A retired teacher who died in prison this week while serving a 13-year term for 'subversion' because of Facebook postings was buried in a prison cemetery on Tuesday, the day he died, with only a few family members present, sources said.
Dao Quang Thuc, 58, who was serving his sentence at Prison No. 6 in Nghe An province, showed signs of illness in prison and was taken to the Nghe An Friendship General Hospital for treatment on Dec. 3, sources told RFA in an earlier report.
He died on Dec. 10 of what prison authorities called a stroke, and his body was held for autopsy and not returned to his family for burial, sources said.
Speaking to RFA's Vietnamese Service on Dec. 12, Dao's son Dao Duy Thung said that his father's burial at the prison had been conducted in haste on the same day that he died.
"My dad had to be buried that same day at the Prison No. 6 cemetery, which is located outside the prison itself but is still on its grounds," the younger Dao said.
"The prison provided us with the basic things we needed to conduct a funeral according to Vietnamese tradition, including a coffin and monks [to offer prayers]," he said, adding however that arrangements had been so quickly made that only 12 relatives were able to attend.
Sentenced in September 2018 to a 14-year prison term that was later reduced by one year, Dao had called in his online writings and in public for better protections for Vietnam's environment and had protested what many in Vietnam consider encroachments by China in the South China Sea.
China's territorial claims and construction of artificial islands in the region have sparked frequent anti-China protests in Vietnam, which the one-party communist government in Hanoi fears as a potential threat to its own political control.
In a Dec. 10 statement, Human Rights Watch deputy Asia director Phil Robertson said that Dao's death from an alleged stroke "again puts Vietnam's horrible prison conditions in the spotlight."
"A lack of adequate food and health services is a huge problem in Vietnam's prisons, and even when prisoners are seriously ill they cannot get temporary medical release from prison. These problems are compounded by the severe restrictions regularly imposed on prison visits by family members and legal counsel."
"Quite clearly, the authorities have a lot of explaining to do about what happened to Dao Quang Thuc," Robertson said. "The world is watching and waiting."
Vietnam has been consistently rated "Not Free" in the areas of internet and press freedom by Freedom House, a U.S.-based watchdog group.
Dissent is not tolerated in the communist nation, and authorities routinely use a set of vague provisions in the penal code to detain dozens of writers and bloggers.
Estimates of the number of prisoners of conscience now held in Vietnam's jails vary widely, with Human Rights Watch putting the number in October at 138. The rights group Defend the Defenders meanwhile puts the number as at least 240, with 36 convicted this year alone.
Reported by RFA's Vietnamese Service. Translated by An Nguyen. Written in English by Richard Finney.
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