An Account of Prisoner of Conscience Do Thi Minh Hanh's Arrest, Torture, and Sham Trials

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    Aug 29, 2013
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    An Account of Prisoner Hanh's Arrest, Torture, and Sham Trials

    Poland, June 20, 2013


    My name is Tran Thi Ngoc Minh. I live in Di Linh, Lam Dong Province, Vietnam. My daughter, Do Thi Minh Hanh (b. 1985), is being held in Area 5 of Prison Z30A in Xuan Loc, Long Khanh District, Dong Nai Province for her advocacy on behalf of Vietnamese workers, democracy, and freedom, and her opposition of China' infringement on Vietnam's sovereignty. On February 23, 2010, the government of Vietnam arrested her. Subsequently, after a sham trial, they gave her and two friends, Nguyen Hoang Quoc Hung and Doan Huy Chuong, 7-year sentences for "acts that harm security and demonstrate opposition to the national government per Article 89 of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam". May I provide you with facts related to my daughter's arrest, abuse, and mental torture in prison, and sham trials.

    Do Thi Minh Hanh has been subjected to several prison transfers, mental torture, beatings, and forced labor.

    1) Arrest and Torture in Hanoi.

    - The first incident took place in February 2005 when she paid her first visit to Dr. Nguyen Thanh Giang at his house in Ha Noi. Dr. Giang gave her two books, Thousand-Generation Aspirations, and Reflections and Wishes. Public security agents assaulted and threatened her when they entered Hoang Anh Hotel in Cau Giay District, Hanoi, accusing her of possessing "reactionary material". They took her into custody without due process and without informing her family. They held her in a house owned by the public security ministry where they subjected her to daily interrogations. When public security agents in Di Linh, Lam Dong Province, came to our house to seek nformation about my family and Hanh's past activities, we suspected immediately that she had been detained. We found out that Hanoi public security had made the arrest, and tried to get her released.

    2) Arrest and Torture in Di Linh District

    At 9 a.m. on February 23, 2010, when Hanh went with me to the Di Linh public security office to renew her national ID card, approximately 20 public security agents surrounded us, put manacles on her wrists without reason or arrest warrant, and struck her until her face bled. They did not tell us why. They slapped her so hard that she temporarily lost her hearing in one ear. Hanh asked to see the arrest warrant and the reason. Only some time later did they show us the arrest warrant that the public security ministry had just faxed. At 4 p.m., public security agents from the central office and Di Linh branch office, accompanied by local government representatives, brought Hanh (still manacled) to my house, and then to her sister's house in Bao Lam District, in search of incriminating evidence (they found none). Public security agents kept hitting Hanh while they were in her sister's house. Finally they took her to Prison B34 of the public security office of Ho Chi Minh City.

    3) Mental Torture in Public Security Ministry's Prison B34

    - On 04/18/2010, I went to Prison B34 where a female agent met me but did not allow me to see Hanh. The agent said that Hạnh remained defiant, went on frequent hunger strikes, often stayed in bed and refused to answer when spokent to. Hanh ate now and then, but refused to eat prison food, choosing instead food offered by her female cellmate (food brought by the cellmate's visitors). Hanh had not allowed the prison physician to examine her. The agent told me that Hanh's uncooperative attitude could only be changed if I wrote my daughter to convince her to respond to the agents' questions and acknowledge her guilt. Being naive about the public security agents' agenda, and, out of concern for my daughter's health, I wrote her (later, I learned that Hanh told her siblings how much pain my letter had caused her). After reading my letter, Hanh answered questions posed by the agents and acknowledged that she had performed the deeds cited by the agents. Hanh also maintained that her actions resulted from her love for our country and were not illegal.

    On 05/14/2010, finally I was allowed to spend 15 minutes with Hanh. Hanh begged me to understand her concern for our country and our people who are virtually inmates in the large prison that is our Communist-run country. Hanh maintained that she did nothing wrong. Two agents who had been watching us ordered her to shut up and then angrily cut short my visit. I was really worried about her being mistreated in prison. A few days later, Hanh's elder sister brought her some medicine and clothing. Public security agents in Prison B34 interrogated her using threats in trying to extract additional information about Hanh's activities and the evidence that they had seized. Their intent was to use any new information to intimidate Hanh into admitting “guilt” and ask for leniency. They warned Hanh's sister not ̣to disclose the interrogation session to others. Hanh's sister had to acquiesce, fearing for Hanh's safety.

