Circular 37: Harsh Treatment of Prisoners of Conscience in 'Prisons Within Prisons'
Prisoners of conscience are stripped of many of the rights accorded to common criminal offenders in Vietnam under Circular 37.
Under Vietnam’s Law 53 on Execution of Criminal Judgments, prisoners have the right to be held in communal cells with others and participate in prison activities, unless they violate prison regulations, are dangerous, have a contagious disease, or are being evaluated for mental illness.
However, Circular 37, issued by the Ministry of Public Security in 2011 as implementing legislation for Law 53, provides for the classification, segregation and differential treatment of prisoners by type, including prisoners convicted of national security offenses — in other words, prisoners of conscience.
Under Circular 37,, prisoners of conscience are physically separated from the general inmate population in prisons and stripped of many of the rights accorded to other prisoners under Vietnamese law.
Prisoners of conscience who speak out about prison abuses, or who refuse to sign admissions of their guilt, are subjected to additional measures to further isolate and punish them. Under Circular 37, directors of prisons and detention camps can arbitrarily decide to hold prisoners of conscience in solitary confinement for months on end, revoke their family visitation rights, prohibit them from leaving their cells and going outside, and confiscate reading materials and supply packages sent to them by their families.
Circular 37 provides for prolonged solitary confinement of “particularly dangerous” prisoners who “show signs or activities of making contact and colluding with other inmates and outsiders in order to carry out opposing activities” as well as “inmates with relentless opposing activities or inmates requiring isolation for feasible education and re-education.”
Under Circular 37, prison officials can mete out solitary confinement in three-month terms. No limit is set on the number of terms, which can be extended at the discretion of prison officials, who determine whether the prisoner has shown “progress with rehabilitation.”
Circular 37 also authorizes punitive prison transfers of prisoners of conscience, by providing for the “division and transfer” of inmates who “show signs or activities of colluding, forming cliques... refusing to work or study” as well as those who have been “educated but show no progress in rehabilitation.
“These 'prisons within prisons' [create] a system of physical and emotional isolation with several deliberate aims: to break prisoners of conscience into “confessing” to the crimes they are charged with; to punish them for challenging the authority of the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) by asserting their rights; and to prevent them from interacting with fellow prisoners and continuing their activism behind bars."
 Circular 37 of the Ministry of Public Security, Detailing Classification and Incarceration of Inmates according to Categories, No. 37/2011/TT-BCA, dated June 3, 2011.