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Radio Free Asia

Inmates Riot After COVID-19 Spreads in Vietnamese Prison

2021-07-07 -- Inmates angered by the spread of COVID-19 at a detention center in Vietnam's largest city started a disturbance during a medical examination this week, drawing attention to the healthcare situation in the country's prisons, state media reported.

During the examination at Ho Chi Minh City's Chi Hoa Detention Center, 81 people tested positive for the coronavirus, including 45 staff members and 36 detainees.

An account of the incident appeared on Wednesday morning in Tuoi Tre, but the country's largest newspaper took down the report by mid-day.

Video obtained by RFA showed gunshots fired at the detention center as staff attempted to gain control over the uprising. There were no reports of casualties resulting from the incident.

According to reports in other media outlets and the Ministry of Health's website, the first infection at Chi Hoa was recorded on June 27, when an officer of the detention center tested positive at a local hospital.

Ho Chi Minh City Police tested the rest of the center's employees and prisoners on June 28, but news of the uprising did not appear until Tuesday after the disturbance was finished.

Police reported Tuesday night that a 26-year-old male detainee died of respiratory failure, septic shock and pneumonia. A quick test showed that he had been COVID-19 positive, but the death was not recorded in Ministry of Health records as a coronavirus-related death.

The man had been transferred to Chi Hoa on May 2. After the medical examination, he was sent to his cell for quarantine in accordance with health regulations.

A COVID-19 infection was also detected in nearby Binh Duong province's Bo La Detention Center on June 28. The prisoner who tested positive had arrived from Chi Hoa on June 23.

Local media and authorities have not provided information on the coronavirus situation in Bo La or other detention centers.

Family members of political prisoners told RFA's Vietnamese Service that they are concerned about the inmates' health.

"I am very worried after learning there is a confirmed infection at the Bo La Detention Center," said Nguyen Mai, the wife of Le Quy Loc, a detainee at nearby An Phuoc Detention Center.

"I am not only worried for my husband, but also for the other prisoners," she said.

Prisoners pass through Bo La before moving to other centers in the province.

Nguyen Thi Hue, the mother of prisoner of conscience Huynh Duc Thanh Binh who is detained at Xuan Loc Detention Center in Dong Nai Province, told RFA that an outbreak of the virus in a prison would be frightening.

"Food there is insufficient, and prisoners' health could be compromised," said Hue.

"I think not only me, but all families of prisoners are gravely concerned," she said.

In addition to the risk of contracting COVID-19, the harsh prison conditions often lead to serious health issues including diabetes and cardiovascular diseases that could cause complications when combined with a COVID-19 infection.

Hue called on prisons to enact necessary policies to ensure the safety of inmates.

"To protect the prisoners' health, I agree that families should not be allowed to see them. However, families should be allowed to send in food and gifts for them," she said.

"I also think that prisoners should be allowed to call home twice per month instead of only once, so that families like us can be updated on their health."

Mai said that she hoped authorities would provide prisoners' families with timely information about the COVID-19 situation at detention centers.

"The situation should be updated daily for the media, so the people have access to information. The authorities should not be silent," she said.

Amnesty International urged Vietnam to be more transparent about the coronavirus system in the country's prisons.

"We call on the Vietnamese Government to make public the information about infections at Chi Hoa and other detention centers," Ming Yu Hah, Amnesty's deputy regional director for East and Southeast Asian and the Pacific, told RFA in an email.

"The Government should take immediate actions to protect the detainees' lives and health," she said.

Hah also called for the release of prisoners of conscience and keeping the prison population at minimal levels.

Amnesty also called on Vietnam to ensure detainees have access to regular testing and treatment, as well as vaccines.

Reported by RFA's Vietnamese Service. Translated by Anna Vu. Written in English by Eugene Whong.

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