Nguyen Thanh Chan (in white) is mobbed by neighbors as is brought home last November after serving 10 years of a wrongful life sentence for murder. Experts have called for more transparency during investigations to protect the rights of suspect and prevent abusive - often violent and deadly - interrogations. Photo by Ha An
A 39-year-old man in the Central Highlands was allegedly beaten to death by local police who were interrogating him for supposedly stealing pepper.
The victim, identified only as N. of Dao Nghia Ward in Dak Rlap District, Dak Nong Province, was initially caught and tied by pepper plant owner Huynh Tan Du on February 13.
Du informed the ward police to arrest him for investigation, Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper reported. N.’s wife, Phan Thi Tam, said she found her husband dragging himself on the ground and knocking at their door at around 7:30 p.m. the same day. He was found dead in the early morning on the following day.
Local newspapers have reported many similar deaths - some occurring at police stations during interrogations and some after being released - prompting calls for better guarantees of the rights of the accused and for more police transparency.
In the case of N., Tam said he vomited and grumbled about pain after he returned home. However, it was only when he was found dead on the following morning that she checked his body and found many bruises and wounds.
He was totally healthy and had no injuries before being taken to the police station, she said.
Three policemen from Dao Nghia Ward - Nguyen Huu Tuyen, Le Van Tam and Tran Van Cong - have since admitted to provincial investigation police that they used violence against N. They said they had beaten him with clubs and fists because they thought his confessions were dishonest.
Colonel Nguyen Van Hung, deputy director of Dak Nong’s police department, said initial autopsy examinations found that N had 33 bruises and wounds, including nine to his head and face.
“Three ward police admitted to beating N. but we have yet to identify whether those injuries were the main cause for his death. The autopsy result will provide evidence to decide whether or not to charge the three policemen criminally,” he said.
Cases like N.’s are not uncommon in Vietnam, prompting many experts to call for more transparency during interrogations to protect both the suspects and the police’s reputation.
Duong Trung Quoc, a prominent lawmaker, said a suspect has all the rights of a citizen before an authorized agency decides that he or she is guilty.
“However, governmental offices have only admitted to torturing when there is very clear evidence in cases when residents were injured or died after... being interrogated,” he was quoted by Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper as saying.
He said it is very important to improve awareness of the law among police officers and teach them the necessity of obeying the law during the execution of their duties.
“Besides, I think there is a simple way to solve the problem if the interrogation is supervised,” he said. “There should be a camera to record it that can be used both for investigation and for supervision.”
Lawyer Nguyen Van Hau, deputy chairman of the HCMC Jurists’ Association, said violations by investigators during interrogation could have been easily avoided if investigation agencies strictly respect the right of arrestees to ask for a lawyer.
The Criminal Procedures Code stipulates the participation of a defense lawyer at the beginning step of investigations except for crimes that can affect national secrets or national security, he said.
“However in reality, very few lawyers are allowed to get involved right after the suspect is detained to protect the legal rights of their clients. They have been mostly allowed to get involved only after investigators have made their conclusions,” he said.
He said in some cases, the arrestees are not aware of their rights to ask for a lawyer or cannot afford to do so.
“However, the main reason is that investigation agencies do not let the arrestees be aware of their rights, especially the right to a defense attorney,” he said.
Hau proposed that there should be judicial reforms that give lawyers more rights.
“For example, the confession of detainees is valid only when there is the signature of their lawyer,” he said.
“Then, lawyers can promote their roles in protecting the legal rights of the detainees and thus, wrongful convictions will be reduced.”