Vietnam: Citizen journalist dies in detention

Independent citizen journalist, Do Cong Duong, has died in detention on August 2 while serving an eight-year sentence for reporting on land seizures in Vietnam’s Bac Ninh province. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) condemns Duong’s death in custody and urges the Vietnamese authorities to end their assault on human rights and press freedom.

Citizen journalist Do Cong Duong died in custody on August 2. Credit: RFA

On August 2, Do Cong Duong died at a hospital in Vietnam’s coastal Nghe An region, where he was serving an eight-year sentence at the province’s Detention Centre No. 6. The Prison Administrator has since rejected Duong’s family’s request to bring his body home and instead conducted a local funeral.

Duong developed various illnesses throughout his imprisonment, including heart disease, pneumonia, and respiratory failure. His family first noted his decline in health in April 2018, petitioning the prison superintendent for medical assistance which was continually refused.

When Duong finally received medical treatment at a hospital in Thanh Choung district, he was too ill to recover.

Duong was originally arrested in January 2018 after he recorded a forced eviction in Bac Ninh, his home province. A land rights activist who often live streamed video reports on the Tieng Dan TV Facebook page, Duong was charged with ‘disturbing public order’ and ‘abusing democratic freedoms’.

A court originally sentenced him to 48 months in prison, the harshest sentence available under Article 331 of Vietnam’s 2015 penal code. Following two further trials and a successful appeal, Duong was sentenced to a total of eight years. 

Following Doung’s death, an open letter from families of political prisoners demanded proper access to medical treatment and called for the human rights of prisoners to be upheld. Duong is the second political prisoner to die at Nghe An’s Detention Centre No. 6 since his imprisonment.

In December 2019, Dao Quang Thuc died while he served a 13-year sentence on charges of ‘subversion’. While officials claim he died of a stroke, the family said his body was never released from the autopsy. Like Duong, Thuc’s body was not returned to his home, and he was buried in the prison’s cemetery.

Jailed journalists, activists and political prisoners in Vietnam can face harsh conditions in jail, including cramped, humid cells and a lack of proper medical care. In March 2019, the United Nations Human Rights Committee published three recommendations to Vietnamese authorities concerning the death penalty, freedom of speech, and the treatment of human rights activists.

The IFJ said:“The inhuman treatment and denial of basic care for journalists and media workers in detention is a grave violation of human rights. The IFJ strongly condemns the deplorable death of Do Cong Duong in custody and calls on the Vietnamese authorities to immediately release all journalists in prison. Swift international action must be taken to ensure that other journalists jailed in Vietnam are able to survive their sentences.”

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