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Former prisoner of conscience harassed by Vietnamese police after release

Vietnamese police have been harassing a former prisoner of conscience released from jail in December 2022 after serving most of a five-year sentence on charges of distributing materials against the state and participating in protests against the government.

Nguyen Thi Ngoc Suong, 55, told Radio Free Asia on Friday, that the harassment began after she attended the appeals trial of activists Nguyen Thai Hung and his spouse, Vu Thi Kim Hoang, at the People’s Court in the southern province of Dong Nai on March 29. Authorities asked her to leave the courtroom.

On Friday, Dinh Quan district police summoned her and warned her not to attend other trials. They also said policemen would check on her often. 

“Recently, the police have watched me very closely,” Suong told Radio Free Asia after she met with police. “They came to see me right after I returned home [from the trial]. They said I was not allowed to do this.” 

At the end of the meeting, a police officer told her: “I’ll visit you every couple of days.” 

Suong said she did not remember the officer’s name because he was not wearing a name badge. 

When RFA contacted Dinh Quan district police to verify the information, a staffer asked for the name of the officer for verification. 

Suong, who said her health has been deteriorating since her release, was convicted in May 2019 under Article 117 of Vietnam’s penal code. The article, which criminalizes “making, storing, distributing or disseminating information, documents and items” against the state. Violators can be sentenced to from five to 20 years in prison.  

Suong was freed last Dec. 13 in poor health, 10 months before her jail term ended. 

Health issues while detained 

While in prison, Suong had several physical ailments, including liver and kidney swelling, elevated liver enzymes, a bacterial infection in her stomach and thyroid issues.   

The only treatment she received was the medicine that prison officials gave to all inmates to treat various diseases.  

“When I took them, my condition got worse,” Suong said. “I remember one time I could not speak because my body was swollen from top to toe, including my mouth and tongue.” 

Suong said she believes her health deteriorated because she had been subjected to forced labor at Dong Nai police’s B5 temporary detention facility where she was held during the investigation period, and later at An Phuoc Prison, where she was held after an appeals trial. She produced votive paper offerings without protective gear.  

Suong also said she had not been paid for her labor, though Vietnamese law stipulates that inmates should receive some compensation for labor they perform in jail.  

While she was at the temporary detention facility from October 2018 to early December 2019, Suong’s family had to bribe staffers so they could get supplies to her, though she never received them after the payments were made, she said.  

When Suong had a medical check after she was released, her doctor said she was very weak and it would be difficult for her to improve her physical condition because she took too much pain reliever in previous years.  

RFA could not reach officials at Dong Nai police or An Phuoc Prison for comment. 

Arrested and charged in 2018 

Suong was arrested along with activist Vu Thi Dung in October 2018, and they were both brought to court in the same case for using different Facebook accounts to watch videos and read articles containing anti-state content. 

They both allegedly called for protests against draft laws on the creation of new special economic zones and cybersecurity, and were said to have incited locals people to take to the streets.  

The indictment also said that Dung had produced anti-state leaflets and asked Suong to distribute them at four different places in Dinh Quan town of Dong Nai province. 

Dung was sentenced to six years in prison and will complete her jail term this month.  

Suong received the Tran Van Ba Award for 2021-2022 along with four other Vietnamese activists — Nguyen Thuy Hanh, Huynh Thuc Vy, Vo An Don and Nguyen Thi Ngoc Hanh. 

Named for a Vietnamese dissident and freedom fighter executed in 1985 on charges of treason and intent to overthrow the government, the award is given annually to Vietnamese in Vietnam in recognition of their courageous action for freedom, democracy, justice and independence for their country.

Translated by Anna Vu for RFA Vietnamese. Edited by Roseanne Gerin and Matt Reed.