Vietnamese monk seeks justice for brother who died after police interrogation

Lawyers have joined the call for stricter enforcement of UN convention against torture.


RFA | 2024.04.29

After a long day of practicing his religion at the Phuc Long Pagoda, Buddhist monk Thich Minh Vuong received a phone call from his relatives. They told him his older brother, Vu Minh Duc, had died in hospital after being interrogated by police in Dong Nai province.

"I couldn't breathe when I heard the news of his death, my heart was choked," said Vuong.

On March 22, Duc answered a police summons in connection with a fight near his home in October 2023. Later that day, police asked his wife to come in and sign documents "related to his health.”

When she arrived, an investigator said they had taken Duc to hospital for emergency treatment because he had fainted during interrogation.

He was later transferred to a hospital in Ho Chi Minh City where he was pronounced dead at 9:30 p.m. that day.

The death certificate provided by Cho Ray Hospital shows that Duc died at 11 p.m. with the cause of death a coma after circulatory respiratory arrest following brain damage, cardiac arrest, acute kidney failure, acute liver failure and soft tissue damage to the right and left thighs.

His family said the body was covered with bruises, marks of torture.

Monk Vuong witnessed the autopsy a day after his brother’s death. He said Duc’s wrists were covered in scratches, his chest had a massive bruise, while his buttocks and thighs were purple and black.

On April 26, RFA called police Long Thanh district, where Duc was interrogated, to ask for information. An officer on duty asked the reporter to go to the headquarters to discuss the case.

Duc’s  death is the latest case of a Vietnamese citizen dying in unclear circumstances in police custody. Vietnam has been a member of the U.N. Convention against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (CAT) since 2015.

In March 2015, the Thanh Nien newspaper reported that from October 2011 to September 2014, there were 226 deaths in detention facilities nationwide. The Ministry of Public Security explained them as being due to illness and suicide. Since then, no further reports have been issued.

Radio Free Asia collated reports from state-controlled media and found that in 2018, at least 11 people died in detention facilities.

Since 2020, at least 14 deaths have been reported, three described as suicide by police in spite of family doubts.

Two days after Duc’s death, Dong Nai provincial police suspended a captain, Thai Thanh Thuong, and investigator Luu Quang Trung, pending an investigation into the death.

However, the family has not received any information about the case from authorities, including the autopsy results. Police have not visited them or offered an apology.

Vuong has sent Communist Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong 25 reports with images showing traces of suspected torture but has received no response.

Lawyer Nguyen Van Mieng, who is a political refugee in the United States, said that since joining the Convention against Torture, the National Assembly of Vietnam has amended the 2015 Criminal Code and the 2015 Criminal Procedure Code to focus on preventing torture and protecting human rights but there is a big gap in implementation.

“We still hear official information from the state that there are cases of people who were healthy but died unexpectedly when they went into the police station. People died because of torture,” he said.

Human rights lawyer Dang Dinh Manh cited a land dispute in Dong Tam commune in 2020, in which he was one of the defense lawyers, as illustrating evidence of torture.

"Of the 29 defendants in the case, up to 19 people confirmed in court that they were brutally tortured, beaten in the dead of night … and were not given medical care when they were injured," he said.

Lawyer Mieng said authorities should strictly enforce the  Criminal Procedure Code and lawyers must be present at all stages of an investigation to prevent suspects from being tortured.

Manh said audio and video recording equipment in the interrogation room must be on at all times and “officers committing torture or inhumane treatment of suspects," must be severely punished.

Vuong agreed with the lawyers.

“I also hope that when working like this, citizens will be asked to invite lawyers or be allowed to have their families present to see how police officers work,” he said. “[They must] seriously investigate and severely punish those who have violated international conventions.”

Translated by RFA Vietnamese. Edited by Mike Firn.




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