Tuø Nhaân Chính Trò
Nhöõng Ngöôøi Ñaõ Hy Sinh Baûn Thaân Mình Cho Lyù Töôûng Töï Do
Thaønh Hoaøng Laøng Vöïc
Vieät Thöôøng - Traàn Thöôïng DDaân
laõnh thoå, laõnh haûi cho Trung-quoác
Yeân Töû Cö Só - Traàn Ñaïi Syõ
Traàm K. - Taäp Hoïp Thô cuûa
caùc Tuø Nhaân Chính Trò
Thô Vuõ Bình Nam
Phuùc Trình veà tình traïng vi phaïm nhaân quyeàn taïi Vieät Nam:
Baûn Vieät Ngöõ - Baûn Anh Ngöõ
Danh Saùch Tuø Chính Trò
Ñaõ Bò Töû Hình
Religious and Political Prisoners
in VN as of Oct.2000
Lieân laïc: Mevietnam1789@aol.com
REPORT ON THE ISSUES OF THE HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES IN VIETNAM IN THE FOLLOWING PRISON CAMPS:CENTRAL CAMP No. 5
NAM HA CAMP
THANH CAM CAMP
RESPECTFULLY ADDRESSED TO:
The United Nations High Commission for Human Rights.
Table of contents
Table Of Contents 2
Part I: Being Arrested, Imprisoned, Tried, And Sentenced 5
Part II: In The Prison, Hard Labor camps 7
Camp A-20 Xuan Phuoc, Phu Yen 7
Part III: The Author’s Viewpoint, Comments, and Conclusion 15
Author: Pham Van Thanh
Born 1960 in Vietnam.
Period covered by report: 1993 - 1998
First of all, on behalf of all those who are fighting for the political freedom inside various prisons in Vietnam, I would like to express our gratitude for your concern about human rights issues in Vietnam, our beloved country. It was your concern and your persistent effort that recently won the release of a few political prisoners. Though the freedom that we had won is still extremely limited, it nonetheless has brought great joy to those who have persevered in the struggle for a democratic, free and peaceful Vietnam.
It was also your compassionate care that helped me win back my freedom after almost 6 years of imprisonment in my own native country, and my safe return to France, a great country that has welcomed me with her open arms and nurtured me since a nightmarish escape by boat in 1982.
For the pressing issues of the human rights in Vietnam, for the political prisoners who are still suffering every second from the injustice and persecution directed constantly at them, for the better future of my beloved country and its people, I have felt compelled to file this report in which I will publicize what I have seen, heard and endured. I will bear the full responsibility for all of my statements and be willing to testify anytime, anywhere.
In order to help the readers’ comprehension about
all the relevant facts, this report is arranged in a chronological order.
Also, in order to safeguard the life and welfare of my compatriots and
friends who are currently being held in Vietnam, some sensitive
Since I only had a very short time to prepare, besides, I have had problem with my health, and on top of that, there are many other urgent matters that I have to take care of for the community, the society and the political prisoners who are still imprisoned by the Vietnamese communists, these activities require a great deal of travel. The report therefore can not be as perfect as you and I would like it to be. I do hope for your forgiveness and understanding though.
Part I. Being arrested, imprisoned, tried, and sentenced
On March 5th 1993, upon my return trip to Vietnam
from France, I was arrested in Saigon (District of Tan Binh, Ho Chi Minh
City) The man in charge of my arrest was Lieutenant Colonel Hoat Nguyen
who was second-in-command in the Security and
My arrest took place when I came to Mr. Dang Ngoc
Nguyen’s residence, at 150 Hoang van Thu Street to pick up my suitcase.
At the scene, with guns pointed at my head, my hands were cuffed behind
my back; they frisked me from head down. No
The group of security agents carried out the arrest
order in a rather civilized manner. Mr. Hoat himself was polite. However,
everyone seemed so determined and tense. At that moment, I realized that
even a slightest resistance from me would spell death
During the 15 minutes of on-site interrogation, I always maintained that I was a tourist. To no avail, the order for my arrest was signed right after that. I asked to be put in contact with my lawyer. They just sarcastically laughed and said, "You are standing in our country".
Seven or eight baskets containing detonators and
TNT explosives, a few propaganda banners and a national flag (yellow with
three red stripes, colors of the former South Vietnam’s) were then lined
up in front of me. Nearby, two photographers were busy
Regardless of not having my signature, the arrest that led to my imprisonment was still carried out. With my hands cuffed, guns barrels thrust at my waist, I was taken to a car then escorted to the B34 detention camp. This was a detention center which, before April 1975, used to be the General Headquarters of the national police. It is located right in the center of Ho Chi Minh City, on Nguyen Van Cu Street.
After two and half-hours of interrogation, my
street clothes were taken off as well as my watch and wedding ring. Dressed
in a prisoner's uniform, I was led to cell No. 5 on the ground floor. There
were nine cells on this floor. To get there from the interrogation room,
one must pass through four metal doors to get to the interior of the cell.
