Đời SốngVietnam

Inmate goes on hunger strike to protest prison conditions

A Vietnamese prisoner-of-conscience who is serving a five-year sentence said he was beginning a hunger strike to protest harsh prison conditions – and to convince a cellmate to end his own hunger strike, his wife told Radio Free Asia.

Dang Dinh Bach, a lawyer and the director of the environmental group that had been campaigning to reduce Vietnam’s reliance on coal, was arrested in July 2021 and sentenced to five years for tax evasion. 

Bach told his wife Tran Phuong Thao during a visit Thursday at Prison No. 6 in the northern province of Nghe An that he would stop eating food on Friday, Feb. 2, for two reasons. 


He wanted to persuade his cellmate Tran Huynh Duy Thuc to stop the hunger strike he started on Jan. 27. He was also protesting that Prison No. 6 did not guarantee his rights to send letters and call home, and that the canteen inside the facility did not sell him vegetables and fruit.

In Vietnam, prisoners are fed with basic prison food, but can also buy higher quality food from the canteen, and inmates are allowed to receive non-perishable food from their families. 

“Bach said he would start his hunger strike from Feb. 2 because Prison No. 6 does not comply with the law and does not ensure the rights of prisoners,” Thao told RFA Vietnamese.

“Thuc has been on hunger strike since January 27 and now he is very tired. He is very weak and there are times when he cannot breathe,” she said. “Bach advised Thuc to stop the hunger strike right now, so Bach wants to support him so that he can convince Thuc to stop his hunger strike.”

No free speech

Thuc was arrested in 2009 for writing online articles criticizing Vietnam’s one-party communist state and convicted in 2010 on charges of plotting to overthrow the government. 

He is in the last year of his 16-year sentence and began his hunger strike on Jan. 27 because the prison canteen has refused to sell him food.

Bach told his wife that in December 2023 that he wrote two letters to his family but that they had not received them.


At the end of January, Bach registered to call his family, but the prison only allowed him to call to exchange health information. He wanted to say other things, none of which are illegal, but the prison cut off his right to call home because he did not agree to keep all discussion to the subject of his health.

Thao said that since September, Bach and three other political prisoners in an area of the prison called Camp 1 have not received rations from the prison.

Bach only ate dry food sent by his family, and wanted to buy more vegetables and fruit from the prison canteen, but the canteen always replied that there was no food to sell to this group of political prisoners, she said. 

The prison did not even provide boiling water so that Bach could process dry foods such as bean flour and dried vermicelli noodles that his family sent in, forcing him to use cold water during the dead of winter.

“The Vietnamese state, in the spirit of building a rule-of-law state, needs to ensure strict enforcement of the constitution and laws to protect human rights, which for a long time has created frustration and injustice in the entire society in general and those in detention in particular,” Thao quoted her husband as saying.

RFA called Detention Center No. 6 by telephone to ask about Bach and Thuc’s situation, but received no response.

Prison abuse

Bach has told his family about several incidents of abuse he has experienced in prison.

In August 2023, a group of people holding knives jumped into the political prisoner detention area of Camp 1 one night to threaten four prisoners including Thuc and Bach after the four demanded that the prison publicly post prisoners’ rations.

Bach also says that prison guards hit him in the head, causing serious injuries, but the prison denies his accusations.

Bach has been on hunger strikes before, the most recent one lasted a month and ended in mid-July 2023.

In addition to being sentenced to 5 years in prison, Bach must also pay 1.4 billion dong (US$57,000) in fines for his tax evasion case.

The government is putting pressure on Thao to get her to pay, making it difficult for her to register her residence, which is necessary for her to send their 3-year-old son to public school.

The family is also not able to register for water bills. Thao is currently not employed and is raising their young children alone.

RFA attempted to contact the Hanoi City Civil Judgment Enforcement Department to verify these claims but the person on the phone said those questions could only be answered in person.

Translated by Hanh Seide. Edited by Eugene Whong.


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