Mr. Tran Huynh Duy Thuc, Vietnam’s leading democracy activist serving a 16-year prison term, has been on hunger strike since November 24 to protest the Supreme Court’s failure to respond to his remaining request to waive his penalty, and he decided to go on a hunger strike “to death,” if his request is not meet according to his family.
Ms. Tran Dieu Lien from Ho Chi Minh City, his sister, informed VOA on December 2, two days after visiting him at the Prison camp No. 6 in Thanh Chuong district, Nghe An province.
“My family and I visited Thuc on November 30, knowing that Thuc has been on a hunger strike since November 24. That day Thuc was very weak, when he came out there were security officers accompanying him. While talking, Thuc was out of breath. Thuc said that he went on a hunger strike 7 days before, and he felt very tired.”
Regarding the reason for Mr. Thuc’s hunger strike, Ms. Lien said:
“The hunger strike is because the Supreme Court did not answer Thuc’s appeal for the remaining penalty exemption that Thuc has done since July 7, 2018. On August 19, 2020, Thuc petitioned the Supreme Court but so far the Court has remained silent.”
“Thuc declares to carry out the hunger strike to demand the State and the Supreme Court uphold the law.”
“Consciousness says it will go on an indefinite hunger strike, and possibly a hunger strike to death until the Supreme Court answers the petition.”
Ms. Lien said that according to Vietnam’s Criminal Code amended in 2015, Thuc should be released immediately, but the authorities “intentionally” do not apply the provisions but tries to interpret the law in their own way to uphold the 16-year sentence given in 2009.
“This is not only inconsistent with the current law but also goes against the civilization and progress of mankind,” Lien said.
VOA contacted the Ministry of Public Security, the Prison camp No. 6’s administration, and the Supreme People’s Court to learn more about Mr. Thuc’s hunger strike and his request but received no response from the two agencies.
In an interview at the end of May 2018, lawyer Ngo Ngoc Trai, the legal consultant for Mr. Thuc’s family, told VOA of his recent effort to ask the state president to give him pardon is based on the basis of legal changes which are considered “beneficial” for Mr. Thuc.
Vietnam’s revised Criminal Code 2015, effective from the first day of 2018, has a change in the article on crimes of “activities aimed at overthrowing the people’s administration.” An additional section of the article about “preparing to commit the crimes” is with a penalty of 1 to 5 years in prison, much lighter than the offense.
Activist Nguyen Tien Trung in Ho Chi Minh City wrote on Facebook on December 2: “Prisoner of conscience Tran Huynh Duy Thuc went on a hunger strike for more than 10 days to demand that the court responds to his complaints. The court of this country is playing the ‘silence is golden,’ pretending to be deaf.”
Ms. Lien informed VOA of Mr. Thuc’s message:
“Thuc told our family that the worst case must be taken into account. He asked us to send his message to everyone.”
Ms. Lien read the piece of paper that Mr. Tran Huynh Duy Thuc, 54 years old, wrote from the prison to his family and community:
“I’m sorry dad, family and everyone.
I apologize for not going to succeed with you, continue on the path of enlightenment for the nation and for humanity, the struggles need to be towards human supremacy, take advantage of my departure to push this struggle to the end this year and next year.”
In 2009, Mr. Tran Huynh Duy Thuc, an entrepreneur in the telecommunications industry and founder of the democracy movement called Vietnam Pathway, was sentenced by Ho Chi Minh City’s People’s Court to 16 years in prison and 5 years of probation for “working to overthrow the people’s administration.” In this case, activists Le Cong Dinh, Nguyen Tien Trung, Le Thang Long were also imprisoned but and all three have been released from prison.
On May 5, 2016, Mr. Thuc was forcibly transferred from Xuyen Moc Prison camp in Ba Ria-Vung Tau Province to the Prison camp No. 6 in Nghe An province after he filled a petition accused the prison’s authorities of maltreating prisons there.
At Prison camp No. 6 in Thanh Chuong district, Thuc went on a hunger strike several times to appeal for the rule of law and demand a referendum on political institutions.
In May 2019, the US House of Representatives Tom Lantos Human Rights Committee said Congressman Zoe Lofgren had sponsored prisoner of conscience Tran Huynh Duy Thuc and called on the Vietnamese government to release him.