The sanitary conditions were absolutely horrible. In the air, there has
been a constant septic odor emanating from the toilet, while rats were
roaming the cell
I did not witness any physical torture in this prison. But the interrogations and psychological torture seemed never ending and could take place at any time, day or night, and up to ten times a day, each session would last at least one and half-hours. Dozens of interrogators took turn to work with the same prisoner. Every time one was summoned, he had to put up with the clanging, piercing sound of the metal doors, which were deliberately slammed against each other by the interrogators. In this condition, a normal person could only hold up a few months at the most. Then end results usually were: The "accused " would confess to anything the "accuser" wanted, so that he could avoid the interrogation session and could be left alone sleeping for a few hours.
The food ration and "air supply" varied according to the prisoner’s level of co-operation in the investigation and the readiness to confess to the charge that most of the time was set up. For those who stubbornly held out, there were only two meals a day, consisting of two bowls of cold rice with some dried fish and vegetables. (This ration however, was still rather generous compared to the one for prisoners in the labor camps). The air vent in each cell was adjusted according to its resident’s level of "favorable attitude". In my case, the air vent as large as the size of one hand in my cell was rarely opened. The smell from the toilets was unbearably overpowering while a lot of rats and sewer roaches freely invaded the small parcel of property I could claim in the cell.
In June 1993, after four months of uninterrupted interrogations, the investigation board forced me to write down a statement in which I would have to
- Promise that I would never repeat the accused
Instead, I wrote a statement in which I committed myself only to "live to protect the honor and the interests of the country and the people of Vietnam". The Investigation board later said to me: "You’ve lost the chance to be freed, we have to prosecute and bring you to court".
On August 22nd, 1993, the Vietnamese communist authorities prosecuted me and a few others in their "Supreme Court". In the trial, I refused to have the lawyer who was designated to me for the purposes of formality and propaganda. I was sure that kind of lawyer would be useless in such a theatrical justice system.
During the trial, whatever I said that related to the political issues, was either acoustically disturbed or stopped by the judge’s gavel. The judge’s manner and that of his entourage demonstrated that their level of education, morality, knowledge of the local and international laws were close to nil. Such as phony court was really a biggest insult to the real justice. I have come to realize that the court system of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam was merely an effective tool that the Vietnamese Communist Party uses to suppress the political and social life of the Vietnamese people. My trial was a proof of that.
This "Supreme Court" sentenced me to 12 years of imprisonment in hard labor camp. The charges and the sentence passed down by The People's Supreme Prosecutor were as follows. "Even though no proof or incriminating evidence was found, Pham Van Thanh, for his thoughts and way of thinking, is extremely dangerous for the security of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. It is recommended that the full clause 1 of article 173 of the penal code in the Socialist Republic of Vietnam is applied." This clause spelled out a sentence ranging from 12 years to life imprisonment or death by execution. I got the lightest sentence so it seemed.
PART II: In the Prison, Hard Labor Camps
On September 14, 1993, we were escorted out to the camp. None of us was informed of the destination. Feet and hands chained, we were jammed into two cars. Leaving Ho Chi Minh City, the cars headed north. When we arrived at camp K3 at Xuan Loc, Mrs. Nhan Thi Tran's chains were removed. Mrs. Tran was a petite, very poor woman who got in trouble, all by the circumstances. She too was given 12 years in prison. She was the only one being left at camp Z30A at Xuan Loc, about 80 km from Saigon. (We later found out that she was transferred to camp Z30D, Ham Tan, Province of Thuan Hai, about 150 Km north of Ho Chi Minh City). The remaining eleven men were transported to the camp A20 in Phu Yen Province, about 600 km north of Ho Chi Minh City.
CAMP A20 XUAN PHUOC, PHU YEN
Camp A 20 in Xuan Phuoc, Phu Yen was built during
the years 1975-76 by the Vietnamese who returned from the United States
on a commercial ship named the "Vietnam Thuong Tin". Following the 1975
event, this ship had carried a lot of people fleeing Vietnam and reached
the United States. A few days later, many passengers (about 2,000) decided
to stay on board and return to Vietnam. Their home coming welcome was quite
a shock. Upon their arrival, they were all arrested and forced to build
the prison camps for their own banishment. Most of them were held until
the 1980s and many died due to the unbearable climate and
1.Labor and Human Rights Abuses in Camp
The prison camp A 20 at Xuan Phuoc is a "penitentiary" of the prison network of the Vietnamese Communist in south Vietnam region. The so-called "elements that are dangerous to national security" are held in there.
From its opening day up to 1984, the camp had consisted of four sections. In 1993, only three sections remained and one of which, section C was empty. Section B held the prisoners under the most relaxed condition, and they were allowed to work outside the camp. About 600 prisoners, all crammed up together in the central camp (section A). Among these prisoners, about 200 had been sentenced for political reasons. Some were called "Spies" (a name given to the underground resistant who came back from Thailand). Some were accused of "spreading propaganda against the regime" (the name giving to those who fought for religious right, with actions or words against the regime’s doctrine). Some, according to the charge, were involved in "an attempt to overthrow the government", or "The use of explosives to sabotage national security projects".
