Imprisoned Vietnamese Human Rights Attorney Refuses Monthly Food Supplement, Likely Conducting a Hunger Strike to Protest Extended Pre-trial Detention

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier handed over DRB’s Human Rights Award for attorney Nguyen Van Dai to VETO Human Rights Vu Quoc Dung in April, 2017

By Defend the Defenders, May 6, 2017

Vietnamese human rights lawyer and advocate Nguyen Van Dai has refused to receive monthly food supplements from his family, likely conducting a hunger strike in Hanoi’s B14 detention facility in a bid to protest his extended pre-trial detention.

His wife, Mrs. Vu Minh Khanh, told Defend the Defenders that in the morning of Saturday (May 6), she went to the detention facility to provide him with foodstuff and newspapers; however, the prison authorities said her husband would not receive these things.

The prison authorities showed her a working minute between Mr. Dai and the prison’s supervisor, dated May 6, in which he confirmed the refusal. They refused to make a copy of the document for her and to allow her to make a picture of it, Mrs. Khanh said.

The last time Dai received his family’s food supplements was April 15.

Mrs. Khanh is concerned that her husband may be carrying out a hunger strike to protest the extension of his and his assistant Ms. Le Thu Ha’s pre-trial detention. The duo was arrested on December 16, 2015 and charged with “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 88 of the country’s Penal Code. The two human rights defenders face imprisonment of up to 20 years if convicted, according to the current Vietnamese law.

Vietnam’s authorities are likely to have extended the investigation period in relation to human rights lawyer Nguyen Van Dai by two months, bringing the total pre-trial detention period against the prominent dissident to 18 months, his lawyer Ha Huy Son said last month.

In its letter sent to Mr. Son dated on April 21, 2017, the Supreme People’s Procuracy said it will allow him to be involved in the case after the investigation is completed, but not now. Two months earlier, in its notice sent to Son, the same agency said the investigation period would be extended until April 17, 2017.

If confirmed, this will be the fourth extension of Mr. Dai’s pre-trial detention. The previous extensions were for four months each. So far, his family has not received any document from Vietnam’s authorities about the latest extension.

According to Vietnam’s Code of Criminal Procedure, Dai’s lawyers will be allowed to meet with him to prepare his defense after the police agency completes its investigation, the Supreme People’s Procuracy said.

Mr. Dai, founder of the Vietnam Human Rights Center and of the Brotherhood for Democracy, has been held incommunicado as he has not been allowed to meet with his lawyer and relatives. His wife was permitted to meet him twice since late 2015.

The arrest of Dai has been met with strong condemnation worldwide. The U.S., the EU and other countries, as well as many international and domestic human rights organizations, have urged Vietnam to release Mr. Dai and Ms. Ha immediately and unconditionally, saying the two activists only exercised their right to freedom of expression, which is enshrined in Vietnam’s 2013 Constitution and in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Vietnam is a state party.

In March, the German Association of Judges (Deutscher Richterbund, or DRB), the largest professional organization of judges and public prosecutors in Germany, honored Mr. Dai with the Human Rights Award for his contribution to fighting for human rights enhancement in the Southeast Asian nation.

Mr. Dai, who was previously imprisoned for four years, co-founded the online group Brotherhood for Democracy in 2013 to coordinate human rights activities across Vietnam and host forums in Hanoi and Saigon to mark International Human Rights Day.

Meanwhile, the living conditions in Vietnam’s prisons and detention facilities are very poor and families of prisoners and detainees have to regularly provide foodstuffs for them. Prisoners and detainees are allowed to receive money from their families and relatives to purchase food and other things at canteens in these facilities, which often sell substandard goods at prices much higher than those in the market.

Mr. Dai is among many prisoners of conscience in Vietnam, where Communists have ruled for decades and the government has used many controversial articles such as Articles 79, 88 and 258 of the Penal Code to silence local political dissidents, social activists and human rights defenders. Others include entrepreneur Tran Huynh Duy Thuc, prominent blogger Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh and land rights activist Tran Thi Nga.

According to Human Rights Watch, Vietnam holds around 130 political prisoners, while Amnesty International said the Southeast Asian nation detains around 90 prisoners of conscience. Hanoi has consistently rejected holding any prisoners of conscience, saying it only detains persons who have violated the law.

For other information about attorney Nguyen Van Dai: