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Vietnam makes the Death Penalty “more humane”

9th World Day against the Death Penalty:
Vietnam makes the Death Penalty “more humane”

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PARIS, 10 October 2011 (VIETNAM COMMITTEE) – As abolitionists around the world mark the 9th World Day against the Death Penalty on 10th October 2011 under this year’s theme, “the Inhumanity of the Death Penalty”, Paris-based Quê Me: Action for Democracy in Vietnam and the Vietnam Committee for Human Rights called for an end to capital punishment in the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.

“Capital punishment is a violation of the right to life as proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights”, said Quê Me’s President Vo Van Ai. “Moreover, it is particularly dangerous in a one-Party State such as Vietnam, where the judiciary is subservient to the Communist Party and where citizens may be condemned to death on “national security” charges simply for the peaceful advocacy of democracy or human rights”.

Vietnam hands down about 100 death sentences each year, mostly for drug-related crimes. At least, this is the estimate of the state-controlled media, which reported on the recent death sentence of three people for heroin trafficking in the province of Lao Cai (5.10.2011). The real figures on executions, however, can never be known. In 2004, following international condemnation of its frequent use of the death penalty, Vietnam adopted a decree classifying statistics on death sentences and executions as “state secrets”.

“Vietnam continues to execute its citizens” said Mr. Ai, “But it now declares that executions are “more humane”. In July 2011, following the Chinese model – as it also does for Internet censorship and repression of political dissent – Vietnam adopted new legislation to carry out executions by lethal injections rather than the firing squad. The new law also allows relatives of the executed to retrieve their bodies for burial. Retired prison governor Nguyen Duc Minh commented: “Lethal injection will cause less pain and the bodies of executed prisoners will stay intact so it will reduce the psychological pressure on executors”. According to the state-controlled media, many policemen suffered trauma after completing their duty as “executioners”.

Mr. Ai urged Vietnam to sign the Second Optional Protocol to the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights on the Abolition of the Death Penalty as soon as possible, and implement an immediate moratorium as a first step towards abolishing capital punishment in Vietnam.

Background: Twenty-two offences in Vietnam’s Criminal Code are punishable by death, including seven “national security” crimes such as treason, carrying out activities to overthrow the government, espionage, banditry, terrorism, undermining peace etc. The definition of national security crimes is extremely vague, and the United Nations has frequently expressed concern that critics in Vietnam may be sentenced to death under these provisions simply for the peaceful exercise of the right to free expression.

For example, the crime of “espionage” (Article 80 of the Criminal Code, sanctions non-political acts such as “gathering or supplying information and other materials (i.e. materials which are not State secrets) for use by foreign countries against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam”. Cyber-dissidents and bloggers could be condemned to death under these provisions simply for circulating opposition views overseas.

Article 79 of the Criminal Code carries the death penalty for people who “establish or join organizations with intent to overthrow the people’s administration… or cause serious consequences (our emphasis). Dissidents may thus be put to death for the mere “intent” to change the government or form opposition movements. In January 2010, pro-democracy activists including human rights lawyer Le Cong Dinh, Le Thang Long, Tran Huynh Duy Thuc and Nguyen Tien Trung were charged under Article 79 for peacefully advocating democracy. They received sentences from 5 to 16 years in prison.

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