Life in the camp was extremely hard. The prisoners were forced to do hard labor such as making bricks, working in the rice paddies, digging ponds, clearing the forest, chopping wood, etc... All of the prisoners’ hard works were just to make the Camp’s officials rich (all the products were gathered and sold to the outside world and the Camp officials collected the money for themselves) while the prisoners themselves, barely had enough food or goods for simple basic needs. In 1993, I had a chance to come across the death records (which showed the location of the graves in the camp), I noted that there were at least 2,000 prisoners' deaths, their graves, all were left in ruins or on the verge of being unrecognizable.
2.Tortures, Physical Abuses, Inhumane Treatments, and Murders
In this camp (A-20), whoever had the courage to express his/ her opposing viewpoint and behaves as such, was barbarously tortured, and then possibly killed. I would like to cite a few cases as follows:
1- Case number 1: of Mr. Bao Van Nguyen
Mr. Bao Van Nguyen, a former teacher of history and geography in high school, (before 1975, in the Republic of South Vietnam), was accused of "attempt to overthrow the government" and was arrested in around 1978. Later released, then in 1984, he was arrested for the second time, while distributing an ideological document, which he had written. The document contained the philosophical doctrine of the "Nhan-Ban-Viet" group (Vietnamese for Humanity Group). Because of this, he was locked up, permanently chained, deprived of food and savagely beaten. On numerous occasions, he was hung up side down on a coconut tree. An officer in the security force ordered a criminal case prisoner to beat him up with long big baton. This officer was Major Lam, a monster warden in Camp A20 from 1984 to 1993.
Presently, (in November 1998), Mr. Bao Van Nguyen has been suffering a "schizophrenia-like" disorder and is dying of the severe tuberculosis. He is over 60 years of age and his very poor family can neither visit him nor bring him any supply. Please help save him. He is being held in the Central Camp No. 5, Group 12 Cell 7.
2 - Case number 2: The Catholic Priests, Fathers Luan Nguyen, Minh Vinh-Son and Vang Van Nguyen.
All perished while being chained in their dungeons. All were starved until they totally lost control of themselves. Father Luan Nguyen was punished with leg-irons as he had secretly received bread to celebrate a silent mass with some prisoners in the Christmas Eve. He would rather be tortured, starved, and punished to death than giving in to the request from the wardens who wanted to know the names of the prisoners who received the hosts in that Christmas Eve Mass of 1985.
Father Vincent Minh was confined to leg irons to his death due to his inherent fortitude. He never wrote down the mandatory slogan phrase: "The Socialist Republic of Vietnam- Independence- Freedom – Happiness", when being forced to prepare any of his "self-critics" papers. Before burying him, the camp’s officials ordered the criminal case prisoners to stuff a long piece of cloth into his stomach. They had a real tough time accomplishing what they’re asked to do. No body knows the motive behind the maniacal act. (Torturing a corpse).
Father Vang Van Nguyen was shacked in the dungeon and starved to paralysis. Whenever he got a chance to be outside his cell, he had to crawl toward the fence where he would hurriedly pick off any kind of plants he could get, stuffing it into his mouth and voraciously chewed on. He died on June-03-1985 while his leg iron was still bolted down to the concrete floor in the dungeon of section C in the A-20 Xuan Phuoc camp. They buried him outside the camp, and the news of his death was never announced. Only when his family learned of his passing by the "special prisoners’ channel ", came to the camp to ask for his body for a proper burial, the camp’s officials refused, insisting that the "Interior Ministry would not permit". On Nov-01-1993, with the financial assistance from my family, I hired some ex-prisoners to secretly exhume his grave in order to send his remain back to the Monastery in Saigon. We were all taken aback to find an empty grave. His remains were no longer there. Up to this time, we still have not been able to find out where his remains were moved to.
Witnesses of these priests’ deaths are still living in Vietnam and are always willing to testify. I will only disclose their names and addresses if the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights or any authorities can guarantee their safety.
3 – Case number 3: Mr. Thuy Dinh Vu
Mr. Thuy Dinh Vu, whose real name is Te Lam Vo, is a former officer in the armed forces of the Republic of Vietnam. He was captured on the battlefield in 1975 while defending an important post in the Pleiku province. He was held until 1979. On his release from prison, he continued his activities and set up organizations to resist the authorities in the provinces of Central Vietnam. He was arrested again and sentenced to 20 years in prison. In 1984, in prison, he composed a collection of poems, which were later discovered. Upon the sentence being revised, his 20 years sentence was changed to a life sentence. Savagely beaten, he has lost the use of one eye. He is presently held in the 12th group of the central camp No. 5 in Thanh Hoa. His health condition now is very, very poor.
