Lawyers challenge police over teenager’s death

In a rare move, a group of lawyers have directly challenged the police, demanding a full investigation into the death of a 17-year-old boy who died in custody.

The eight lawyers wrote to the police shortly after the death of Do Dang Du was announced on October 12 amid allegations of police brutality.

Du had been admitted to hospital in a coma a few days earlier after suffering a severe beating during two months in detention on a theft charge.


Do Dang Du's mother crying in front of the mortuary. Photo by Chau Doan.

Do Dang Du’s distraught mother wants answers from the police. Photo by Chau Doan.

Human rights activists and family members said they suspected he had been beaten and tortured by police officers.
A police newspaper reported that he had been attacked by another prisoner while in detention.

The lawyers said the case had to be investigated thoroughly, and the police needed to recognise the right for a suspect to remain silent and to have legal representation.

In their letter, they said that Du should never have been detained in the first place because of his youth and the fact that he was accused only of petty theft.

They said the police should be held responsible for his detention, which they said violated Article 296 of the penal code.

Do Dang Du was taken into police custody on August 5 when he was accused of stealing the equivalent of $70 from a neighbour.

In early October the boy’s mother was informed that he was in a coma and had been taken to hospital.

A large group of police officers guarded the hospital room and visitors were kept away.

A lawyer, Tran Thu Nam, declined to sign the autopsy, saying the doctor had failed to examine the boy’s internal organs, which are thought to have been damaged.

Du is also believed to have suffered brain damage, and there was evidence of bruises to the back of his neck and limbs.

Family members have also questioned the independence of the doctors who conducted the autopsy.

The eight lawyers requested that the Minister of Public Security, police general Tran Dai Quang, and the head of the Hanoi police department, Nguyen Duc Chung, verify the details of the case.

They said they also needed to awaken the police force to the seriousness and consequences of abusing power.

It is the first time that Vietnamese lawyers have collectively requested the state to guarantee human rights and protect citizens from abuse.

An official report by the Ministry of Public Security acknowledged that 226 people had died in detention centres around the country from 2011 to 2014.

On the same day that Du died, a 31-year-old man in Tay Nguyen committed suicide by drinking herbicide. He left a note saying that he was terrified of local police who had threatened him and extorted a confession, according to a local newspaper.