Vietnam shrugs off torture report

Political prisoners are reported to be subjected to systematic violence and isolation. Photo courtesy AFP

Political prisoners are subjected to systematic violence and isolation according to the report. Photo courtesy AFP

Vietnam has responded with a straight denial to a new report that catalogues the harrowing abuse and torture inflicted on political prisoners in prison camps across the country.

Vietnam fully meets its commitments under international conventions against torture and the ill treatment of prisoners, said the foreign ministry spokesman, Le Hai Binh, when questioned about the report which was released this week by Amnesty International.

The report presents a devastating picture of the systematic physical and psychological abuse, and appalling living conditions, to which many prisoners of conscience are subjected.

The government’s refusal to acknowledge any responsibility is in line with its consistent claims, in human rights dialogues with the United States and the European Union, that it has made rapid progress in improving its rights record.

Despite continuing criticism of Vietnam’s often brutal repression of government critics, Le Hai Bing said Vietnam’s efforts and achievements in the area had received acknowledgement from the international community.

The EU and US have made some efforts to hold the Vietnamese authorities to account for their continuing harassment and imprisonment of religious and political activists, human rights campaigners, independent bloggers and others bold enough to challenge government policies.

However, analysts said the lack of emphasis on human rights during President Obama’s visit in May illustrated how successfully the communist authorities have leveraged Vietnam’s growing strategic importance to shrug off pressure over rights and freedoms.

Dark cells

Amnesty International said many prisoners of conscience suffered regular beatings, prolonged periods in solitary confinement and the denial of medical care.

The evidence was based on interviews with 18 former prisoners, some of whom were held in dark cells without access to fresh air, clean water or sanitation.

“These men and women described appalling conditions in the country’s detention centres and prisons, and brutal treatment at the hands of police and prison authorities,” said the report.

“They described a system of abuse that spurs into action at the moment of arrest; in many cases, the pressure exerted on detainees is particularly intense in the pre-trial period as authorities seek to extract a confession but abuses often persist throughout the
entire period of incarceration up until release,” it went on.

Amnesty said their report highlighted the gulf between Vietnam’s public comments about its commitment to end torture, and the appalling plight of political prisoners.

“During the course of our investigation, the term ‘prisons within prisons’ (‘nhà tù trong nhà tù’ or ‘tù trong tù’ in Vietnamese) was repeatedly used by different interviewees to describe a system of physical and emotional isolation with several deliberate aims: to break prisoners of conscience into ‘confessing’ to the crimes they are charged with; to punish them for challenging the authority of the Communist Party of Vietnam by asserting their rights; and to prevent them from interacting with fellow prisoners and continuing their activism behind bars,” said the report.

Amnesty International said that beatings were commonplace by prison guards, as well as by fellow prisoners, known as “antennae” who did the authorities’ dirty work for them by kicking, punching and abusing cell mates imprisoned on political charges.