In 2015, Vietnam adopted several laws adopted that reinforce the prohibition of using corporal punishment and coercion to obtain testimonies or confessions. Despite these legal safeguards, many detainees are subjected to torture and other abuses by law enforcement officials seeking to extract information and forced confessions from them. Examples include the following:
On August 16, 2018, at the hearing of environmental activist Le Dinh Luong, human rights defenders Nguyen Viet Dung and Nguyen Van Hoa informed the presiding Judge that their written confessions against Le Dinh Luong had been obtained through torture. They had been brought to the trial of Luong as witnesses for the prosecutor at a court in central Vietnam’s Nghe An province. However, both men retracted their earlier testimony and denounced the duress. The court immediately adjourned. When the trial resumed later in the day, Hoa and Dung were absent. A family member alleged that afterward Nguyen Van Hoa was struck in the head when he was brought to the back room of the court house. Nguyen Viet Dung was allegedly put in a chokehold so tight that he had a sore throat and temporarily lost his voice. On August 21, detention facility officers refused to allow Nguyen Viet Dung’s father to see his son, on the basis that he had failed to cooperate with authorities at the trial of Le Dinh Luong.
On May 15, 2017, environmental rights defender Hoang Duc Binh was violently arrested by the police. While detained in Nghe An province, Hoang Duc Binh was reportedly forced to sign a confession statement by authorities, which was then used during his trial on February 6, 2018.
In February 2014, human rights activist Nguyen Thi Thuy Quynh was arrested on trumped up charge of “causing public disorder”. Her mother was forced to pressure her to confess her human rights activities. In protest, Quynh went on a hunger strike that lasted 37 days. She was not allowed to meet with her lawyer until the day before her trial, and only for half an hour.
In 2013, human rights activist Truong Minh Tam was arrested under the pretext of “business fraud”. When the police investigators were unable to force Tam to provide information about his human rights activities, they detained his older sister. In an interview with VN-CAT in 2017, he described how each day the investigators would make Tam walk past the room where his sister was being interrogated. They pressured Tam to confess his “wrongdoings” in exchange for his sister’s release. Neither Tam nor his sister yielded to coercion. Without a confession, the police released her after several weeks in detention and sentenced Tam to one year’s imprisonment.
Vietnamese authorities have also been known to coerce detainees into appearing in televised confessions, as a propaganda tool. In June 2018, Will Nguyen, an American graduate student of Vietnamese descent, appeared on state television a few days after he was violently arrested for protesting draft laws on special economic zones and on cybersecurity. In the broadcast, Will Nguyen said he regretted breaking the law and that vowed he would “not join any anti-state activities anymore”. He was later deported back to the US.
Similarly, on July 31, 2017, former oil executive Trinh Xuan Thanh appeared on Vietnamese state TV to “admit [his] faults and apologize” after he was forcefully repatriated from Germany where he had sought exile. According to his lawyers, his confession — broadcast in a in a prime-time bulletin — was forced.
State television stations regularly broadcast news clips showing Montagnards “confessing” their wrongdoings by being in contact with Montagnard groups overseas or following unsanctioned religions. In July 2017, for example, Y Joi Bkrong, the son of a prominent Montagnard pastor in the U.S., was brought for public review and coerced confession of wrongdoing in Dak Lak for being in contact with his father and proselytizing for the un-recognized Evangelical Church of Christ.
Khmer Krom Buddhist monk Ly Chanda was filmed by a television crew during his illegal detention in 2013 reading a statement denouncing his wrongdoings. After his release, he told Amnesty International that he read the statement after being severely tortured and because a gun was pointed into his back.
In addition to physical abuse, Vietnamese authorities frequently use threats, psychological abuse and denial or withholding of medical treatment to pressure detainees to confess their alleged guilt.
Testimonies and confessions obtained under duress are then routinely used as evidence during legal proceedings, thus breaching Article 15 of the UNCAT. In many reported cases, confessions by the accused were used as sole evidence of their guilt, despite claims in Vietnam’s State report to the UN Committee Against Torture that “it is absolutely prohibited to use confessions of the accused, defendants as the only evidence to convict them.” (paragraph 228).
(Excerpted from "Torture in Vietnam 2018: Joint NGO Report to the UN Committee Against Torture," November 2018.)