4 - Case number 4: Mr. Phuong Dang Vo
Mr. Phuong Dang Vo was a Lieutenant Colonel in the Marines of the former Republic of Vietnam. He was held since 1975, his sentence was revised right in the prison for he had initiated the "Third Republic of Vietnam" doctrine. After 18 years of heavy abuses in prison, he was released in August 1994. Right after being freed, he participated in the campaign to internationally publicize the documents related to the issues of human rights abuses in the A20 prison camp, especially about the uprising of the political prisoners in Camp A20, Xuan Phuoc, Phu Yen Province. Just a few months later, we learned that he was declared dead in a Ho Chi Minh City hospital. Given the fact that Mr. Phuong Dang Vo was a man with very good health, a keen mind and a strong constitution, his death could not be taken for granted without any suspicion of a foul play. We have obtained enough evidence to conclude that this was the work of a medical assassination planned by the Vietnamese Government. We earnestly ask for your special attention to this case.
5 - Case number 5: Mr. Long Manh Pham (Long Pham Le)
Mr. Long Pham was one of those who was directly involved in the events of 28th October 1994 (The uprising for human right cause in Prison camp Xuan Phuoc, A20 Phu Yen Province). He had acted as an advisor for the Action Committee for the Defense of the Dignity of Political Prisoners. It’s a known fact that he was a man with good steady habit and in very good shape. He also died in the hospital a few months after being released from the prison camp. (This case was similar to that of Mr. Phuong Dang Vo.)
6- Case Number 6: Doctor Long Kim Nguyen
After more than ten years of incarceration in the A20 Camp, Xuan Phuoc for his involvement with the "Humanity movement" which was formed and led by Doctor Nguyen Dan Que, in 1995, he was transferred to The Central Camp number 5 Thanh Hoa. A year or so later, he died because of the tuberculosis. He perished as no medical treatment was ever rendered to cure the disease. His family was too poor to provide any help while the prison authority never cared.
7- Case Number 7: The Catholic Monk Chuong Dac Mai
A Catholic monk of the Co-Redemptorists’ order, he was arrested and imprisoned for opposing the confiscation of the Monastery’s property and Chapel in Thu Duc in 1985. He was publicly preaching against the savageness and injustice of the Communists, calling on the people to be willing to sacrifice for the sake of equality and justice of the whole country. He was sentenced to 17 years in prison. His health now is very poor as he is approaching 70 years old while being held and physically abused in the Central Camp number 5 in Thanh Hoa.
8- Case Number 8: Mr. Thanh Nguyen.
Mr. Thanh Nguyen was just released from prison after 19 years of imprisonment. During the time in prison, he was tortured so badly that the tendons in both of his feet were severed. He is now living in the City of Hue, handicapped while fighting hopelessly against tuberculosis.
9- Case Number 9: Mr. Phuc Si Lau.
Mr. Phuc Si Lau is an Amerasian, born in around 1965, fathered by a US soldier during the Vietnam War. His mother passed away when he was very young, so a devout Catholic couple raised him instead. He was arrested in the "Co-Redemptorists monastery’s event" in 1985, sentenced to 18 years. His dark skin and tall build were the main racial motivation for the Security Guards to torture him. He is now being held in the Camp Nam Ha, Northern Vietnam. His adoptive parents are very old and poor, unable to provide any assistance. Please help get him out of the country.
1.Activities in Camp
Details of the "Uprising for Human Rights in Camp A20, Xuan Phuoc, Phu Yen" on October, 28,1994
Back to the main subject of my report, I would like to provide some details of the uprising in the camp A20, Xuan Phuoc on October 28, 1994 and consequently the human rights abuses in numerous prison camps in Vietnam.
The event was originated from the fact that the ruling communist regime has been maintaining that there is no political prisoner being held in Vietnam. The whole truth was as follows:
*The political Prisoners do exist and have been persecuted badly.
I arrived at camp A20 at Xuan Phuoc in September 1993. In June 1994, we compiled a list of more than 100 prisoners detained for political reasons. The list was still incomplete, as it did not include the important political prisoners due to the restriction of my movement in the camp. Those people had no chance to communicate with one another or us, especially the ones the camp officials considered "dangerous"(to their ideology). Utilizing many different ways at our own risk, we were able to sneak out some evidential documents of the human right abuses to the outside world. Those documents had been addressed to the international media and Human right Organizations. The "Vietnamese Committee for Human Rights" was really active in caring for and helped present our case to the United Nations’ General Assembly. (On behalf of the "Action committee for the Defense of the Dignity of the Political Prisoners in Camp A20, Xuan Phuoc", I would like to express our sincere gratitude to the "Vietnamese Committee for Human Rights").
After the release of a list that included more than 100 political prisoners being held in Vietnam, along with letters and evidences of the human right abuse cases in the Camp, and the broadly publicized news from the media, an international delegation of human rights arrived in Vietnam on October, 27,1994, with the intention to investigate human rights issues at the A20 Camp. Prior to the arrival of the delegation, the camp’s officials herded all the political prisoners into an isolated and heavily guarded area deep inside the jungle, in order to keep us from being reached by the delegation. The visit therefore could not uncover anything new nor reach any concrete conclusion about the existence of political prisoners.
