Jailed Vietnamese RFA Blogger Barred From Family Visits Amid ‘COVID’ Concerns

A jailed Vietnamese blogger serving an 11-year prison term for writing articles criticizing Vietnam’s government is being denied family visits after being transferred to a new prison following his refusal to appeal his sentence, his wife said on Friday.

Nguyen Tuong Thuy, an independent journalist and former RFA blogger, was recently moved from a Ho Chi Minh City Police Investigation Agency detention center and sent to the Bo La prison in Binh Duong province, Thuy’s wife Nguyen Thi Lan said.

“Yesterday I went to the Bo La detention center to visit my husband. I arrived at 11:00 a.m. but couldn’t see him as the doors had been locked, and I had to wait until 1:30 p.m. to send him some food,” Lan said, adding that prison staff accepted her delivery of food but refused to let her visit or speak with Thuy.

“They explained that they were not allowed to do this, as they had to follow instructions from the Ho Chi Minh City police,” she said.

Lan said she was shown a February 2021 police notice suspending prison visits and consular contacts due to concerns over the spread of COVID-19, but insisted that this was still against the law. “The law stipulates that anyone temporarily detained is still allowed to see their family at least once a month.”

Even with concerns over COVID-19, the guards should have allowed her to see her husband at a distance or speak to him on the phone, Lan said.

“However, I had no choice but to accept their decision, as [the detention officers] are the ones who have the authority,” Lan said, adding she had heard that a prisoner being held on a drugs charge at the same facility had been allowed to call and speak to their family.

“I think the guards were just making excuses,” she said. “I don’t know why they would say what they did, but I believe they were just following their superiors’ instructions and not the law.”

Calls seeking comment from the Bo La detention center were not picked up on Friday.

Civil rights, freedom of speech

Nguyen Tuong Thuy, who had blogged on civil rights and freedom of speech issues for RFA’s Vietnamese Service for six years, was sentenced on Jan. 5 with two other bloggers—like Thuy members of the Vietnam Independent Journalists’ Association—who were handed lengthy jail terms at the same time.

Arrested in May 2020, Thuy was indicted along with Pham Chi Dung and Le Huu Minh Tuan on Nov. 10 for “making, storing, and disseminating documents and materials for anti-state purposes” under Article 117 of Vietnam’s Penal Code.

Sentenced with Thuy, Pham Chi Dung was given a 15-year prison term, while Le Huu Minh Tuan was jailed for 11 years.

Thuy later refused to appeal his sentence, tearing up a petition form given to his after prison guards told him what to write on it, Thuy’s lawyer told RFA in an earlier report.

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 in January.

Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Chau Vu. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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