Vietnam: police claim suicide in disputed case of Hmong Christian who died in police custody 11/06/2013
The family of Hoang Van Ngai, the Hmong Christian who died in police custody on 17 March, was notified in mid-May that the Vietnamese authorities' investigation confirmed his death was caused by “suicide by self-electrocution.” However, the family believes that he was killed extra-judicially because of his defence of his church and determination to stand up to corrupt local officials.
Hoang Van Ngai was an elder of Bui Tre Church, which belongs to the legally recognised Evangelical Church of Vietnam (South). Ngai's older brother believes he made enemies amongst government officials because he stood up against abuses of power and refused to pay bribes. He also defended the church when the authorities tried to force them to close.
Ngai was arrested on 15 March with his elder brother, Hoang Van Pa. His wife and sister-in-law were forcibly detained the day before. The police did not present or refer to any arrest warrant or temporary detention order. On 17 March, Ngai's brother heard the sound of violent beating coming from his brother's cell. When the police took Ngai out of his cell, his brother saw that he was “completely limp as if he was dead, gone, purple marks on his throat.” Photographs of Ngai's corpse show severe bruising which were not there before he was detained.
On 18 March, the police headquarters announced that Ngai was dead; however, his family felt that this announcement did not make clear the reason for his death. The family submitted an urgent petition to the Chief of Police in Dak Nong Province, contesting the suggestion made by the Chairman of the People's Committee that Ngai committed suicide. The case was widely publicised, and several international organisations and government representatives raised the case with the Vietnamese authorities. In mid-May, after two months of petitioning, the authorities finally notified the family that their investigation had confirmed the original finding of suicide by self-electrocution.
CSW's Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said, “Ngai appears to have been targeted for his Christian faith and his determination to stand up to corrupt officials. The authorities' failure to address the questions raised by Ngai's death properly cast serious doubt on the government's commitment to the rights provided for in the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Vietnam is a party, including provisions against the arbitrary deprivation of life (Article 6), arbitrary detention (Article 10), and the use of torture or cruel, degrading and inhuman treatment or punishment (Article 7). We therefore call on the government to conduct a full investigation into this case immediately, taking into account the testimonies of Ngai's brother and other prisoners, photographic evidence, and the circumstances surrounding his arrest, imprisonment and death.”