The law includes provisions related to arrest procedures and the treatment of detainees prior to case adjudication. Police and other investigative agencies usually executed warrants for arrest, custody, and temporary detention. By law police generally need a decision by the People’s Procuracy to arrest a suspect, although in some limited cases they need a court decision. In most cases the People’s Procuracy at the state, provincial, and district levels issued such arrest warrants. Under urgent circumstances, such as when evidence existed a person was preparing to commit a crime or when police caught a person in the act of committing a crime, police could make an arrest without a warrant. In such cases the People’s Procuracy must issue a decision to approve or not to approve the arrest within 12 hours of receiving notice from police.
The People’s Procuracy must issue a decision to initiate a formal criminal investigation of a detainee within three days of arrest; otherwise, police must release the suspect. The law allows the procuracy to request two additional three-day extensions allowing for an extension of the custody time limit to a maximum of nine days.
The law affords detainees access to counsel from the time of their detention, but authorities continued their use of bureaucratic delays to deny timely access to legal counsel. In cases investigated under national security laws, the government has the authority to prohibit access by defense lawyers to clients until after officials complete an investigation and formally charge the suspect with a crime, most often after approximately four months.
By law authorities may extend investigations in national security cases and deny access to counsel for up to 20 months. In many such cases, authorities did not provide attorneys access to their clients or the evidence against them until immediately before the case went to trial and without adequate time to prepare their cases. By law authorities must request the local bar association, legal aid center, or the VFF to appoint an attorney for cases involving juveniles, individuals with mental or physical disabilities, and persons formally charged with capital crimes. The new criminal procedure code, passed in November, expands these categories to include those formally charged with crimes with a potential sentence of 20 years or more. The new law does not require defense counsels to be lawyers, and they could be a personal representative of the defendant or a member of a legal aid organization.
The law requires authorities to inform persons held in custody, accused of a crime, or charged with a crime of their rights under the law, including the right to an attorney. Under most circumstances, once advised, the accused are responsible for obtaining their own attorney. The law obligates defense attorneys to begin the defense of their client from the time authorities issue custody decisions.
Authorities generally provided notification to consular offices of the arrest of foreign nationals but sometimes delayed that notification. Government officials usually provided consular access to arrested or detained foreign nationals but sometimes imposed strict conditions on this access, including requiring police officials to be present during meetings between consular officers and the arrested foreign nationals and, on occasion, videotaping these meetings.
The law allows defense counsel to be present during interrogations of their clients. The law also requires authorities to give defense attorneys access to case files and permit them to copy documents. Attorneys were usually able to exercise these rights. In November the National Assembly passed an amended criminal procedure code requiring police to video or audio record custodial interrogations. The law states it will go into effect in July 2016 and compliance with this provision is scheduled for initial rollout in a pilot program in 2017, and implemented nationwide by 2019. Those representing politically sensitive detainees reported significant difficulty carrying out their responsibilities and exercising their rights under the law. Many detainees, especially those held on national security charges, reported limited access to materials and information that would assist in the preparation of their legal defense, including the penal code itself.
Police generally informed families of detainees’ whereabouts, but family members could visit a detainee only with the permission of the investigator. During the investigative period, authorities routinely denied detainees access to family members, especially in national security cases. Before a formal indictment, detainees have the right to notify family members, although the MPS held a number of detainees suspected of national security violations incommunicado. Time spent in pretrial detention counted toward time served upon conviction and sentencing.
For example, authorities continued to deny requests for family visitation to land-rights activists Ngo Thi Minh Uoc, Nguyen Thi Be Hai, and Nguyen Thi Tri, arrested in July 2014.
In November, Nha Trang police arrested Nguyen Huu Quoc Duy after he reportedly started a Facebook group to discuss how to avoid arrest when conducting rights activism. Duy’s mother reported that police had neither informed her of Duy’s location nor allowed her to visit.
For crimes infringing on national security as well as some exceptionally serious offenses, courts may impose probation or administrative detention upon an individual for a period of one to five years after completion of the original sentence. Terms of the probation typically included confinement to a residence and deprivation of the right to vote, run for office, or perform government or military service.
According to the law on administrative sanctions, authorities may confine drug users to “compulsory detoxification establishments” (previously referred to as “06” centers or “compulsory treatment institutions”). The law requires a judicial proceeding before sending any individual to a compulsory detoxification establishment. The law also specifies detainees in such establishments may work no more than three hours per day. The government closed its compulsory treatment institutions for sex workers (previously referred to as “05” centers) in 2013, but authorities continued to send sex workers who used drugs or had HIV to compulsory detoxification establishments. There continued to be reports that forced labor occurred in these establishments.