    From that day on, they allowed a visitor to see Hanh on the 10th of each month, 15 minutes each visit. When one of us came to see Hanh in prison, the visitor was ordered to limit the conversation to the prisoner's health and persuading Hanh to cooperate with the agents. However, Hanh never relented.

    4) Trial by the Lower Court: Injustice, Lack of Transparency, and Beatings

    - On 10/10/2010, as in previous months, I brought supplies to Hanh at Prison B34. When I arrived, prison staff informed me Hanh had been moved to the public security ministry's prison in Tra Vinh Province. The government had not bothered to inform our family about the ́transfer. On 10/15/2010, we had to search for her whereabouts until we learned that both Hanh and the other two detainees had been moved to the prison in Tra Vinh. Prison staff denied our request to visit Hanh or bring supplies to her.

    On 10/22/2010, we received a letter from the people's court of Tra Vinh Province inviting us to attend the trial of Hanh, Hung and Chuong on 10/26/2010 - only four days before the trial date. The charge was "acts that harm security and demonstrate opposition to the national government per Article 89 of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam". We did not have time to find and retain a suitable attorney for Hanh. All three detainees were effectively deprived of legal defense.

    On 10/26/2010, on the way to the courthouse we saw a mass of public security agents along the major sreets leading to the courthouse and in the courthouse. Hung, one of the detainees, had spent 8 months in solitary confinement, managed to catch a glimpse of his father as he entered the courtroom.

    When the trial began, public security agents ushered Hanh and Chuong into the courtroom ̉first. After they finished questioning the two detainees, they took the two away. They pushed Hung into the courtroom for the questioning ̣and dragged him out afterwards. This happened again and again. Hung invariably responded with “Prosecution, you completely misstated the facts”. When the prosecution read the verdict with reference to foreign organizations, Hung said loudly: “No one directed me. I acted alone and made all the decisions.” Besides the absence of legal counsel, the court interrupted the detainees in mid-sentence and ordered them to respond only using the words Yes or No.

    (Later, we found an attorney. We played for him a recording of the trial. The attorney said that he had read the dossier of the trial and determined that the three had committed no crime. Hung made no deposition while Hanh and Chuong stated that they had acted out of patriotism and not at any organization's behest. Before studying the dossier, the attorney had felt that the three may have done something wrong. After reading the dossier and listening to the recording, he ascertained that the court had disregarded the noble motives cited by the detainees and focused only on asking the kind of questions that would cast the detainees in an unfavorable light).

    Ignoring the detainees' counter-arguments, the judge rushed to deliver the verdict. After only 3 hours in the morning and a little over an hour in the afternoon, the judge gave Hanh and Chuong seven-year tersm and Hung a 9-year term.

    In spite of being prevented from speaking, Hanh, Hung and Chuong managed to proclaim their innocence.

    During the recess, when the three were outside the courtroom, Hanh started to sing a song about friendship for Hung and Chuong when a slammed her head against the trunk of the prison van, eliciting a loud scream from Hanh because she felt so much pain (the recording preserved the scream).

    5) Intimidation, Blocking Efforts at Appeals, and Preventing the Use of Legal Counsel

    After the lower court's trial, the three continued to be kept in the public security ministry's prison in Tra Vinh. Hanh suffered mistreatment, intimidation, and was constantly forced to admit guilt. They let the detainees use dirty water and did not allow them to use the mosquito nets supplied by their families. At night, mosquitoes bit them all over their bodies as they tried to sleep.

    - On 10/29/2010, the detainees' families could resume monthly prison visits. After 15 visits, finally prison staff allowed us to bring supplies to the detainees. They did not allow the three visitors to see the detainees all at once, and only allowed one visitor into the visiting area each time. When it was my turn in the visiting area, I was made to sit 2 meters away from Hanh. At least 6 public security agents surrounded the two of us, staring menacingly at Hanh. They allowed us to discuss only Hanh's health and threatened to stop me from visiting and bringing supplies if we discussed anything else, including the use of an attorney and the appeal of the sentence.

    During subsequent visits, I requested prison staff to give my daughter a pen and some paper to start the appeal process and request legal assistance, without success.

    Hanh, Hung and Chuong requested prison staff to give them pens and paper. Prison staff responded with threats. All the three families put pressure on the public security office to follow the law and allow the detainees to appeal.

    Finally, on 02/05/2011, we learned that the detainees' appeals had been submitted to the appeals court in Ho Chi Minh City.

    - A few months earlier, ̀on 12/31/2010, our three families signed a contract with Attorney Dang The Luan to have him defend the three detainees in the appeals court, disregarding the official position that only the detainees may make a request to a defense attorney.

