Political prisoner Nguyen Lan Thang is allegedly being psychologically abused, according to his wife. Le Bich Vuong told RFA, “Since his arrival at Prison No. 5, he has been held in cell block K1. It’s not a solitary confinement area, but he has had to share the cell with two or sometimes three inmates, some of whom showed signs of mental illness.” Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at New York-based Human Rights Watch, told RFA, “Guards’ use of so-called trustee prisoners to terrorize political prisoners is particularly common since the prison officials will then claim they are not responsible.”
Nguyen Lan Thang has chosen to not appeal his conviction for “anti-state propaganda” and has begun serving his five-year sentence, according to his wife. Le Bich Vuong went to visit her husband at the pre-trial detention center on June 15 only to learn that he had been transferred to Thanh Hoa Prison No. 5 earlier that morning. She said Thang decided not to appeal in order to “lessen the pressure on the family” and because “appeals never change the result but only lengthen the time he has to suffer the terrible conditions” at the detention center. Thang also told her that he viewed his prison term as “a long trip away from home about equal to the time he spent in college.”
In a secret trial that lasted only a few hours, a court in Hanoi convicted Nguyen Lan Thang of distributing “anti-state propaganda” and sentenced the engineer-turned-activist to six years of imprisonment plus two years of supervised release. It is not known whether Thang’s wife, Le Thi Bich Vuong, was allowed to attend the trial.
Just before then US Secretary of State Blinken’s arrival in Vietnam, the U.S. State Department condemned the verdict against Thang, saying: “We urge the Vietnamese government to immediately release and drop all charges against Nguyen Lan Thang and other individuals who remain in detention for peacefully exercising and promoting human rights.”
Luan Le, one of Thang’s lawyers, said his client’s indictment is based on 12 interviews with BBC Vietnamese between 2017 and 2020, during one of which Thang commented that the revolutionary heroine Vo Thi Sau “was suspected by many of suffering from mental illness.” This was the only evidence that was admissible in court to accuse Thang of violating Article 117, according to a Facebook posting by Luan Le.
Lawyers for Nguyen Lan Thang had been notified on March 30 that his “closed trial” would take place on April 12, giving them only 13 days to prepare. His wife, Le Bich Vuong, did not receive any notification. By rule of closed trials, she would not be allowed to attend the hearing; however, after writing the courts to make a request, Vuong received a letter telling her to “be present near the courthouse area” on the morning of April 12.
Since Thang’s arrest in July 2022, the family has not been allowed to see him. His wife is still trying to recover some of her personal belongings that were taken by the police when they arrested him. Thang’s lawyers only saw their client for the first time on Feb. 16, nearly one month after his indictment was announced on Jan. 17. Thang told his lawyers he had not received the indictment and was advised to file a complaint, which he tried to do. However, prison officials refused to give him any pen or paper. When Thang met his lawyers for the second time a few weeks later, he told them about this. At their third meeting on March 30, Thang’s lawyers were finally able to show him the indictment.
Healthwise, Thang has gained 7-8kg, which is unusual and alarming, according to his wife. Le Bich Vuong told Project 88 that she had been writing and calling multiple agencies the past few months to inquire about her husband and the trial but she was never given a straight answer. Some of her inquiries were not even answered. It remains to be seen if she will actually be allowed inside the courtroom where Nguyen Lan Thang will be tried in secret. By law, his lawyers won’t be allowed to discuss the proceedings in public.