Officials say a few bad police have spoiled law enforcement's reputation
Traffic police issuing a ticket to a driver for carrying a child without a helmet. Experts say bad behavior by some police officers is responsible for a rising spate of resistance to cops by Vietnamese people across the country.
Phu Yen Province police demoted a communal police chief on Sunday for brutally beating a local teenager while blind drunk.
Now a regular patrolman, Huynh Ngoc Sanh was also dismissed from his communal Communist Party Unit for the baton attack that left 19-year-old Truong Ngoc Loi hospitalized on June 26.
Experts are now blaming such cold-hearted assaults for a wave of backlash that has hit the country, with residents lashing out at police almost daily across Vietnam.
The incident in Phu Yen had begun at around 11 p.m. that day when Quang and several other Xuan Quang 3 Commune police officers were on patrol and found Loi drinking with five others near a bus station in Thanh Duc Hamlet.
The group was not visibly breaking any law, but the police blew whistles and approached them anyway.
Intimidated, Loi's friends ran away.
Sanh, who was drunk, then accused Loi the only member of the group that did not run from the police of "resisting officials on duty" and began to beat him with a baton.
The cops handcuffed Loi and took him to the police station before releasing him at around 10 a.m. the next day.
No charge was ever filed against Loi.
His family took the badly beaten boy to Dong Xuan General Hospital where doctors identified 14 severe bruises on his chest, back and arms.
Sanh eventually offered an apology and offered the family compensation money on the condition that they would not report the assault.
The family refused both offers and told Sanh's superiors.
Bad apples, black sheep
Experts and residents say brutality and the abuse of power by a select group of police has affected the image of Vietnam's internal security forces as a whole.
The citizenry is sick and tired of being bullied by rogue officers and this is the cause of the recent resistance against law enforcement, they said.
In a recent case, A Ho Chi Minh City court sentenced Tran Dinh Thuong, 35, to a year in jail for insulting and attacking two traffic police officers who attempted to pull him over.
On March 15, the two officers, Nguyen Duc Thanh and Nguyen Trong Thanh, signaled for Thuong to stop on Thu Duc District's Linh Trung Street because he was riding a motorbike without a helmet.
Thuong refused to pull over and sped up before being stopped by the two officers on Le Van Chi Street.
After stopping, Thuong began to insult the police. He grabbed Duc Thanh's collar and began to attack him but Duc Thanh did not respond. Trong Thanh tried to stop Thuong, but he was also attacked.
The traffic police called Linh Trung Ward police who then arrested Thuong.
Opposition on the rise
Instances of people resisting police and refusing to submit to authority have become more common over the past several months.
A police source told Vietweek that there were 457 cases of "opposing government officials on duty" in Vietnam during the first six months of the year. That includes instances of citizens resisting arrest and refusing to cooperate with police.
But the figure is not only limited to interactions with police as many of the cases involve civilians interacting with government officials.
Last year, there were 700 cases in which 10 officials, including police officers, were killed and more than 100 others injured.
At a meeting between the Hanoi People's Committee and the National Assembly's Law Committee in July, Major General Tran Thuy, deputy director of the Hanoi Police Department said the number of cases in which the people defy police was on the rise.
According to Hanoi police, there have been 132 cases of resistance to police in the capital over the past three years.
Lieutenant Colonel Nguyen Van Tong of the Hanoi Traffic Police Division said he was "surprised" that previously complacent groups of people, particularly students, were now resisting police.
Serve and protect or afflict and oppress?
At the same time, it appears that instances of police brutality are on the rise, or at least they are being reported more in the media.
In a recent case, four Hanoi police officers have been arrested for allegedly beating a local resident to death at the Kim No Commune police station in the capital's Dong Anh District.
Investigators said the officers had assaulted and possibly murdered Nguyen Mau Thuan, 54, at the station on August 30, according to preliminary police reports.
The police said they took Thuan to the station because he was involved in a dispute over land with his neighbor.
At the station, Thuan was not charged with a crime.
He began to insult the police after being handcuffed, the officers said.
The officers then used four handcuffs to lock his arms and legs to a chair and Hoang Ngoc Tuyen, the communal deputy chief of police, beat him with a baton, crushing several of his bones.
Tuyen then began to crush Thuan's fingers between two pens, investigators said.
When Thuan had nearly stopped breathing, the officers took him to a nearby hospital, where he died almost immediately. Investigators said he had multiple injuries and three broken ribs.
Law enforcement is blaming the rise in opposition to authority not on police brutality but on the lenient punishments given to those who resist.
Tran Thuy, deputy director of Hanoi Police Department, said the current penalties against traffic violations stipulated by the Traffic Law are not harsh enough.
"Drivers who actively oppose traffic police are subject to VND4 million in fines and a one month suspension of their driver's license, while those who fail to follow the orders of a traffic police officer may be fined VND1.4 million and face the same suspension of their driving privileges," he said.
But punishments are worse if violators are prosecuted as criminals under the Penal Code rather than the Traffic Law.
According to lawyer Nguyen Huu The Trach of HCMC Bar Association, the act of opposing government officials is punishable by Article 257 in the Penal Code, with house arrest or jail terms from six months to three years.
He said punishments should be stricter to deter violations.
Henry Hollinger, a retired Canadian police officer who works as a consultant based in Canada and Vietnam, agreed there should be stricter punishment of those opposing government officials on duty. However, he said there should be equal measures against government officials to maintain the rule of law.
"All people are the same before the law, including the senior government officials," Hollinger said.
"They have to get rid of the different color license plates, white, blue, red etc... and all have the same color. This way the drivers of government cars get fined as well for any traffic violation."
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