Disappearing without a Trace
Victims of enforced disappearance and incommunicado detention are at high risk of torture because they are placed completely outside the protection of the law.
In many cases, authorities refuse to inform families of prisoners of conscience where the prisoner is being held, which causes suffering and distress to the prisoner and their families and in most cases constitutes an act of torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.
Former prisoner of conscience Nguyen Van Hai was subjected to several periods of incommunicado detention, the longest of which lasted 17 months, as well as three periods of enforced disappearance that ranged from 1-6 months. On two occasions, police secretly transferred him from prisons where he was serving a sentence on tax evasion charges, to PA-24 Detention Center in Ho Chi Minh City to investigate him on new, unnamed charges linked to his political activities. Both times, police officials rejected his repeated requests to have a lawyer present, nor did they notify his family that they had moved Nguyen Van Hai back to a detention center. When his family arrived at the prison for their regular monthly visit, the police turned them away with no explanation. Each time, after one month’s investigation, police discretely returned Nguyen Van Hai to prison.
Nguyen Van Hai’s third period of incommunicado detention started on the day he was to be released from Xuan Loc prison after serving his first sentence. Instead of being released, he was transferred back to PA-24 Detention Center for further investigation, this time on national security charges. He was held completely incommunicado for another 17 months and did not see his family for the next two years. During the first six of those 17 months, prison authorities refused to provide any information about his whereabouts. His former wife, Duong Thi Tan, went to PA-24 13 times in unsuccessful attempts to visit him, deliver supplies, and obtain information about how much longer he would be detained. She was turned away each time by police, without any clear explanation. More than a year later, she learned that police had transferred her husband to a different detention center for investigation.
Amnesty International and the Campaign to Abolish Torture in Vietnam have reported on enforced disappearances involving members of ethnic minorities living in remote areas, where there is less chance of international outcry. In one case from 2013, Khmer Krom Buddhist monk Ly Chanda was detained for one month in the locked room of a former police officer in Soc Trang province after being severely beaten by police and soldiers. For the first five days, his mother believed he had been killed until she was brought to the house as he was being filmed reading a confession. After his release, Ly Chanda told Amnesty International that he believed the authorities held him in the secret location because they feared he would die from the torture he endured on the day he was detained. He was told that when he recovered, he would be sent to court and to prison.