UN experts urge Hanoi to address prisoner of conscience’s health

Serving 11-year sentence, Le Huu Minh Tuan’s health has worsened.


RFA | 2024.05.06

A group of U.N. human rights experts sent a joint letter to the Vietnamese government to express their concerns about the health of prisoner of conscience Le Huu Minh Tuan, who is serving an 11-year prison sentence.

In December, RFA reported that Tuan was unable to eat solid food without vomiting. 

His situation has worsened since then, and even though he has been taken for medical treatment, his deteriorating condition makes him unable to handle most medicines.

The letter was originally sent on March 5, and was published May 5 because Vietnam did not respond.

Tuan, who was a member of the Vietnam Independent Journalists’ Association, was arrested in 2020 on the charge of “conducting propaganda against the state.” 

Harsh conditions in Vietnamese prisons are well-documented, with prisoners complaining about sanitation, drinking water, overcrowding, lack of food, beatings carried out by prison staff or even other inmates, and other issues.

The letter, signed by five experts including Alice Jill Edwards, the special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, expressed concern for the sharp deterioration of Tuan’s health.  

“We fear that Mr. Tuan’s poor health appears to be exacerbated by insufficient medical attention and treatment while in detention,” it said. “We are further concerned about reports of the alleged poor standard of living conditions in the prison.”

Series of digestive disorders

The letter documented how Tuan has had digestive problems since late 2022, and since has been diagnosed with ulcerative colitis and hepatitis by medical staff in the prison. 

Additionally he has scabies that have spread to his whole body.

In 2023, Tuan’s family reported that he had bloody stool and pain in his abdomen, fearing that he might have colon cancer. 

A hospital diagnosed him with gastroenteritis and duodenitis, gastroesophageal reflux disease, irritable bowel syndrome, and diarrhea. He took the medication prescribed by the hospital, but his condition only worsened.

The U.N. experts called on the Vietnamese government to respect international conventions to which Vietnam is a signatory, including the Convention against Torture and Mandela Rules, in its treatment of Tuan and other prisoners.

Not getting better

In the months since the letter was sent, Tuan’s health has not recovered, one of his relatives told RFA Vietnamese on condition of anonymity for safety reasons.

“During his monthly calls, Tuan said he hasn’t not gotten better,” the relative said. “Our family sent in some medicines with instructions on how to take them. However, it seems that prison staff gave him only the medicine, so he doesn’t know how to take them properly.”

The relative also said that Tuan’s body is no longer able to tolerate Western medicines, so he has asked for them to send only dietary supplements so that he does not starve to death.

“Now, he can only take two glasses of Ensure [a nutritional shake] daily and cannot digest the prison’s food.

The UN’s request only asks Vietnam to meet the minimum requirements for ensuring the rights of prisoners, JB Nguyen Huu Vinh, acting President of the Vietnam Independent Journalists’ Association, told RFA.

This is the third time U.N. human rights experts have sent a joint letter to the Vietnamese government regarding Tuan’s case. 

The first was on Sept. 17, 2020, in which experts questioned the validity of his and other activists’ arrests. 

In the second letter, on Nov. 22, 2021, experts questioned and demanded explanations about their  convictions considering they were exercising their basic human rights.

The U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention also sent a letter of their own in June 2021 that raised concerns about Tuan’s arrest and trial.

Since 2019, at least six prisoners of conscience have died in prison after suffering from health complications likely amplified due to a lack of timely and adequate medical treatment.

Translated by Anna Vu. Edited by Eugene Whong and Malcolm Foster.




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