Vietnamese land rights activist in poor health in prison
Bleeding and diagnosed with uterine fibroids, she was not allowed to remain in hospital
RFA | 2023.03.07
Bleeding and apparently afflicted with uterine fibroids, Vietnamese prisoner of conscience Nguyen Thi Tam has been suffering in prison without adequate medical care, her family told Radio Free Asia.
Human rights groups have blamed her condition on horrible prison conditions and demanded her immediate release.
Tam is serving a 6-year sentence at Gia Trung Prison in the southern central province of Gia Lai for “making, storing, distributing or disseminating information, documents and items against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam” in violation of Article 117 of the penal code – a law frequently used by authorities to quiet dissent.
During a phone call on Mar. 3, Tam told her daughter Nguyen Thi Mai that she was suffering from severe bleeding and declining health and had to be sent to the Gia Lai provincial hospital on Feb. 28. She made the 50-kilometer (31-mile) journey in a box truck with no medical personnel on hand.
"My mother said that she felt exhausted and weak as many parts of the road were bumpy while she was bleeding a lot. However, the driver refused to stop,” Mai told RFA’s Vietnamese Service. “The doctor concluded that my mother had uterine fibroids, but she was not allowed to stay at the hospital for monitoring or proper treatment."
Tam was sent back to the prison on the same day, and she is now receiving treatment at the prison’s clinic, but the condition has left her weak to the point that she cannot even walk without the help of others.
Dong Tam commune dispute
Authorities arrested Tam and three others in June 2020 for expressing their opinions on social media about a land dispute at the Dong Tam commune that turned violent when authorities raided the commune in January of that year, leading to the deaths of three protesters and a village leader.
Tam has served prison sentences twice before in 2008 and 2014.
Conditions at the prison are difficult, Mai said. She said Tam told her that she was ordered to participate in cleaning the prison, but given no specific goal or target like other inmates, and she was “allowed” to grow vegetables for her own consumption.
Failure to participate in the prison labor would result in constant confinement in her cell and she would be denied opportunities to move around or communicate with other inmates.
Additionally, the prison’s water is unclean, so inmates are forced to buy bottled water from the prison canteen for a 500,000 dong fee (more than US$20).
RFA attempted to contact the Gia Trung Prison to verify the information but no one answered the phone.
The London-based Amnesty International told RFA that the prison’s failure to provide proper medical treatment to Nguyen Thi Tam has made her ongoing medical problems worse.
Joe Freedman, the media manager for Amnesty International’s Southeast Asia Office, said in an email that three other prisoners of conscience had passed away because of poor or late medical treatment in Vietnamese prisons.
"Amnesty International is calling on the Vietnamese authorities to urgently provide adequate health care to Nguyen Thi Tam and to immediately and unconditionally release her and other activists imprisoned for peacefully exercising their human rights," he said.
Translated by Anna Vu. Edited by Eugene Whong and Malcolm Foster.
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