A retired teacher who posted writings on his Facebook page criticizing Vietnam’s government has died in prison, with authorities calling stroke his cause of death and refusing to return his body to family members, sources said.
Dao Quang Thuc, who was serving a 13-year prison term for subversion in Nghe An province, died at 8:30 a.m. on Dec. 10 at a local hospital where he had been taken by prison guards, Dao’s son Dao Duy Tung told RFA’s Vietnamese Service on Tuesday.
“The doctors said that my father died of a brain hemorrhage and bronchitis,” the younger Dao said. “We are not allowed to bring his body home for burial, though, and under pressure from the authorities we have had to let them do the autopsy.”
Dao, 58, who was serving his term at Prison No. 6 in Nghe An’s Thanh Chuong district, had shown signs of illness in prison and was taken to the Nghe An Friendship General Hospital for treatment on Dec. 3, Dao’s son said.
Reached for comment, an official on duty at the Nghe An hospital told reporters on Tuesday to come to the hospital in person for more information. Meanwhile, calls to Prison No. 6—where Dao and two other prisoners had carried out a hunger strike in June and July to protest poor conditions—rang unanswered.
Speaking to RFA, Thailand-based Amnesty International campaign manager Nguyen Truong Son called police refusal to return Dao’s body to his family for burial unacceptable.
“This kind of denial is not just immoral for Vietnam, but is contrary to ethical standards around the world,” Nguyen said.
Amnesty International is now calling for the Vietnamese government to intervene in the case and to order that Dao’s body be returned, Nguyen said.
Sentenced in September 2018 to a 14-year prison term that was later reduced by one year, Dao had called in his online writings and in public for better protections for Vietnam’s environment and had protested what many in Vietnam consider encroachments by China in the South China Sea.
China’s territorial claims and construction of artificial islands in the region have sparked frequent anti-China protests in Vietnam, which the one-party communist government in Hanoi fears as a potential threat to its own political control.
In a statement Tuesday, Human Rights Watch deputy Asia director Phil Robertson said that Dao’s death from an alleged stroke “again puts Vietnam’s horrible prison conditions in the spotlight.”
“A lack of adequate food and health services is a huge problem in Vietnam’s prisons, and even when prisoners are seriously ill they cannot get temporary medical release from prison. These problems are compounded by the severe restrictions regularly imposed on prison visits by family members and legal counsel.”
“Quite clearly, the authorities have a lot of explaining to do about what happened to Dao Quang Thuc,” Robertson said. “The world is watching and waiting.”
Vietnam has been consistently rated “Not Free” in the areas of internet and press freedom by Freedom House, a U.S.-based watchdog group.
Dissent is not tolerated in the communist nation, and authorities routinely use a set of vague provisions in the penal code to detain dozens of writers and bloggers.
Estimates of the number of prisoners of conscience now held in Vietnam’s jails vary widely, with Human Rights Watch putting the number in October at 138. The rights group Defend the Defenders meanwhile puts the number as at least 240, with 36 convicted this year alone.