Human rights defender Tran Thi Nga recently told her husband in a hurried phone call that she had been brutally beaten up and has received a death threats by another inmate. After a previous call with her family, it appears that the attacks have been orchestrated by prison authorities to punish her. Detained for more than 18 months, Tran Thi Nga is a prisoner of conscience and must be immediately and unconditionally released.
Trần Thị Nga, also known by her nickname “Thúy Nga”, told her husband that she has recently been beaten up and has faced death threats by other inmates during a five-minute conversation on 17 August 2018. Only allowed one phone call with her family per month, Trần Thị Nga had said to her family in July that she was being held in the same prison cell as a prisoner notorious for helping prison guards intimidate and beat-up other prisoners. Her husband has shared his grave concern for her safety as their connection was abruptly cut off when she tried to report her condition in prison. Her final words to him were “I have been often beaten and they recently threatened to kill me”.
Trần Thị Nga was arrested and accused of “conducting propaganda against the state” in January 2017, after her involvement in peaceful protests following the 2016 Formosa environmental disaster, which caused the death of hundreds of thousand tons of fish, left millions of people unemployed and stirred up a huge social movement in the country. On 25 July 2017, the court of Ha Nam, a province of northern Viet Nam, convicted and sentenced her to nine years in prison and five years of house arrest.
In February 2018, she was moved to Gia Trung prison, located 1300 kilometres away from her home, which has caused great difficulty for her family to visit her. It is a common tactic by Vietnamese authorities to move prisoners of conscience to a prison away from their home as a form of additional punishment. Furthermore, the prison authorities have repeatedly refused Trần Thị Nga the right to meet with her family due to her “stubbornness”, a term likely referring to the fact that she has not “confessed” to her crimes.
In more than 18 months of detention, Trần Thị Nga has never been able to meet with her husband and has only been allowed to see her children twice. She is a prisoner of conscience, detained solely for the peaceful exercise of her rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.
Please write immediately in Vietnamese, English or your own language, calling Viet Nam’s authorities to:
- Release Trần Thị Nga immediately and unconditionally, as she is a prisoner of conscience detained solely
for peacefully exercising her rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly;
- Ensure that pending her release, she is protected from torture and other ill-treatment, and all allegations
are effectively investigated impartially and independently and those responsible are brought to account;
- End prison transfers as a punitive measure and ensure that Trần Thị Nga has regular access to her family
and lawyer of her choice, as well as to the adequate medical care she may require.
Trần Thị Nga began her human rights activism by advocating against human trafficking as she was a victim of trafficking herself. She has since worked on a broad range of issues. During her years of activism, Trần Thị Nga has faced several threats and attacks, including been brutally attacked by plain-clothes police. In May 2014, an assault by plain-clothes police left her with a broken arm and leg.
In 2016, an environmental disaster in which industrial waste was dumped into the waters in the central coast of Vietnam led to massive protests around the country. A Taiwanese owned factory later admitted to be responsible for the incident. The disaster killed hundreds of thousands of tons of fish and left millions of people unemployed. People across the country spoke out in anger, and people in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh city took to the streets in 2017 to protest the lack of an adequate response by the Vietnamese government. Many people were beaten up by the police and detained during the protests. In the months after the protests, the authorities arrested many activists. Around 40 people have been arrested in connection with the protests, and at least a dozen activists have fled the country and are seeking asylum in Thailand.
As a state party to the UN Convention against Torture and the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Viet Nam has an obligation to protect everyone from torture and other ill-treatment, and conduct prompt, thorough, independent and impartial investigations into such allegations. The prison conditions in Viet Nam are known to be harsh, with food, healthcare and other conditions falling short of the minimum requirements set out in the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (the Nelson Mandela Rules) and other international standards. Prisoners of conscience in Viet Nam are often held for lengthy periods in solitary confinement as an additional punishment, in clear violation of these Rules – some former prisoners have said this is like a “prison within prison”. For more information please refer to “Prisons within Prisons: Torture and ill-treatment of prisoners of conscience in Viet Nam” (ASA41/4187/2016).
Trần Thị Nga is one of 94 known prisoners of conscience in Viet Nam included in the list released by Amnesty International in April 2018. Viet Nam is one of the most prolific jailers of peaceful activists in Southeast Asia, where prison conditions are harsh especially for prisoners detained for political reasons. For more information please refer to “Prisoners of conscience in Viet Nam” (ASA 41/8162/2018).
Torture and other ill-treatment, including incommunicado detention, prolonged solitary confinement, beatings and deliberately withholding medical treatment are absolutely prohibited under international human rights law but remain common practices by Viet Nam authorities.