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Vietnamese dissident writer held in mental hospital

Vietnamese Police (Dave/Flickr)
December 07, 2020

This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

Police in Vietnam’s capital Hanoi have transferred dissident writer and blogger Pham Thanh from the detention center where he has been held since May to a mental hospital in the town of Van Dien in Hanoi’s Than Tri district, according to his wife.

Pham Chi Thanh, also called Pham Thanh, was taken to the hospital on Nov. 24 after already seeing his stay in the detention camp extended by three months while awaiting trial, Thanh’s wife Nguyen Thi Nghiem told RFA on Monday.

“They said they would keep him in custody for four months while he was waiting for his trial, but then they extended that period by another three months,” Nghiem said, adding that she was allowed to speak to Thanh by phone while he was held in detention.

“And then they transferred him to the Central Institute of Forensic Mental Health in Van Dien,” she said.

After being told by a police investigator in a phone call on Nov. 25 to bring some things to Thanh in custody, Nghiem went to the institute to deliver some fruit and money to her husband, she said.

“I don’t understand why my husband was transferred to a mental health institute, because he is not mentally ill,” Nghiem said.

Calls seeking comment from the Central Institute of Forensic Mental Health were not answered on Monday.

Online criticisms of the state

Born in 1952, Pham Thanh had written a number of books and essays critical of Vietnam’s communist government and leaders, including a book self-published in 2019 harshly criticizing Communist Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong.

He was taken into custody on May 21 by a large group of police who burst through the door of his home and seized personal documents, two computers, and a printer, and was later charged under Article 117 of Vietnam’s penal code for “producing, storing, and disseminating information and documents against the Vietnamese state.”

In June, another Vietnamese blogger held in a psychiatric hospital while awaiting trial for criticizing the government in online postings was beaten, tied to his bed, and forcibly injected for refusing to take medication for his supposed mental illness, sources told RFA in an earlier report.

Le Anh Hung, a member of the online Brotherhood of Democracy advocacy group who had blogged for the Voice of America, was arrested in July 2018 on a charge of “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the state” under Article 331 of Vietnam’s criminal code.

Dissent is not tolerated in Vietnam, and police have rounded up growing numbers of journalists, bloggers, and other dissident voices under vaguely written laws in recent months as authorities seek to stifle critics in the run-up to the ruling Communist Party congress in January.