Jailed Vietnamese Blogger Held in Isolation, Denied Visits in Mental Hospital

A Vietnamese blogger held in a mental hospital while awaiting trial for criticizing Vietnam’s one-party communist state was refused a visit from supporters on Wednesday, with authorities saying he is being kept in isolation as a “political case.”

Le Anh Hung, a member of the online Brotherhood of Democracy advocacy group who blogged for Voice of America, was arrested on July 5, 2018 on a charge of “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the state” under Article 331 of Vietnam’s criminal code.

He was later transferred in April 2019 from jail to Hanoi’s Central Mental Hospital No. 1 for “observation and treatment.” If convicted at trial, he could serve up to seven years in prison.

Fellow activist Vu Hung and a group of friends attempted on Feb. 17 to bring gifts to Le at his hospital to celebrate Tet, the start of the Lunar New Year, but were denied permission to visit, Vu told RFA on Thursday.

“Yesterday was the day that the hospital re-opened after Tet, and so we went to see our friend Le Anh Hung and tried to give him New Year gifts,” Vu said.

“But a hospital official told us that Le Anh Hung had been involved in politics, and therefore we were not allowed to meet with him.”

The officer told Vu and his friends that Le was in good health but was being held under “extremely strict conditions,” Vu said, adding, “So we left our gifts for Le Anh Hung and left the hospital.”

Also speaking to RFA, Le’s mother Tran Thi Nhiem said on Thursday she had received a phone call from her son the previous day and was assured he was in good health.

“Yesterday, my son borrowed a cell phone and called me from the hospital to tell me was doing well. He is still completely lucid,” Tran said.

“My son had previously been severely beaten and tortured by the hospital’s officials, but now he does not argue with them anymore. At the same time, I’ve recently been able to send him some money, so his situation is better now,” she said.

Beaten, forcibly injected

Le had been forced in his first years in hospital to take drugs to treat his supposed mental illness, and had once been beaten with a metal folding chair, tied to his bed, and injected with a sedative that left him unconscious, sources told RFA in earlier reports.

Tran called on authorities in June 2019 to release her son from his forced stay in the mental hospital, where she said he was being forced to take medicine and was suffering “both mentally and physically.”

Le, in his mid-30s, had lost weight and looked ragged, gaunt, and depressed, Tran told RFA following a May 2019 visit to her son in the hospital, adding that he had undergone psychiatric assessments twice between October 2018 and April  without his family being informed.

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 in January.

Reporters Without Borders ranked Vietnam 175 out of 180 in its 2020 World Press Freedom Index. Around 25 journalists and bloggers are being held in Vietnam’s jails, “where mistreatment is common,” the Paris-based watchdog group said.

Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Huy Le. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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