Trio convicted of rape released briefly, to be sent back to jail

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Three men from northern Vietnam , convicted of rape and robbery nine years ago and released early last year, have had their hopes for permanent freedom dashed by the nation's highest court.

On December 7, the Supreme People's Court rejected the request made by the Supreme People's Procuracy, the country's highest prosecution agency, to overturn the convictions of Nguyen Dinh Tinh, Nguyen Dinh Loi and Nguyen Dinh Kien.

The court ruled that the trio must serve their interrupted sentences because there is not enough evidence to establish their innocence.

In their first trial in 2002 in Ha Tay Province, which was merged into Hanoi in 2008, Tinh, and his nephews - Loi and Kien, were found guilty of robbing a couple on the night of October 24, 2000.

They were alleged to have used a knife to control and rob Nguyen Chinh Hai, and then took turns raping his girlfriend, Nguyen Thi Hong Hanh, according to the Ha Tay Province People's Court.

The court sentenced Loi, Tinh and Kien to 16, 14 and 11 years in prison, respectively.

The trio appealed. Three months later, an appeals trial was heard by the Ha Tay court, which upheld the original guilty verdicts.

During their time in prison, the men sent letters to relevant authorities every month, claiming they were innocent. Tinh, unfortunately, contracted HIV/AIDS from an inmate, the result of a physical clash with another inmate while playing sports. The men attempted to commit suicide several times.

In 2006, Loi was taken to Ha Dong General Hospital to treat his illness. He met with Pham Thi Hong, a doctor familiar with traditional medicine.

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Loi told Hong his life story, insisting that he was uninvolved in the crime. Hong checked a spot under Loi's earlobe, which she believed can identify whether a man is a virgin or not.

According to the acupuncturist, Loi's spot was still intact.

Hong then presumed that Loi and his two alleged accomplices were indeed innocent. She researched the case and found that various details were fogged by conflicting information.

She later sent hundreds of letters to relevant agencies, even threatening self-immolation, to prove her belief in the young men's innocence.

Her determination caught the attention of then President Nguyen Minh Triet, prompting him to order a review into the case.

In early 2010, the Supreme People's Procuracy issued an appeal letter proposing that the Supreme People's Court acquit the trio of their crimes because critical mistakes had been found in the investigation and prosecution procedures.

The country's highest prosecution agency said police and the court in Ha Tay failed to take the men's alibis into consideration.

Many people allegedly saw the men at a birthday party during the time the crime took place, according to the agency.

A T-shirt left behind by one of the culprits and then picked up by the victim, the only piece of evidence, was different from the one described in police documents, prosecutors said.

Shortly after the agency issued the appeal letter, the men were released from prison.

However, on December 7, the Supreme People's Court ruled that there was insufficient evidence to acquit the trio who now await a return to prison life.

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