*The Demonstration in Camp A20 by the political Prisoners
The shameful lie and cover-up of the Vietnam Government was the catalyst for our unified action in organizing a demonstration, right in the prison. For three days in a row, three times in the morning and three times in the afternoon, we gathered in the main camp’s front yard, chanting the pro-human-right slogans while the guards fired many shots in order to intimidate and to disperse the crowd. Fortunately, none of the prisoners was hurt because of those indiscriminate shots.
*Evil plan from the State’s officials to murder their own "former comrades" then blame the "revolting prisoners" for the crime.
On the third day, the Interior Ministry decided to carry out an insidious plan. (We had been really fortunate to have some inside informants who were more or less, sympathetic to the political prisoners. They provided us with information about the plan in advance.) According to the plan, some criminal-case prisoners, who were former corrupt officers of the Vietnamese Communist troops, would be forced to gather around the barracks of the political prisoners. At the same time, about 50 others were forced to stand in the main camp front yard, ready to be herded into the office. This would create a violent scene that would be filmed and framed up as a revolt, which would result in the deaths of the prisoners who loitered around the political prisoners’ barracks. (They would be killed by their own "former comrades" who were equipped with the chemical weapon gears and poison gas that, in time would be released to terminate the ones whose lives were considered useless and parasitic. Most of these poor former officers were too old and weak that they could not even stand up straight). So, if the plan were carried out successfully, the event would be filmed and doctored to distort the truth and the blame would be directed to the "political prisoners" who then would be considered as insane and "violent" criminals in the world opinion. (This entire plan was plotted and to be directed by the high ranking officers from Hanoi, with the supporting personnel from the camp security forces and the "People’s Army of Vietnam").
*Demonstration was called off, all demonstrators were revenged upon.
After verifying that their evil plan was indeed being hatched up and ready to be carried out, we, the political prisoners, decided to temporarily stop the demonstration and be willing to start the dialogue with the prison board of wardens. I stepped forward to talk to them, took all the blame, offering a concession that included me as a sacrificial lamb to take the punishment of "leg irons" and "isolation", while the rest would be left alone. They agreed and the demonstration was called off.
However, as soon as they grabbed hold of me, they blatantly and shamelessly broke their promise. More than 100 political prisoners who participated in the demonstration were revenged by being transferred to the three penitentiary camps in the northern region of Vietnam where visitation became almost impossible for our families as most of the prisoners were from the southern parts of Vietnam. Among these banished political prisoners, 40 or so were sent to the camp of "PHU LY, NAM HA", more than 60 were sent to the Central camp Number 5 in Thanh Hoa province, and 13 were sent to the camp of Thanh Cam.
Banishment in The Central camp Number 5 and The prison camp of Thanh Cam, Thanh Hoa province
On 8th November 1994, ten of us were transported under heavy guard to the Central camp No. 5 in Thanh Hoa. The trip was a nightmare. In the cramped armored vehicle, our feet were shackled to long iron bars, all wrists chained one’s after the other’s for the entire 1000 Kilometer road trip which included many long stretches of rough, treacherous and flooded road ways. The personal sanitary task had to be done right in the vehicle and become extremely humiliating and difficult. Only when I threatened to kill myself if the request for the personal sanitary break was not accommodated, did they stop the caravan. They gave us about 5 minutes to get out into a paddy field in the Quang Binh Province, hastily passing urine or bowel in front of the gun barrels while our feet and wrists were still chained one’s after the other’s in pairs.
The "Penitentiary Thanh Cam", Thanh Hoa Province
Early in 1995, about three months after our transfer, the rest the political prisoners in Xuan Phuoc camp were also sent to the camps in northern Vietnam. About 40 of them were brought to the Nam Ha camp, 60 to the No. 5 central camp of Thanh Hoa, and especially, in order to intimidate and to emphasize the dominance of the Communist Party over the entire nation, 13 were sent to Thanh Cam camp as scapegoats. These 13 had nothing to do with the planning of the uprising on October- 28 - 1994 in Camp A20, Xuan Phuoc. Since the news of our uprising was broadcast all over the world during that time, the Communists were embarrassed but dared not take the revenge directly on us, the real 13 persons who headed and organized the demonstration, for fear that the world’s attention was intensely focused on our cases. Those poor innocent prisoners were wrongfully revenged upon with the "most infamous treatment" one could ever imagine. They were locked up in two dark chambers (3m X 3m) which do not have toilet or latrine, the prisoners had to put up with the smell, the fecal worms and the chilly climate of the northern region during the cold season. Their monthly ration was nothing but 5 kilograms of rotten rice with 4 kilograms of dried "sliced-manioc". Once a week, they were chained in groups of 6 or 7, escorted to the "Ma River" where they bathed in its muddy and filthy water. Such a savage treatment in addition to the physical torture was the cause of death of Mr. K’Tum.