    - On 01/17/2011, our attorney was prevented by public security agents from seeing the detainees in their prison.

    - On 01/18/2011, our three families we submitted complaints about the Tra Vinh prison staff to:

    - The public security minister

    - The inspector general of the public security ministry

    - The supreme court of ̀appeals in Ho Chi Minh City

    - The people's procuracy of Tra Vinh

    - The people's court of Tra Vinh

    - The inspector general of the public security office in Tra Vinh

    - The warden of Tra Vinh Prison

    - On 01/19/2011, our attorney went to the supreme people's court in Ho Chi Minh City to request a permit to enter the prison. The court staff said that he should request the Tra Vinh prison staff. The attorney went to the prison on the same day. He had to spend the night in Tra Vinh because of the time it had taken him to make the long trip. In the morning, the prison staff did not let him see the detainees.

    - On 01/20/2011, I went to the supreme court in Ho Chi Minh City to request a permit for the attorney. There, we learned ̃ that the appeals court would hear the case on 01/24/2011. The court did not alert the detainees' families about the trial date and we had to hunt for this information. I promptly submitted a request for the appeals court to postpone the session.

    - On 01/28/2011, I received a response from the inspector general of the public security ministry informing that they had forwarded our complaint to Tra Vinh Prison. Prison staff ̣did not respond to the ins ector general or to our request. Worse, they increased their intimidation of the three detainees.

    - On 03/05/2011, the attorney finally saw the court's paperwork and received a permit to enter Tra Vinh Prison.

    Prison staff limited the defense to two meetings with the detainees.

    + Hanh told the attorney that in Prison B34, agents distorted when they recorded her statements. She requested corrections, but they still kept a number of altered statements

    + Chuong told the attorney that the prison interrogator copied down his responses but left a number of blank lines after each answer (to enable government personnel to add material that would be used against the detainee in a future trial.

    + Hung informed him that prison staff had threatened him with confinement in a mental asylum and injection of HIV-contaminated blood if Hung did not admit his “guilt”.

    - On 03/02/2011, the people's procuracy of Tra Vinh sent us an invitation to meet with them on 03/10/2011 to resolve our complaint. The procuracy staff tried to defend Tra Vinh prison staff while acknow ledging irregularities. They did not advise us to convince the detainees to admit “guilt”.

    6) The Appeals Hearing: No Transparency, No Relatives Allowed in the Courtoom, and Complete Disregard for Defense's Arguments.

    Our attorney alerted us that the hearing had been scheduled for 03/18/2011 at the people's court of Tra Vinh. The authorities posted no notice of the date at the supreme court building or at the Tra Vinh courthouse, nor did they notice our families.

    In the morning of 03/18/2011, we arrived early at the courthouse, noticing a large number of public security agents along the streets leading to the courthouse and in the courthouse, including the courtroom. Each detainee was led into the courthouse by two agents. As Hanh was led past the two rows of soldiers guarding the entrance, one of the guards stepped up and pointed his rifle at Hanh. Hanh looked up defiantly, expressed disdain and walked straight ahead.

    In the courthouse's yard, heavily armed agents crowded everywhere as if the detainees had been leading terrorists.

    Public security agents blocked the ̣detainees' relatives from entering the courtroom over our protests.

    After the court session began, they let the attorney in.

    We could not hear what was being said in the courtroom. After the hearing, the attorney revealed that the judges showed irritation when he stated that Hanh, Hung and Chuong did nothing illegal. As soon as the attorney concluded his defense, the court declared that the lower court's judgment remained valid. The three young persons proclaimed their innocence without hesitation.

    The attorney is a Communist Party member. He dared not offer to the court all the facts even after I urged him to do so because he was leery of the government's retribution. I had to research reliable information in order to protect ̃Hanh and her friends.

    7) Mistreatment and Beatings in Tra Vinh Prison

    After the appeals court announced its decision, the three were kept at the same prison.

    - On 03/29/2011 representatives from each family visited the detainees. Public security staff's overt hostility did not faze Hanh.

    - On 04/27/2011, representatives from the three families went to the prison with supplies for the detainees. Guards told us that the three detainees’ right to be visited had been suspended for disciplinary reasons, but did not elaborate. Later on I learned the reason. Upon returning from the appeals court, Hanh sang the songs that she composed, songs decrying injustice and cruelty associated with the Communist Party. Many other inmates started tapping on their cell walls rhythmically as a sign of support. The sound traveled along pipes to various parts of the prison. Prison staff asked a few prisoners (who were there for some kind of criminal activities) to enter Hanh's cell and beat her up. Hanh cried out: "Down with Communism! Down with Communism!", Hung and Chuong also started to cry out "Down with Communism! Down with Communism!" as they kicked their cells' door. Guards immediately brought them out for a thorough beating.

