Vietnam's Religious Leaders Highlight Harassment of Pastor in Prison

Pastor Nguyen Cong Chinh at a court hearing in Gia Lai, March 26, 2012.

Vietnamese religious leaders have appealed to the government to put an end to the harassment in prison of a Mennonite pastor and investigate other abuses against “prisoners of conscience.”

In a letter Thursday to Vietnam’s president Truong Tan Sang and Public Security Minister Tran Dai Quangl, the 14 churchmen called especially for a halt to the ill treatment in jail of pastor Nguyen Cong Chinh, who earlier this month was forced to stand before fellow prisoners to be verbally attacked by officials after he wrote a note to prison guards urging an improvement in prison conditions.

Chinh, who is also an activist, was sentenced to 11 years in prison in 2012 for "undermining unity" by maintaining ties with dissident groups and distributing material deemed to have “slandered” government authorities.

The religious leaders, representing the Protestant, Catholic, Buddhist, Cao Dai, and Hoa Hao faiths, also sent their petition to the United Nations Human Rights Council.

“We strongly condemn terrorist acts against prisoners, especially prisoners of conscience,” the letter said, calling for "accountability" for abuses.

“We urge the government to investigate police officers and prison officials and take immediate steps to stop all activities and policies that go against the law and international conventions on human rights,” it said.

Chinh is currently held at the An Phuoc prison in Vietnam’s southern Binh Duong province.

His note to prison guards complaining about prison conditions was also signed by other inmates and sent outside the prison, infuriating authorities, sources said.

Wife told of abuse

Chinh described the abusive public criticism he endured to his wife Tran Thi Hong during a prison visit on May 21, and she in turn reported it to friends, the sources said.

“I heard that [Chinh] is being publicly criticized in prison,” Protestant pastor Le Quang Du, one of those who signed the petition, told RFA’s Vietnamese Service on Friday.

“We don’t agree with this, and so we have to express our concern so that the government of Vietnam can see what they are doing wrong,” he said.

“They can’t just do whatever they want to a prisoner,” he added.

In August 2013, Chinh was beaten in An Phuoc prison when guards incited prisoners to attack him, and in May 2012 had been assaulted by police while praying in his cell, according to his wife.

“Recently, illegal acts including assaulting, torturing, and ill-treating prisoners are happening more often in prisons managed by the Ministry of Police,” said the petition sent on Thursday, calling also for an end to the “mental and physical terrorizing of prisoners daring to stand up against unfairness, and of prisoners of conscience.”

'Corruption'

The petition pointed also to increased incidents of “corruption and cuts in food rations, or asking for bribes from prisoners in exchange for better conditions.”

Vietnam’s constitution guarantees freedom of belief and religion, but religious activity is closely monitored and remains under state control.

Earlier this week, relatives of two jailed Vietnamese online activists who backed protests against China over a territorial dispute with Hanoi in the South China Sea said they are being regularly harassed in prison.

Citizen journalist Ta Phong Tan, a former policewoman who has received international awards for her work, is facing abuse from her fellow inmates, while fellow dissident Ngo Hao is suffering from ill treatment to the point that he is threatening suicide, their relatives said after visiting them.

Both were jailed after campaigning online in defense of Vietnam’s territorial integrity in the South China Sea and well as human rights and democracy.

In its latest country report on Vietnam, New York-based Human Rights Watch said that it had received information on several cases of police abuse, torture, and the killing of detainees in the Southeast Asian nation during 2013.

Reported by An Nguyen for RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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