On July 11, 1995, the day that the relations between The United States of America and Vietnam were officially normalized, the ruling Communist Government transferred these 13 prisoners from the Thanh Cam camp to the Central camp No. 5 in Thanh Hoa. They were like 13 zombies, their bodies were nothing but all bones. Only 6 months after being transferred from the Thanh Cam camp, on January, 10, 1996, Mr. K’Tum died in the "leg iron cell" number 2, section C, in the Central camp No. 5, Thanh Hoa. (My cell was No.1, next to his). His family has not yet been told of his death. The prison authorities directed criminal case prisoners to bury him in the middle of the night and ordered them not to tell anything about this matter. About a month later, all of the ones who were involved in the burial of Mr. K’Tum were transferred to other camps.
The Central Camp, Thanh Hoa Province
The Central camp No. 5, built in 1947, was also known as the "Dam Dun" camp. It was first used to incarcerate French soldiers, and their supporters as well as the Vietminh opponents from 1947 to 1956. After 1975, a number of high-ranking officers in the Republic of South Vietnam army were detained there. A woman writer by the name of Thuy An was also imprisoned there from 1970 to 1975.
When we were sent to the camp in Nov 1994, it had been divided into 3 three sections. At that time, there were up to 700 women and more than 2,000 men being held in this camp. Among this number of prisoners, approximately 60 were imprisoned for their political activities, some were members of the Unified National Liberation Front of Former Admiral Minh Co Hoang forces, who were arrested in the third attempt to return to Vietnam in 1990. Some were accused of spreading propaganda against the regime or inducing disturbance to the "social stability" (a category for those who demonstrated for agriculture and land rights in Thanh Hoa and Nghe An).
We, the 10 new arrivals, were isolated and subjected to psychological torture. Our food ration was reduced to the minimum. During the first five months, we were totally shut off from contact with our families. Meanwhile, the Communists’ scheme of revenge and torturing measures were carefully executed.
The No. 5 central camp had a rather large security force, and the level of their education was relatively higher compared to the guards in the A20, Xuan Phuoc camp. The camp rules were also a lot stricter. The information barrier was very tight, so tight that for four years, we could not sneak out any bit of information from inside the camp. The climate was always changing and unpredictable. The water was were very scarce as the camp is in the dry region of the country. Therefore, illnesses and diseases were rampant and at a severe level, whereas, the medical cares for the prisoners were close to nothing. As a result, Mr. Nguyen Kim Long, (a former doctor) died of tuberculosis after 3 years in the camp. There were other cases of tuberculosis that went untreated, such as: Mr. Bao Van Nguyen, Mr. Sunaymal, Mr. Tuan Minh Tran, Mr. Tuan Ngoc Huynh, etc. They were held in the same chamber with 40 others while receiving no medical treatment at all.
For the political prisoners transferred from the Xuan Phuoc camp, the food ration was a bit better. The quantity of rice was, even though of the lowest grade, still enough for two meals per day and vegetables were also provided daily. Two types of vegetables were served all year round (eight months of water bindweed and four months of celery leaves). On paper, a prisoner’s ration was consisted of 300 grams of meat and 500 grams of fish per month. But, in reality, the so-called meat was just the skin with a little fat adhering to it. The best part of the pig, after being slaughtered, was reserved for the camp officers and their families or sold to the people outside the camp to make money for the camp officers.
In August 1995, agents from the Ministry of the Interior were sent to the camp to organize a "politics study session". Their goal was to put psychological pressure on those who had taken part in the events of 28th October 1994, and to force them to write a "confession of a crime." Most of the prisoners from A20, Xuan Phuoc held their ground and had to pay dearly for their determination. Families contact and visitation and supplies were cut off. Their ration was reduced greatly while being isolated, threatened or humiliated, provoked by some warden officers.
On 14th September 1995, I myself was involved in an incident. A security captain who, at that time, was the supervising officer of the 16th team, (most of team members were prisoners who had returned from Thailand), provoked, and insulted the political prisoners from camp A20, Xuan Phuoc, he even singled me out as the main target. I tried hard to keep silent, hoping that later we could stage a public debate on the attitude and abusive behaviors of some supervising officers. But other prisoners from Xuan Phuoc immediately protested.
I was of course drawn into the verbal fight and the result was "leg iron punishment" was prescribed for eight of us. Mr. Pham Anh Dung, from France, and Nguyen Ngoc Dang, from Canada, were also punished with leg irons.
In this camp, sharing food with other political prisoners was also forbidden. With help from inside and outside of Vietnam, some of us were able to get some money from their families. This money was used to buy some food or sundries with cutthroat prices and limited to about 15 dollars monthly. The ones with help from their families were not allowed to share their food with their less fortunate cellmates.