    For the remaining weeks that Hanh spent in Tra Vinh Prison, we brought her food, medicine, clothing, blankets, and a mosquito net. Prison staff took what we brought and punished her by forcing her to eat moldy rice, use dirty water, and sleep without a blanket and mosquito net (she suffered from numerous mosquito bites). Hanh, Hung and Chuong were subject to endless intimidation from public security agents who wanted them to acknowledge their "guilt".

    8) Narrow Escape from Death in the Prison in Ben Luc, Long An

    On 04/25/2011, the day we visited the three detainees, prison staff told us that Hanh had been moved to the public security ministry's prison in Long An Province whereas Hung and Chuong had been moved to a prison in Tien Giang Province. From then on, Hung and Chuong's visiting relatives no longer saw me and vice-versa.

    On 04/26/2011, I went to Long An to look for Hanh, eventually finding out where she was held, and visiting her in the prison in Ben Luc. While waiting for the assistant warden to give me permission to see Hanh, a middle-aged female prisoner who had been assigned to the cafeteria told me some facts about Hanh. A summary of what she said is provided below.

    Hanh is in solitary confinement in a shed with a "window" the size of one's head. Hanh had no money to pay for prison food. A guard offered to lend her meal coupons, but she refused. Female prisoners returning from their work in the fields would give Hanh a few mangoes that they had plucked. The prisoner said that each time she passed by Hanh's shed, she would give her a cup of coffee or some sweets. Each time she passed by the shed, Hanh would call out "Hi there!" in a cheerful voice. After several days on that meager diet, finally the money we paid to the prison in Tra Vinh was transferred to the new prison. From then on, Hanh could eat prison food. However, the items that we had brought to the Tra Vinh Prison for Hanh's use were not sent to the prison in Long An.

    Later, Hanh told me that she was constantly beaten by the Tra Vinh agents who accompanied her in the van used to move her to Long An, while she was manacled and gagged the whole length of the long trip. When the truck arrived late at night at the prison in Long An, she bumped into a water tank because it was too dark to see anything. The tank broke and the large amount of water rushing out almost drowned her. Whether the accident had been planned or not, I began to fear for my daughter’s safety. They made her sleep on the bare floor without a blanket and mosquito net. Still, Hanh never wavered, never agreed to write a confession or admitted that she did anything illegal.

    Prison staff allowed me to communicate with Hanh through a glass window. Hanh said that she really missed me and the other family members. While her eyes briefly revealed her sadness, she assured me that she was as determined as ever and told me not to worry too much.

    On 05/08/2011, I visited her at the prison in Long An. Prison staff informed me that they had moved her to the public security ministry's prison with the name Thu Duc Z30D in Binh Thuan Province.

    9) Forced Labor in Prison Thu Duc Z30D

    On 05/10/2011, I went to Prison Z30D in Binh Thuan. From the day Hanh was moved into the prison (05/06/2011), she had been kept in Area 1. When we met, prison staff monitored us. Still, Hanh told me that she refused to learn the prison's set of rules that they tried to make her read. When they pressured her to write a report on her past activities, she wrote "I committed no crime" in huge letters on each of the 4 blank pages. Hanh told me not to be civil towards her jailers and to resist their efforts to persuade me to put pressure on Hanh and make her do what they wanted. Although the prison interrogators met with her frequently and tried to intimidate her, she kept resisting.

    Less than two weeks after she arrived, they moved her to Area 6 in the rainforest where she stayed with criminals and HIV-infected inmates in crowded conditions. Each inmate had only 20 inches of space to lie down at night. The prison provided only dirty water. Prisoners were compelled to clean fish for exports, 8 kg of fish per person daily. Hanh's health prevented her from doing the work and, on many days, she returned her allotment of fish to prison staff. Hanh suffered from abnormally low calcium levels in her body. Only after Hanh received money from her family did they allow her to seek medical treatment at the prison clinic because she had to pay each time.

    Prison staff mistreated Hanh and did not allow her the same privileges as the other prisoners. A few female inmates frequently incited Hanh into heated arguments so that Hanh was disciplined frequently. The punishment was suspension of visits from relatives. Once, I waited until the end of the visiting time, when a public security agent informed me that Hanh was being disciplined for her non-cooperation, refusal to greet prison staff upon seeing them, refusal to learn prison rules, and disputes with some inmates...

