President Francois Hollande of France must confront Vietnamese authorities over their treatment of one women’s fight for justice when he visits the country this week, Amnesty International said today.
Amnesty International calls on the French president to raise in particular the case of Ngô Thanh Kiều, a young man who died in police custody in Phú Yên province in 2012. Since his death, his sister Ngô Thị Tuyết and her family have undertaken a brave crusade for justice in the face of physical attacks, death threats and other forms of intimidation.
Recently, the family found the carcass of a shaved cat flung at their home. It bore a chilling note warning Ngô Thị Tuyết and her family to stop raising her brother’s case or suffer a similar fate.
“Human rights must not be sacrificed to trade and security deals. President Hollande must use his visit to call on the Vietnamese authorities to meet their human rights obligations under international law,” said Camille Blanc, Chair of Amnesty International France.
On 24 August, Amnesty International France wrote to President Hollande, calling on him to raise the issue of the torture and other ill-treatment of prisoners of conscience in Viet Nam.
“Police accountability is rare in Viet Nam. But President Hollande can seize the opportunity to remind the Vietnamese authorities that there is no security without human rights. They must demonstrate that justice is done in the case of Ngô Thanh Kiều and other cases involving deaths at the hands of police,” said Camille Blanc.
Ngô Thanh Kiều was arrested in the middle of the night and taken into custody to the local police station in March 2012. The Vietnamese police told Ngô Thanh Kiều’s family that he died after refusing food and water, despite the fact that he had spent fewer than 24 hours in custody.
In March this year, the National Assembly questioned the credibility of a Ministry of Public Security announcement that of 226 deaths in police custody registered between October 2011 and September 2014, most were caused by illness or suicide. During 2015, at least seven deaths in custody were reported with suspicions of possible police torture or other ill-treatment.
Ngô Thị Tuyết, Kiều’s sister, has tenaciously challenged the police’s account, gathering overwhelming evidence of the torture and other ill-treatment her brother was subjected to. Photographs of Kiều’s body clearly show bruises and cuts across his arms and legs, and clear signs of trauma to his skull.
Other evidence that Ngô Thị Tuyết collected include the coroner’s autopsy, which detailed blood clots in his internal organs – evidence, doctors told her, of the trauma caused by the torture he endured.
To date, six police officers have been tried and convicted, but on charges that do not reflect the gravity of the crime – five were convicted of ‘corporal punishment,’ while the ranking officer was convicted of the lesser charge of ‘negligence’. The punishments they received varied from a one-year suspended sentence to eight years in prison. None of the sentences reflect the gravity of the crime.
They have been suspended from service, yet continue to receive half-pay. The authorities have also been reluctant to bring the case against them to appeal.
Three appeal hearings have already been cancelled on the basis of flimsy excuses. The next hearing is scheduled for 7 September, which coincides with the last day of President Hollande’s visit to Viet Nam.
“For as long as the appeals continue to be postponed, there will be no justice,” said Rafendi Djamin, Amnesty International’s Director for South East Asia and the Pacific.
Ngô Thị Tuyết’s case is also emblematic of the so many risks victims and other human rights defenders face in Viet Nam in which they cope with ceaseless threats and attacks designed to intimidate them into silence, and where police and other authorities evade accountability for their abuses.
For speaking out, Ngô Thị Tuyết and her family have been object of a campaign of intimidation and harassment at the hands of the authorities and other unidentified individuals. Police officers have come to her home, offering bribes for their silence. The family has also received numerous death threats over the phone.
In clear acts of intimidation against the family, Ngô Thị Tuyết’s husband was knocked off his motorcycle by unknown assailants and the couple’s son has been beaten by unknown attackers ten times while walking to school.
“The Ngô Thanh Kiều death is an all-important symbol of injustice and abuse at the hands of the police in Viet Nam. President Hollande must call for justice for Kiều’s death and for his family and ensure the authorities fulfil their legal obligation to protect them against any form of retaliation,” said Rafendi Djamin.
“In the face of unrelenting death threats and intimidation, Ngô Thị Tuyết is taking the extraordinary step of making her fight for justice public. The loved ones of victims are normally pushed to suffer in silence while the authorities have failed to ensure for them a safe space to claim justice without fear of reprisals. It is important that the world takes notice of this case, not least because it will give hope to others.”