With intervention from the French Embassy, my wife and my daughter were given permission to come to Vietnam and to visit me at the camp. But, on the two occasions, my mother-in-law, my wife and my little daughter were turned back without seeing me once. Meanwhile, I was subjected to non-stop harassment, being forced to sign the confession documents that linked me to the "crime of organizing an uprising inside the camp", in exchange, they would allow me to see my family. I had to stick with my principle and temporarily forget about my own family in order to uphold the ideal for which we have been fighting.
One could never feel the pains in my heart, when I had to make a decision to forfeit the chance to see my wife and daughter who had come all the way from France, overcome a long treacherous journey with only hope to see me after so long of a separation. (On the day I left France, my daughter was just 5 months old.) So much for a government that always brags about civilization, progress, people’s welfare and independence!
In 1982, those in power in Vietnam signed international documents, agreeing to uphold and respect human rights and follow all the international rules regulations. This agreement was never put into real action. In fact, it was put in the reverse action that resulted in more human rights’ abuses and oppression. The people's courts, an instrument of the regime intended to oppress the people, have sentenced so many people to death. The world outside the iron curtain meanwhile, knew nothing about these cases as the Vietnamese authorities had skillfully covered up and successfully concealed the plain truth about their savageness. The attached list of people who were systematically murdered only represents a modest, a very modest, number of victims in comparison with what really happened and is still happening in Vietnam. I respectfully ask for the attention and care from the international human rights organizations, as well as all people who are mindful of justice and mankind worldwide.
With all my heart, I call on those who are responsible for international law and order, to raise their voices and demand the Vietnamese authorities to stop all forms of human right abuses immediately. I also call on international authorities to intervene and stop all the physical tortures inflicted on prisoners in Vietnam. Even in criminal cases, 80% of the accused are tortured and they would confess under duress. Their crimes were usually invented and fixed by the investigation committee. Meanwhile, the savage method of leg-irons was still being used as a favorite means of "punishment" for the prisoners and "entertainment" for the camps’ officials.
I would like to list a few prison camps that are still using various forms of shackles and leg irons to punish prisoners.
The camps of Thai Binh and Hai Phong, and Criminal Investigation Service Bureau.
The prisoners are shackled by the "Cum Lap La" (Waffle - Mold leg irons). This type of device is made up of two pieces of metal, resembling a wooden leg. All the prisoner's leg, from the ankle to the knee, is pressed in the lower piece, which surrounds the calf from the lower side. The second piece closed up from the top, totally immobilizing the leg. Most of these leg irons are made smaller than a normal leg. Thus, 90% of victims’ legs were injured then become infected or paralyzed, as blood circulation in their legs was totally blocked off. I myself have seen the scars left on the legs on many prisoners in camp 5. They confirmed that they were victims of this type of device in the Thai Binh and Hai Phong camps.
Other types of leg irons and shackles were still in use most of the camps.
I myself was subjected to those types of torturing devices on several occasions, each time for 12 days. The irons were first locked on the lower section of our calves, then clamped down on the concrete floor with our feet pressed against the wall. The victim could not stand up, only sit or lay down his back. All the personal sanitary tasks were done with excruciating pain and great difficulty, whereas the victim was allowed to put on their underwear only, for all seasons, hot or cold, in a dungeon that was infested with bugs, mosquitoes and foul odor.
PART III. the Author’s viewpoint, comments, and conclusion
While everyone in the free world would rarely have to worry about food , clothing and the daily essentials, the prisoners in the Social Republic of Vietnam are always starving, cold and sick and being treated worse than an animal. Anyhow, the Communist State of Vietnam has been bragging about their "Humane, Lenient" policies. It’s a big joke and an insult to all the people who still have some sense of morality. I would like to bring up a few points that I myself was the witness and victim of an uncivilized, savage regime that has been wrecking havoc on our country and our people. Besides the stated crimes and savage persecution, the ruling government of "Socialist Republic of Vietnam" has been adopting and strictly enforcing a policy of:
The inhumane treatment for the sick
"Humane and Lenient" are the big words the Vietnamese authorities have been using to divert the world attention from the sick, cold and hungry prisoners who are suffering every second of their life, waiting for an inevitable death in isolation and despair. Many people perished in such an inhumane torturing condition. Doctor Long Kim Nguyen, Mr. K’Tum, Father Vang Van Nguyen, Father Vincent Minh, Father Luan Nguyen, all had to go through the hellish torture before passing away... Despite all of these facts, the communist state always maintains that it follows the lenient and humane policies. Where is the humanity when in front of my eyes, sick and dying prisoners were intentionally neglected to their deaths? At best, and just for the purpose of their propaganda, sick prisoners might get some medication that was about one fifth of what was required for their illness, or in most of the cases "Aspirin" was used as "the cure for all".