The law allows for bail as a measure to replace temporary detention, but authorities rarely used it. The law authorizes investigators, prosecutors, or courts to allow for the depositing of money or valuable property in exchange for bail. An interagency committee provided implementing guidelines for this legal provision in 2013.
In rare examples of the granting of bail for individuals arrested for exercising their freedom of expression, on February 10, authorities released writer Nguyen Quang Lap, pending investigation into charges related to postings on his blog “Que Choa.” On February 12, authorities released on bail blogger Hong Le Tho, who operated the site “Nguoi Lot Gach.” Authorities had arrested both bloggers for “abusing democratic freedoms” (article 258 of the penal code), and the status of their cases was unclear as of the end of the year.
Arbitrary Arrest: Arbitrary arrest and detention, particularly for political activists, remained a serious problem (see section 2.a.).
Authorities arrested and detained individuals on allegations of revealing state secrets, subversion, taking advantage of democratic freedoms to infringe upon the government’s interest, conducting propaganda against the state, undermining the unity of the state, and other crimes as a means to suppress political dissent and public advocacy.
On August 3, police in Thanh Hoa Province arrested former prisoner of conscience Dinh Tat Thang and charged him with “abusing democratic freedoms” for writing public letters criticizing provincial leaders and police.
On October 1, police in Thai Binh Province formally charged former prisoner of conscience and democracy activist Tran Anh Kim of “seeking to overthrow the government” (article 79 of the penal code). Authorities had detained Kim and two other associates on September 21, the day he had planned to inaugurate a new political organization, “National Forces Raising the Democratic Flag.” Kim’s arrest was the first formal arrest using vague national security provisions of the penal code since 2013.
Authorities also subjected many religious and political activists to varying degrees of arbitrary detention in their residences, at local police stations, or at airports, according to credible reports.
On August 30, police in Ha Giang Province reportedly detained Ma Van Pa, an ethnic Hmong follower of the Duong Van Minh religion, a day after he met a foreign delegation investigating religious freedom. Authorities released Pa after a day of detention and interrogation, during which police reportedly punched him in the head, threatened him with further physical harm, and confiscated his laptop.
On September 1, police at Noi Bai Airport in Hanoi detained human rights advocate Nguyen Quang A for approximately 15 hours after his return from a visit abroad.
On December 13, police detained democracy and anti-China activist Nguyen Phuong Uyen for a day at a Ho Chi Minh City coffee shop after she participated in a semi-public signing ceremony of a banned book about changing Vietnam’s form of government. Authorities also detained the cafe shop owner.
Pretrial Detention: The new custody law includes provisions distinguishing between the rights of individuals in temporary custody pending trial and those serving a prison sentence for conviction of a crime. Individuals in custody pending trial will retain certain rights, such as the right to vote in elections and on referenda. The law defines four levels of crimes: less serious offenses, serious offenses, very serious offenses, and especially serious offenses. The allowable time for temporary detention during an investigation varies depending on the level of offense. Activists often reported some of these investigations exceeded these prescribed periods, which ranged from a maximum of four months for less serious offenses to 20 months for the most serious cases.
In May 2014 MPS officials arrested well-known activist blogger Nguyen Huu Vinh (also known as Anh Ba Sam) and charged him with “abusing democratic freedoms” (article 258 of the penal code). Police also arrested Vinh’s employee, Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy. Authorities indicted both Vinh and Thuy under article 258 in November 2014, and they remained in detention pending trial at year’s end, reportedly beyond the lawful maximum length of detention.
Amnesty: The government released four prisoners of conscience under amnesty provisions.
On January 21, authorities granted amnesty to journalist Nguyen Van Khuong, one year before the end of his four-year jail term. Authorities convicted Khuong for conspiracy to bribe a public official after he took undercover video footage of a colleague bribing a police officer to highlight police corruption.
On February 22, authorities granted amnesty to land rights and democracy activist Cao Van Tinh, six months before the end of his 4.5-year jail term. Authorities convicted Tinh on national security-related charges of “seeking to overthrow the government” (article 79 of the penal code).
On April 17, President Sang granted amnesty to independent Hoa Hao religious adherent Mai Thi Dung, who served more than nine years in prison after authorities arrested her for participation in a public hunger strike calling for greater religious freedom.
On June 30, authorities granted amnesty to People’s Action Party and Bloc 8406 member Le Thanh Tung, six months before the end of his four-year jail term. Authorities convicted Tung on national security-related charges of “conducting propaganda against the state” (article 88 of the penal code).
On September 2, the country’s national day, authorities granted amnesty to 18,539 nonpolitical prisoners. According to official statistics, the amnesty included 837 prisoners charged with corruption-related offenses, 2,188 for murder, and 1,449 for drug-related crimes. The government stated it did not release any prisoners convicted under national security statutes.