President Truong Tan Sang has instructed relevant agencies to punish five former police officers who tortured a suspect to death in 2012 more harshly after a recent verdict by a local court was criticized by the media and the public as too lenient.
“President Truong Tan Sang asked the Head Judge of the Supreme People’s Court and head of the Supreme People’s Procuracy [Vietnam’s highest prosecutors’ office] … to make sure judicial agencies applied the law correctly and report to the President about how the case is handled,” the presidential office said in a directive Wednesday.
A court in the south-central province of Phu Yen on April 3 sentenced three police to jail terms and handed down two suspended sentences to two others for torturing a suspect to death during interrogation.
Nguyen Than Thao Thanh and Nguyen Minh Quyen got five and two years respectively, and Pham Ngoc Man got 18 months. Nguyen Tan Quang and Do Nhu Huy are on probation for 18 and 12 months respectively.
The five were found guilty of beating Ngo Thanh Kieu, 32, to death while questioning him on burglary allegations.
Following the trial, the media has reported widespread public discontent with the verdict and editorialized that it was too lenient.
On May 12, 2012, a group of officers went to Kieu’s house in Tay Hoa District’s Hoa Dong Commune at 3:15 am to take him in for questioning on the suspicion that he and two other men had carried out some burglaries in Tuy Hoa Town, the capital city of Phu Yen.
They handcuffed him and took him to the commune police station without an arrest warrant.
At around 8 a.m. Kieu, still handcuffed, was taken to the Tuy Hoa Town police station.
Quyen, 42, Man, 34, and Quang, 39, were assigned to interrogate him; Huy, 29, was to interrogate a suspected accomplice.
At noon Huy went into Kieu's room to interrogate him and compare testimonies.
Thanh, 30, was assigned to watch Kieu while the other officers went out for lunch.
At around 2 p.m. Kieu was taken to hospital with multiple injuries on his body.
He died the same evening. A post-mortem showed that Kieu had died of brain and other injuries.
According to prosecutors, Thanh had repeatedly hit Kieu on the head with a rubber baton, causing the brain injuries.
The other four had also hit Kieu’s body with rubber batons during interrogation, they said.
At the trial Thanh denied hitting Kieu on the head, saying he was about to hit Kieu when he begged him not to, and he stopped.
“Kieu told me he had already been beaten black and blue by other officers,” Thanh said.
After the trial, Kieu’s relatives told the media that they would appeal the verdicts, saying it was too lenient and that some of them had gotten away with suspended sentences.
‘Do you have conscience?’
Earlier, prosecutors had proposed suspended sentences against four defendants, which the victim’s sister Ngo Thi Tuyet protested as too lenient.
“What is the law when my brother was beaten to death but four defendants only face suspended sentences?”
She lamented that her brother’s hands and feet were handcuffed and five police officers tortured him with weapons.
“A death-row prisoner is fed with a last meal. What guilt does my brother have that he was not fed from the morning until afternoon?” she said, adding that she witnessed the autopsy examiners finding nothing in Kieu’s stomach.
“Do you have conscience? What do you think when seeing pictures of his body with multiple injuries?” she said.
Local media reported that it was rare that a defendant, such as Thanh, denounced four others who used to be his superiors.
“You beat a person to death but do not dare to accept that but shifting the blame on me,” he told the other four defendants at the court.
When the court allowed him to say his last words, he said: “I feel very shameful when standing by these people. They beat a person to death but do not dare to accept it.”
Nguyen Cong Danh, director of Phu Yen Judicial Department, said he sent a representative to the trial and that he thought the verdict was not strict enough.
“Most people say the verdict should be reconsidered,” he was quoted by Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper as saying.
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.