The mental torture and terrorizing toward the prisoners
All prisoners were forced to eavesdrop, spy on
one another, especially on the political prisoners. Monthly "self-evaluation
and self-criticizing" session was strictly enforced and all the prisoners
had to tell on or accuse others in order to be left alone or to just to
get by for the day. This type of mental torture was widely used during
The "total deprivation" of correspondence, family contacts
All personal correspondence, letters, information that have been sent in from the prisoners’ families were opened, censored then mostly cut off. One was considered very fortunate to receive only one out of four personal letters sent in from his/ her family. The letters that had some "political contents" were never delivered to the addressees.
The corruption right in the prison camps
The camp officials, with accomplices from the provincial and central governmental staffs and security forces, have created a well-organized "bribery and corruption" system in the camps. All the criminal case prisoners, with money, could have their sentences and time reduced yearly if they went along and played the game of bribery well, and could be freed not long after they got imprisoned.
In September and October of 1998, the Vietnam Communist Government announced to the international press that they would release about 8000 prisoners, many of them would be political prisoners. In reality, there were merely 30 political prisoners being released while the rest, more than 7500 were criminal case prisoners who had paid heavy sums of money to buy off their "time to be served in prisons".
Being held in the Xuan Phuoc, A20 Camp for more than a year, one thing that always bothered me and is still bothering me greatly is: The ruling regime in Vietnam has been bragging to the world that: "there are no political prisoners in Vietnam". I would like to ask for a little off-track discussion about this matter.
Currently in Vietnam: "Any action, statement, that were deemed to have the opposing view point from the Party’s way-of-thinking is considered "anti-revolutionary" thus, must be punished, "re-educated" (labor camp). Any one who dared to speak up against the unjust policies, against the immorally corrupt officials, is arrested, brutally beaten, tortured then prosecuted without any right to an attorney of his or her own choosing. The result is always a planned sentence that was decided even before the trial. The imprisonment will then follow and finally the hard labor camp where one could perish in vain under the hands of the ones with power and evil thinking. If the aforementioned action, and such prisoners are not classified as "political" in Vietnam, the world opinion and conscience has been blatantly insulted in a despicable way by the Vietnamese Communist Government."
The Vietnamese Communist party has totally stripped the Vietnamese people of the right to freely participate in the politics.
Any organization, regardless of the cause, political or non-political, even the religious ones, if not being set up and approved by the Communist Party and the Government, were framed up as "violent, rebel" or "plotting to overthrow" the Government. The ruling regime has executed so many people who had been involved in the activities opposing the "Party and State". I would like to attach a list of the ill-fated people who had been executed. This list was a result of my tireless effort in collecting the information, there were witnesses who are willing to testify anytime.
How should the barbarism, the disdain to the world’s norm and opinion of the Communist regime in Vietnam be judged and dealt with? Since the Vietnamese people’s voice has been choked up, we could only place our faith in you, the international organizations for the human rights and their intellectuals as well.
Vietnam is a nation with a rich culture. The Vietnamese people are peaceful and hard working. We long to see a country in which justice and prosperity prevail, people will be living in harmony and respecting the neighboring countries’ cultures and sovereignties; a country that will participate in building a humane, peaceful, and civilized world. This is a dream for all of us and each would have his or her own way to make the dream come true. However, the ultimate goal always is trying to solve the puzzle of justice, freedom and democracy in our country first.
No matter how clever the Communists are in covering up; no matter how flashy, cocky a few big cities in Vietnam would look, the longing for a true democracy and respect for human rights is always a pressing issue in each of the Vietnamese people’s mind.
Confronted with the barbarous forces of the totalitarian communists in power, all we have is the fervor in our hearts with our bare hands. More than ever, Vietnam and its people are in dire need of your caring attention and commitment on behalf of the human race in Dignity and Conscience. Your attention and commitment will be like a cool soothing rain pouring on the dry barren fields of the Vietnamese people who are desperately suffering due to a long hard drought.
To conclude this report which I have to pay dearly with my own sufferings and time served in various prison camps run by the Vietnam Communist Government. I would like to present a list of all political prisoners who had been murdered, assassinated by different means, some publicly and some secretly. I also attach the list of political prisoners presently detained in central camp No. 5 at Nam Ha, prisoners that I came to know personally or whose names I have been given by reliable sources. The list, of course, cannot be as complete as we all would like it to be due to the difficulty in obtaining the information in such an adverse environment. All the names included in the list were accused of "Having Activities (or attempted) to overthrow the power of the people". Their lives now depend on your compassion, care and prompt action. Please act quickly to help save the Vietnamese political prisoners.
I, Pham Van Thanh, a middle-aged man who has been living through and witnessed all of the above, have nothing more to offer beside my own life which I have dedicated to my homeland. I solemnly swear and guarantee the truth of this report. All of my life, I have only one wish, that one day, which I hope will come soon, before the end of the millennium, the Vietnamese people may enjoy fundamental human rights, freedom and prosperity that have been evading our poor country for years.
Paris, 25th November, 1998
Pham Van Thanh
1.Published document B: List
of the Political Prisoners executed by the Vietnamese Communist Government.
Prepared and Published by: Pham Van Thanh