Prominent Prisoner of Conscience Tran Huynh Duy Thuc on Hunger Strike

Mr. Tran Huynh Duy Thuc, the most famous prisoner of conscience in Vietnam

Defend the Defenders, December 2, 2020


Prominent democracy campaigner Tran Huynh Duy Thuc, who is serving his 16-year imprisonment in the Prison camp No. 6 in Vietnam’s central province of Nghe An, has been on hunger strike for more than nine days, Defend the Defenders has learned.

According to his family who visited him in prison on November 30, he started fasting on November 25. By that time, he lost 3.5 kg and had very low blood pressure. His relatives who met him in person said he was looking very tired and fatigue.

During the meeting, he was said to ask his family to send a message to activists outside: “My apology to my father and everyone for not going with you until the end, please continue on the path of enlightenment for the people and mankind, the struggles should be focus towards human rights, take advantage of my departure as a motivation to push this fight to the end of this year and next year.  Thank you, everyone, I will always remember you.”

Since being arrested in 2009 and especially held in Prison camp No. 6, Mr. Thuc has conducted a number of hunger strikes to protest inhumane treatment of the communist regime. However, it is unclear about his motives for this ongoing fasting.

Mr. Thuc, 54, is an entrepreneur, blogger and human rights defender, and co-author of “The Path of Viet Nam” (Phong Trào Con Đường Việt Nam), which makes recommendations for governance reform. He has been held in numerous detention facilities since his arrest in May 2009, when he was initially charged with “theft of telephone lines.” He was subsequently charged with “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 88 of the 1999 Penal Code after serving imprisonment for his first allegation.

At his trial in January 2010 he was charged and convicted of subversion under Article 79 of the 1999 Penal Code. During the trial he claimed that he had been tortured during pre-trial detention in an attempt to force him to confess. He was sentenced to 16 years’ imprisonment with an additional five years of probation afterward.

On his transfer to Prison camp No. 6 in May 2016, he undertook a two-week hunger strike in protest at the lack of rule of law in Vietnam. He has repeatedly called for a judicial review of his conviction and for his acquittal without success.

Vietnam is a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which guarantees the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly. However, these rights are severely restricted in law and practice in Vietnam.

Vaguely worded articles in the national security section of the country’s 1999 Penal Code and 2015 Criminal Code which was effective in 2018 are frequently used to criminalize peaceful dissenting views or activities. Those at risk include people advocating for peaceful political change, criticizing government policies, or calling for respect for human rights. Article 79 of the Penal Cod and Article 109 of the Criminal Code (Carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the people’s administration) are frequently used to detain, prosecute and imprison dissidents for their peaceful activism, including bloggers, labour rights and land rights activists, political activists, religious followers, human rights defenders and social justice activists, and even song writers.

Prison conditions in Vietnam are harsh, with inadequate food and health care that falls short of the minimum requirements set out in the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (Nelson Mandela Rules) and other international standards. Prisoners of conscience have been held in solitary confinement as a punishment for prolonged periods and have been subjected to ill-treatment, including beatings by prison guards and by other prisoners with prison guards failing to intervene.

Some prisoners of conscience are frequently moved from one detention facility to another, often without their families being informed of the change in their whereabouts. Several prisoners of conscience have undertaken hunger strikes in protest at abusive treatment and poor conditions of detention. Although Vietnam has ratified the Convention against Torture, which came into effect in February 2015, insufficient steps have been taken to bring the country into compliance with its obligations under that treaty.