Elderly members of an environmental protection group jailed in 2013 in Vietnam on charges of plotting to overthrow the government are “seriously ill,” according to the wife of the group’s leader, who called for international support, saying requests to suspend their sentences on medical grounds have gone unanswered.
Twenty-two members of the Council for the Laws and Public Affairs of Bia Son, named for a mountain in south central Vietnam’s coastal Phu Yen province, went on trial on Jan. 28, 2013, with group leader Phan Van Thu—also known as Tran Cong—later sentenced to life in prison and 20 others handed terms of between 10 and 17 years under Article 79 of Vietnam’s penal code.
Thu, who turns 71 next week, is now very ill and his health is getting worse, his wife Vo Than Thuy told RFA’s Vietnamese Service on Friday, saying she had visited him in prison on June 1.
“He said he was sick and when he talked, he coughed a lot,” she said.
“I brought many kinds of medication for him, as per his instruction when he was permitted to phone home, including for a cough, allergies, diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis. He suffers from many diseases and he is old now.”
Thuy told RFA that Thu’s family had repeatedly applied for a suspension of his sentence on medical grounds over the years since his trial, but he was only sent to a hospital for examination once in April last year, and afterwards prison authorities said his condition did not warrant release.
“The family has petitioned many times, even to the offices of the central government … but no one cared about the case,” she said.
“My journey of petitioning has left me exhausted.”
Thuy said that families of the 22 prisoners began sending appeals to the international community in December last year because authorities have failed to respond to their applications for medical parole.
“We have to appeal to the international community to assist in this case,” she said.
“Relatives of prisoners of the Bia Son group also filed grievances in the hope that international human rights organizations will speak out on their behalf.”
In addition to Thu, another jailed member of the group, Doan Dinh Nam, is receiving dialysis for kidney disease under police supervision at a hospital in Vietnam’s southern port city of Vung Tau, she said.
Group members say they had worked only to protect the environment and to teach and practice their faith as followers of the An Dan Dai Dao Buddhist sect founded by Thu in 1969.
According to state media, the group had built up their numbers while pretending to operate an ecotourism site in Phu Yen province and had been distributing anti-government documents before their arrest in February 2012.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by An Nguyen. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.