Vietnam's lawmakers divided over the right to silence for crime suspects

By Manh Quan - Truong Son, Thanh Nien News

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 Nguyen Thanh Chan (C) has made headlines in Vietnam since April 2014 when he had his name cleared after serving 10 years as part of a life sentence for murder. Photo: Ha An

A government proposal aiming to offer crime suspects the right to remain silent during interrogation has been panned by several lawmakers at a National Assembly meeting on Wednesday.
The proposal, which is among draft amendments to the Criminal Procedural, came at a time when several cases of wrongful conviction have been making headlines.
In most of the cases, police were suspected of coercing the suspects into false confessions.
If the new legislation is passed, crime suspects will no longer be obliged to make any statement when taken into custody.
But there has been some strong opposition. 
Trinh Xuyen, a representative from the central province of Thanh Hoa, called the proposal "very nonsensical" and "unacceptable," saying that it will cause trouble for investigators.
Suspects have an obligation to talk, explain and prove that they are innocent, said Xuyen, who is also the director of Thanh Hoa's police department.
In fact, most of assemblymen who shared Xuyen's view are police officers.
Le Dong Phong, vice director of Ho Chi Minh City's police department, said suspects cannot be coerced into confession, but it does not mean that they have the right to stay silent, as their statement is also evidence to be collected.
"Do not mess everything up just because there're some wrongful convictions," he said.
"The law needs to guarantee people's rights, but it also needs to facilitate agencies to work, otherwise we are going to have our hands tied in fighting crimes," Deputy Minister of Public Security Dang Van Hieu said.
In the meantime, lawyer Truong Trong Nghia, another representative of HCMC, pointed out a tendency among law enforcement agencies to see confessions as more important than concrete evidence, which has caused many cases of wrongful conviction recently.
The right to silence has already been mentioned in international conventions and applied in many regional countries, Nghia said.
"A failure to enforce it means that we are lowering the standards of our criminal procedures and our people's rights compared to international ones," he said.
Tran Van Do, a representative from the Mekong Delta Province of An Giang and also a former deputy chief of the Supreme People's Court, voiced his support for the proposed regulation.
A right to silence means that suspects can tell investigators whatever they think necessary and refuse to say anything that is not in their favor, according to Do.
"People have a right to remain silent, while state agencies which want to press charges against them are responsible for proving they are guilty," he said.
Further division
Lawmakers' opinion was also divided on a draft amendment which required interrogation to be recorded or video taped. 
Deputy public security minister Hieu said the regulation is "not necessary for every case," considering in many cases, suspects were caught red-handed and confessed to the crime. 
Moreover, the government cannot afford to equip every police station with recording devices, he said.
Do Van Duong, a member of the National Assembly's Judicial Committee, agreed, said the proposal is not practical because investigators are "not stupid" and leave the recorders on if they really want to torture suspects into confession.
Not to mention that the regulation can cause a waste of state budget, and unnecessary paperwork, he said.
On the other hand, Le Minh Thong, vice chairman of the committee, said the rule is needed, as his committee's surveys showed that torture and coerced confession did happen during interrogation.
Regarding concerns over financial capacity, he said Vietnam can apply the rule at certain stations first, before making it effective on a bigger scale.
"Our country still has financial difficulties, but we cannot let that prevent us from protecting human rights," Nguyen Thanh Bo, another assemblyman from Thanh Hoa, said in support of the draft amendment.

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