A group of political prisoners held all day and night in their cells in Vietnam has launched a strike, refusing prison food to press their demand that they be allowed outside to exercise in the sunlight and fresh air, family members say.
The prisoners, who are confined at the Xuan Loc detention center in southeastern Vietnam’s Dong Nai province, have been refusing regular meals for almost 60 days, Nguyen Thi Chau, wife of political prisoner Nguyen Ngoc Anh, told RFA on Monday.
“On the sixth or seventh of last month, my husband called home, saying that he was among eight prisoners protesting against the detention center’s policy of not allowing them out in the sun,” Chau said.
“We received no further calls from him this month, and as we became worried that something might have happened to him, I expressed my concern on the internet, and he was finally allowed to call home again on Nov. 26.”
“He said that he and his fellow inmates are now rejecting prison meals, and are only eating snacks and drinking water every day,” she said.
Families’ donations of food, medicines and clothing to the prisoners have also recently been blocked, Chau said.
Anh said in his call home that political prisoners at Xuan Loc have been held inside their cells since June although all prisoners at Xuan Loc have been vaccinated and no COVID-19 cases have been found at the detention center in recent months.
Whether these restrictions apply also to criminal prisoners is unclear, Chau said.
“The political prisoners’ area is located separately at the back of the detention center and is closed off by several gates, so the political prisoners can’t see whether the criminal prisoners are being allowed out or not,” she said.
Writing to RFA in a text message, former political prisoner Nguyen Tien Trung described the damaging effects of long confinement in a cell.
“Having no exposure to sunlight for long periods of time may affect a prisoner’s eyesight due to vitamin deficiency, and they may get nervous and depressed,” he said. “And because mental and physical health is related, the longer this problem continues, the more serious it can become.”
Physical and psychological pressure is often applied to political prisoners in Vietnam to force them to confess to the “crimes” they have been charged with, Trung said.
Vietnam’s 2015 Penal Code stipulates that prisoners enjoy the right to physical exercise, to practice their religious beliefs and to perform cultural and artistic activities. They also must have access to publications, newspapers and television.
Calls seeking comment from the Xuan Loc detention center rang unanswered on Monday.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Anna Vu. Written in English by Richard Finney.