land nationwide from local residents to give for industrial and property projects without paying adequate compensation.

Due to the government’s land grabbing policy, thousands of farmers have lost their cultivation land and houses. Many of them have come to government agencies in Hanoi to protest land seizure but their voices are hardly heard.

Land petitioners, who live in misery, have been subjects to police’s torture.

In Vietnam, all land belongs to the state and local residents have only right to use so the state can seize land for socio-economic development. In many cases, local authorities have abused the land policy, causing great dissatisfaction among local residents.

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Vietnam Has Over 24.3M of People Following Recognized Religions, Beliefs: Gov’t Committee

Defend the Defenders: Vietnam has 24.3 million people or 27% of the population, who adhere to a particular set of beliefs and practices which are recognized by the government, a government committee has reported.

The country has identified 39 organizations of 14 religions and sects so far, the Government Committee for Religious Affairs said at a meeting with Deputy Prime Minister Truong Hoa Binh on June 9.

The organizations which practicing their religions in 27,900 worship places nationwide, are in line with the laws and under the state’s strict observation, according to the committee.

Religious sects sometimes are organizations popularizing policies and laws. They have actively taken part in the governance at all levels with many dignitaries joining the National Assembly and People’s Councils and the Fatherland Front, the committee added.

It noted that people’s right to freedom of religion and belief is ensured. But the committee also warned of a number of problems facing religious activities, including the abuse of religion to conduct activities which possibly cause social disorder and harm the country’s international integration, the government said on its website.

Deputy Prime Minister Truong Hoa Binh emphasized at the meeting that religious matters are not covered the Government Committee for Religious Affairs alone but the whole political system, especially local government.

He asked the committee to complete the draft Law on Religions and Beliefs to soon submit to the National Assembly soon.

Religious freedom in Vietnam remains one of issues which domestic and international rights groups have called on the government for more changes to adapt with the world’s spirit of the freedom of religion.

Two biggest religious communities in Vietnam are Buddhist followers and Christianity believers. The country has issued many policies encouraging the expansion of Buddhism together with developing many Buddhist worshipping places amid the strong growth of Catholics.

Buddhist followers account for 10 million, compared to seven million of Catholics.

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Family Says 77-year Vietnamese Man Shot Dead by Police on Arrest of His Son

Defend the Defenders: The family of 77-year old Nguyen Van Nghinh from Vietnam’s southern province of Binh Phuoc said his death may have been caused by a gunshot of police who tried to arrest his son Nguyen Van Dung on allegation of gambling.

In early morning of June 7, police in Phu Rieng district and Long Ha commune carried out to arrest Dung. However, the family and neighbors opposed the police since the authorities had not showed warrant. A policeman fired a warning shot and later Mr. Nghinh fell to the ground and lost consciousness.

“My father was in good health prior to the incident. After he collapsed, I spotted an injury on his forehead, which could have potentially been caused by the gunshot,” said Nguyen Van Nhi, another son of the victim told the Tuoi Tre newspaper.

According to the newspaper, police attempted to transport him to the hospital for emergency treatment; however, Nghinh’s family members did not allow officers to bring him away as they thought he was shot.

Following an explanation by the officers, Nghinh was finally admitted to the local infirmary but had already passed away.

Assuming Nghinh was killed by the police, hundreds of local residents gathered at the scene to express fierce opposition, preventing officers from continuing their mission.

Fifty additional law enforcers were later dispatched to the area to control the situation before being attacked by rock-throwers.

Mr. Nhi said representatives of the local police arrived at his residence on June 8 morning to offer VND30 million ($1,343) as support for Nghinh’s funeral.

Binh Phuoc province’s police stated that Dung was identified as a suspect involved in an illegal gambling ring after an investigation was carried out on May 25. An arrest warrant was also issued by the local People’s Procuracy on Tuesday morning, officers added.

Nghinh’s cause of death is being investigated and an autopsy is being conducted by a forensic agency from Ho Chi Minh City to ensure the objectivity of the result, police stated.

Police abuse is systemic in Vietnam, according to the New York-based Human Rights Watch while the Ministry of Public Security admitted that 226 detainees and suspected people died in police’s custody between October 2010 and September 2014, and police said most of their deaths were caused by illness and suicides while social networks and the families of the victims said their deaths were caused by police power abuse.