    On the day that I could not see Hanh, she was being punished for getting involved in a dispute after an inmate accused Hanh of being a traitor to our country. As usual, prison staff disciplined Hanh and not the person who started the dispute. Guards tied her to a post under the hot sụn. Among those who passed by, a few gave her a little water. My timely visit allowed me to request prison staff to let me speak with her. They allowed Hanh and me to meet for several hours in the assistant warden's office, under his observation. During that visit, I had to spend the night in the prison because buses stopped running at night. Prison staff allowed me to talk to Hanh again in the following morning, hoping that I could persuade her co-operate with her jailers and, particularly, entice her to admit guilt so that the government could "pardon" her. Hanh made use of our time together to denounce the beatings administered at her previous prison. Hanh said that if she accepted the prison rules, it would be on account of her mother, but she was not going to do so. Hanh told me she could not stand being disgraced by police guard when they called her up for questioning; they used words that are quite offensive to activists. Hanh cannot bow her head to those police guards, as they wanted her to. She also to me about her near-death experience in Long An prison camp due to a broken water sink in her cell. The events played out in camp B34 clearly shown her determination to follow the path she chose. She accepts all hardship. She earnestly asked family to allow her to carryout her dreams and if some unfortunate things happened to her, she asked me to accept it as her faith and forgive her.

    Hanh was often disciplined because she kept on pleading not guilty, not writing reports on her crimes, not bow down to police whenever they called her for questioning or for labor. When the warden hosts an inmate meeting, Hanh spoke up against unreasonable roles in which inmates were told to strictly observe each other. She did not agree to sit on the floor in meetings while police guards were sitting on chairs. Hanh always support her cellmates whenever they were beaten by prison guards for being inefficient in assigned labor works.

    I want to apply for a reduction in my daughter’s sentence based on our achievements during the revolution but Hanh refused on the reason that she is innocent and that just laws do not reduce sentences for prisoner based on the achievement of others. Hanh will not walk out of jail when both of her friends are not freed.

    I feared other mishaps could happen to her in jail, I asked her to accept all the rules in prison. However, Hanh stressed the point that she is not there for labor and everything she did in there was fueled by dignity of a human being. She must do what a human would do. She asked me to understand and that she threatened to sue the guards because they exploit prisoners’ labor and terrorize them.

    Because of what she did, Hanh was transferred to division 5 in early September of 2011. Over there division 5 of the prison, they assigned her to work in a flower garden with a male inmate who has AIDS at the last stage. Hanh did not show any sign of fear when she told me this. At division 5, Hanh could write letters to family and friends. She was allowed to call home and ask for personal items, money, and medicine. Of course, her letters were being read by police guard before they were sent.

    Hanh was transferred again in early February 2012 to division 2 – Production. They still forced her to work but she objected. Mr. Nguyen Bac Truyen knew about this forced labor condition and notified us. He also told us that political prisoners are not required to work. He also sent a letter to US Embassy asking them to intervene. After that, Hanh was allowed to take care of the flower garden and bonsai. She would only in the morning.

    In prison at Binh Thuan, supply sent by family over 7kg was not allowed. Prisoners were required to buy neccesary items from prison at triple the price.

    Prison abused prisoners labor and did not care about their life. Prisoners work 8 hours a day. When I walked across there work place, I saw them work in the rain without any rain coat.

    10) Recommendations were not being resolved.

    On 10/6/2011, all three of our families filed requests to People’s Supreme Court in Hanoi to ask them to review the case but they denied because the crime was commited against the State.

    11) Forced labor and physical abuse at Prison camp Z30A, Xuan Loc, Dong Nai

    Toward the end of April, 2013, Hanh was transfered to Z30A in Xuan Loc, Dong Nai province. She was not allowed to take her belongings and clothes with her. We had to buy everything for her again. She was forced to work and the labor was to peel cashew nuts. Hanh said she cannot work because she was sick. Police asked her to plead guilty and she refused. They arranged for other non-political prisoners to beat her up. One of the incidents were the group beating in the shower room in front of prison guards.

    Above is my report about Hanh being jailed, abused, beatened, and wrongly sentenced.

    Those are just what I have come to know. I will report more whenever I receive new information about her. I will report in details and in honest so human rights groups around the world can review and intervene to help religious prisoners, prisoners of conscience, and political prisoners in Vietnam. Under the abusive and deceptive police-ruled Communist system, people are arrested and trialed without proper and legal process. Their life and dignity are not respected and protected. This is a rotten and brutal regime.

    Tran‚ Thi Ngoc Minh

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