April 4, 2021
Jailed Vietnamese democracy activist Tran Huynh Duy Thuc has begun a new hunger strike, his third since October, aimed at reducing his 16-year sentence for subversion to five years in line with revisions to the penal code passed after his 2010 conviction, family members say.
Tran, who has already served 11 years of his prison term, was arrested in May 2009 for writing online articles criticizing Vietnam’s one-party communist state and was convicted in 2010 on charges of plotting to overthrow the government under Article 79 of Vietnam’s 1999 Penal Code.
He is now calling for the charges against him to be changed to involvement in “preparation to commit a crime,” an offense calling only for a five-year term of imprisonment under Vietnam’s revised 2015 Penal Code, and Tran’s family and lawyers have tried several times to petition authorities for his sentence to be reduced.
Tran has now begun a new hunger strike just 16 days after ending an earlier 70-day strike on Feb. 3, Tran’s brother Tran Huynh Duy Tan told RFA’s Vietnamese Service on Thursday, following a family visit to Tran at his detention center last week.
“He said that he had resumed his hunger strike on Feb. 20 in an effort to urge the Supreme Court to excuse him from serving the remainder of his sentence,” Tan said, adding that his brother told him he had begun his strike by drinking soy sauce mixed with lemon juice and antibiotics, but was now drinking only water.
Tran had gained 12 kilograms (26 pounds) during the 16-day interval between his two hunger strikes but had lost 10 kilograms again during the first 43 days of his current strike, Tran’s brother said.
State media dispute claims
Vietnam’s state-controlled media have meanwhile tried to cast doubt on Tran’s hunger-strike claims, with two newspapers quoting Tran as saying in an undated video “filmed in secret by police” that he had ended his strike and gained 4.5 kilograms after beginning to eat again.
Tran’s brother said that Tran was aware of the articles and had sent petitions to both papers asking that they either provide evidence to support their claims or publish an apology.
Tran’s health in prison has been a continuing source of concern to his family following a series of hunger strikes.
In July 2019, Tran began a hunger strike over poor conditions in detention, including the removal of electric fans from cells in the soaring summer heat, and an earlier strike in August 2018 left him exhausted and thin after he protested police pressure on him to admit his guilt in the offenses for which he was jailed.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) ranked Vietnam 175 out of 180 in its 2020 World Press Freedom Index. About 25 journalists and bloggers are being held in Vietnam’s jails, “where mistreatment is common,” the Paris-based watchdog group said.
Vietnam’s already low tolerance of dissent deteriorated sharply last year with a spate of arrests of independent journalists, publishers, and Facebook personalities as authorities continued to stifle critics in the run-up to the ruling Communist Party Congress held in January.