Vietnam's parliament confronts police torture for first time

By Thai Son, Thanh Nien News

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Vice Chairman Truong Trong Nghia of the Vietnam Bar Association, at a session on the illegal use of torture during police investigations on Thursday. Photo: Thai Son Vice Chairman Truong Trong Nghia of the Vietnam Bar Association, at a session on the illegal use of torture during police investigations on Thursday. Photo: Thai Son

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Vietnam held its first public hearing to consider measures to stamp out police brutality and make it harder for heavy-handed interrogators to resort to torture and coercion.
Truong Trong Nghia, vice chairman of the Vietnam Bar Association condemned those practices  as a threat to the integrity and stability of the nation.
“Torture still exists; [investigators] treat suspects like their enemies rather than their equals,” he said during a hearing held by the National Assembly's Justice Commission on Thursday.
The hearing represented the country's first public review of the matter. 
“Wrongful verdicts, threats and torture are critical threats to the system itself. The [victims'] descendants will hold us responsible,” he said.
During the session, Minister of Public Security Tran Dai Quang reported that 19 police officers have been fired for torturing suspects between 2011 and 2013.
During the same three year period, 183 others were disciplined for violating investigative procedures and regulations through dismissal, demotion or reassignment, he said.
According to vice head of the Supreme People’s Court Nguyen Son, the use of torture by police is on the rise.
The courts nationwide have heard ten cases involving 23 police officers accused of torture between 2011 and 2013.
Of those cases, the court saw two defendants in 2011, seven in 2012 and fourteen in 2013, he said.
Nguyen Hai Phong, vice director of the Supreme People’s Procuracy – Vietnam highest prosecutors office, said the actual number could be higher.
Lenient sentences
During the recent National Assembly session, the chairman of the Vietnam Bar Association Le Thuc Anh said the nation's maximum punishment for torturing a suspect in the course of an investigation--15 years in prison--is too lenient.
In some localities, those convicted of the crime have been granted even more lenient sentences by judges who factor in the officers' professional records or the circumstances that led to the crime, he said.
“The law itself is to lenient and courts hand down even more lenient punishments,” he said.
Nguyen Van Hien, chairman of the National Assembly’s Legal Committee, said torture has led to many wrongful verdicts.
“There have been [lenient] sentences at wrongful degrees that anyone would know it is wrong without reading the law. How the judge would be handled?” he said.
Nguyen Sy Cuong, a Legal Committee member, said there should be statistics on the number of people who die in police custody.
Oversight needed
At the session, many deputies proposed solutions to prevent threats and torture during the course of an investigation, including making the use of video and audio recording devices mandatory for the entirety of police interrogations.
Le Thi Nga, deputy chairwoman of the Legal Committee, said that the Ministry of Public Security should allow a third party to record video and/or audio tapes of confessions if the ministry claims they don't have the money to do so.
“If we are doing [investigations] properly, we have nothing to fear,” she said.
Deputy Minister of Public Security Le Quy Vuong said suspects should have the right to insist that their interrogations are recorded.
He said his ministry is researching many measures to avoid torture and coercion, including punishing supervisors for the misconduct of their subordinates.
Phong, the vice director of the Supreme People’s Procuracy, said investigators should be trained to improve legal awareness.
“Even if we pass a law requiring the use of cameras, torture can continue if those involved are unwilling to abide by it,” he said.

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