On August 16, 2019, The 88 Project interviewed Ms. Vuong Thao and Mr. Tran Trong Luat, political prisoner Vuong Van Tha’s daughter and son-in-law. They shared with us more about the arrest and current situation of Mr. Tha in prison. 

According to his family, Mr. Tha, a Hoa Hao Buddhist, was arrested on May 18, 2017 after being confined in his home for more than two months. During the lockdown, the family was scared to go outside, even though they had run out of food and water. They knew if they left the house, they would be captured by the police. During the lockdown, the authorities threw rocks and shot police BB guns into the house. They also blasted the house with water cannons and pumped in some sort of chemical during the night that made everyone in the house very sick. The electricity and water were also cut off.

Tha’s son and two nephews were also arrested. The four were reportedly arrested for making and flying the flag of the former Republic of Vietnam, however it is probable that their arrests were motivated by religious persecution. Hoa Hao Buddhism is an unsanctioned religion in Vietnam, and thus, its practitioners are often targeted by the state for harassment, interference with religious activities, and even imprisonment. There are currently at least 18 Hoa Hao Buddhists in prison in Vietnam for their peaceful expressions. 

Vuong Van Tha was tried on January 23, 2018, under Article 88 of the 2015 Criminal Code for “conducting propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.” At the beginning of the trial, Tha demanded the court to allow his family and friends to witness the trial, since it was allegedly a public trial. The Court denied his request and took him away from the courtroom. The trial continued without him and his lawyer. He was ultimately sentenced to 12 years in prison. 

Tha has faced extremely difficult prison conditions. His family has not been allowed to visit him since December 20, 2017. After that, the family was only allowed to send Tha food supplies. However, in December 2018, the prison authorities refused to accept any food or supplies from the family. The prison authorities told the family that Tha refused to accept food from the family, but the family did not believe it, due to their experience the first time that Tha was in prison.

This is Tha’s second imprisonment. He was arrested for the first time in October 2012 and was sentenced to two years in prison. At that time, the prison authorities had also told the family that Tha refused to accept food and supplies from the family. Upon completing his sentence, he couldn’t walk and had lost 34 kg. Tha is a vegetarian, so he can eat only certain foods. After his release from the first prison sentence, Tha told the family that he had never refused supplies from them. The family assumed the same thing may be happening during this imprisonment. 

In addition, as of August 2019, the family is unsure if Tha’s appeal has been filed. The authorities refuses to give them any information.

Please watch our interview video and read our database profile for Mr. Vuong Van Tha for more information on his case.

For more background on the harassment of members of the Hoa Hao Buddhist sect, you can view this video (in Vietnamese, with English subtitles), which highlights the struggle of Hoa Hao Buddhist and former political prisoner Mai Thi Dung, who endured cruel treatment in prison.

© 2019 The 88 Project