Dozens of Vietnamese lawyers sign petition to abolish prisoners’ foot shackles

Some prisoners are kept in solitary confinement with one leg chained to a concrete seat
By RFA Vietnamese
2022.09.26
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Dozens of Vietnamese lawyers sign petition to abolish prisoners’ foot shackles Prisoner of conscience Trinh Ba Tu was reportedly shackled for 10 days in prison’s isolation cell.
Báo Quảng Ninh

More than 30 lawyers across Vietnam have signed a petition calling on the government to stop prisoners being shackled by their feet. They called it inhumane and incompatible with civilized society.

The petition was started by lawyer Ngo Ngoc Trai on Sept. 21. Other lawyers who signed it included Ngo Anh Tuan, Le Van Hoa, Le Van Luan and Vu Thi Ha. It was sent to Vietnam’s senior leaders on Friday.

Last Tuesday reports emerged that prisoner of conscience Trinh Ba Tu had been beaten and shackled in Detention Center 6 in Nghe An province. He was allegedly beaten, and locked alone in a cell for 10 days with his feet chained.

“Being beaten, placed in solitary confinement for days on end, amounts to torture,” said Amnesty International Deputy Director for Campaigns, Ming Yu Hah.

The petition talked about the case of Dang Van Hien, whose death penalty has just been commuted to life imprisonment by Vietnam’s president. Hien had been imprisoned and shackled for many years. The petition said shackling “is a measure that has been applied for a long time for death row prisoners, or many other serious cases that have not yet reached trial.

"Small prison cells for death row inmates with cement pedestals for sleeping and shackles, eating and all other activities in the same place, such detention measures are not in line with the humanity of current state law," the petition said. 

Lawyer Le Van Hoa told RFA Vietnam needed to improve prisoners’ living conditions.

“I think that even though people on death row are deprived of their citizenship, they still need to be treated humanely. Currently, detention, especially for death row prisoners in prisons in Vietnam, is quite strict.”

“I see the reality in Vietnam is that not all death row inmates get an objective sentence. There are many cases of unjust conviction, such as Nguyen Thanh Chan, Han Duc Long, and Nguyen Van Chuong."

Hoa, who was an official of the Central Commission for Internal Affairs under the Party’s Central Committee, suggested that the detention of prisoners should be reconsidered, and said the government needs to listen to the opinions of legislators. lawyers and the general public.

The current Law on Execution of Criminal Judgments and the Law on Execution of Detention and Imprisonment stipulates that prisoners or detainees who violate the rules of detention facilities will be sent to a disciplinary cell where one leg may be shackled.

In addition, the law stipulating the detention regime for persons sentenced to death clearly states that "if it is deemed they show signs of escaping, committing suicide or other dangerous acts, the head of the detention facility shall decide on shackles and monitor.”

“It shows that the preventive mentality of prison guards is too high, so in all cases, they shackle prisoners. Their anxiety about their responsibilities towards detainees and their desire to ease their work make them pay little attention to the human rights of others," Lawyer Ngo Ngoc Trai posted on Facebook.

Trai said even if the prisoner or person in temporary detention behaved improperly, being kept in solitary and put in shackles goes not guarantee human rights 

In Vietnam, not only death row inmates are shackled. Vu Van Hung, who served three years in prison between 2008 and 2011 for hanging banners opposing corruption, protecting the sea and islands and demanding multi-party pluralism, was shackled for a week at Nam Ha Prison camp. 

“When my leg was shackled I couldn’t sleep at night because sometimes I was sleeping, but my legs flexed, causing severe pain because one leg was tightly shackled. Going to the toilet, I had to use the potty which was dirty and stinking…. [I had] no contact with or access to family members and no access to supplies.”

A former teacher in Hanoi who has been in jail twice said prisons often use foot shackles to punish prisoners of conscience, who stick to their ideas and do not confess wrongdoings. He said prisoners who refuse forced labor or fight for the rights of other inmates are also often disciplined and shackled.

Recently, prisoner of conscience Trinh Ba Tu told his family he was shackled in solitary confinement for ten days, and had been on hunger strike since Sept. 6.

Lawyer Le Van Hoa of the Hanoi Bar Association said shackling prisoners of conscience, as in Tu’s case, was inadequate and violated human rights, because prisoners of conscience did not commit violent acts.

“The shackles of prisoners seriously violate their human rights. This doesn't apply to every prisoner, but I believe it's pretty much abused," said Former officer of the General Department of Military Intelligence, Vu Minh Tri. 

Tri said human rights violations in prisons and detention camps are very common, especially towards political prisoners "for personal revenge and humiliation."

Journalist Vo Van Tao from Nha Trang said he supported the lawyers’ petition.

“If the Vietnamese government accepts and implements their recommendation, it will be a step forward for human rights… Instead of shackles, the government can strengthen detention facilities to make it more difficult for prisoners to escape.”

Over the last few years, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has organized a number of training courses on the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for Prisoners (Nelson Mandela Rules) for staff at Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security. Article 1 of the Nelson Mandela Rules states “All prisoners shall be treated with respect due to their inherent dignity and worth as human beings. No prisoner shall be subject to punishment and all prisoners shall be protected from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, without under any circumstances whatsoever may be invoked as justification. The safety and security of prisoners, staff, service providers and visitors must be ensured at all times.”

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