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.
By law authorities may keep individuals in detention pending investigation for up to 24 months, in four-month increments, for “especially serious offenses,” including national security cases. During this period of detention, authorities have the discretion to deny family visits or access to counsel. 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. On September 23, blogger Nguyen Huu Vinh stated at his appeals court trial that he learned about the trial only one day prior, from a prison guard. By law authorities must request the local bar association, legal aid center, or the VFF to appoint an attorney for criminal cases involving juveniles, individuals with mental or physical disabilities, and persons formally charged with capital crimes. The National Assembly passed a revised criminal procedure code in November 2015 but delayed its implementation during the year, pending additional revisions to the penal code.
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 imposed strict conditions on this access, including requiring police and other government 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. Defense lawyers representing politically sensitive detainees reported significant difficulty carrying out their responsibilities and exercising their rights under the law. Many detainees reported limited access to materials and information that would assist in the preparation of their legal defense, including the penal code itself. This was especially the case for detainees held on national security charges.
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 Ministry of Public Security held a number of detainees suspected of national security violations incommunicado. Time spent in pretrial detention counted toward time served upon conviction and sentencing.
Authorities continued to deny requests for family visitation to activist Le Thi Thu Ha since her arrest in December 2015. Authorities reportedly allowed the wife of activist Nguyen Van Dai to visit him for the first time on November 3, after Dai had spent nearly 11 months in pretrial detention. Authorities in Nha Trang city did not allow the mother of blogger Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh (also known as Me Nam or Mother Mushroom) to visit her in pretrial detention following her October 10 arrest but allowed the mother to deliver food and clothing.
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.
As of June the country confined approximately 14,000 persons in “compulsory detoxification establishments” (previously referred to as “06” centers or “compulsory treatment institutions”). This was a decline from approximately 40,000 persons in 2008 (when authorities introduced methadone maintenance treatment). There were 123 centers, of which 39 were voluntary treatment centers (including methadone clinics), and the remainder were in the process of transitioning as part of a government initiative to reform the drug treatment system. The law requires a judicial proceeding before sending any individual to a compulsory detoxification establishment. Despite this legal requirement, judicial procedures were often perfunctory, did not occur in the formal judicial system, and “defendants” were not given legal counsel. Authorities continued to send sex workers who used drugs to compulsory detoxification establishments. The Ministry of Labor, Invalids, and Social Affairs (hereafter Ministry of Labor) estimated there was a high HIV prevalence rate of 13 percent in such centers. The law also specifies detainees in such establishments may work no more than three hours per day. There continued to be reports that forced labor occurred in at least some of these establishments.
The law allows for bail as a measure to replace temporary detention, but authorities infrequently used it. The law authorizes investigators, prosecutors, or courts to allow for the depositing of money or valuable property in exchange for bail.
Arbitrary Arrest: Arbitrary arrest and detention, particularly for political activists and individuals protesting land seizures or other injustices, remained a serious problem. Authorities subjected many religious and political activists to varying degrees of arbitrary detention in their residences, in vehicles, at local police stations, at “social protection centers,” or local government offices. Officials also frequently detained human rights activists upon their return from overseas trips.
Police and plainclothes security officers detained or placed under house arrest numerous activists in the days leading up to the May 23-25 visit of a foreign leader to Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.
On May 24, plainclothes Ministry of Public Security and Hanoi police officers prevented human rights advocate Nguyen Quang A from meeting a foreign leader. The officers surrounded Quang A’s residence to prevent him from leaving, and when Quang A attempted to leave, they forced him into an unmarked vehicle and drove him around the outskirts of the city for several hours. The officers released Quang A after it was clear he would not be able to attend the diplomatic event in time. On a separate occasion, security officials detained blogger and activist Pham Doan Trang at a hostel in Ninh Binh Province while she was on her way to meet the same foreign leader. On May 25, authorities in Ho Chi Minh City detained activist Tran Hoang Phuc at a police station for eight hours to prevent him from taking part in a youth event with a visiting foreign leader. Police reportedly searched his bag and confiscated his cell phone and personal documents.
On multiple occasions in May and June, Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City police blocked activists from leaving their homes or detained them in social rehabilitation centers or “social support centers” to prevent or punish attendance at environmental demonstrations. On June 3, Hanoi City police reportedly confined activist and violinist Ta Tri Hai at a social rehabilitation center for sex workers, drug addicts, and homeless persons in Dong Anh District for two days.
On March 24, authorities released prisoner of conscience Dinh Tat Thang after a court in Thanh Hoa Province sentenced him to time served in pretrial detention (seven months and 11 days). In August 2015 police arrested Thang and charged him with “abusing democratic freedoms” for writing public letters criticizing provincial leaders and police.
On December 16, a Thai Binh Province court sentenced democracy activists and former prisoners of conscience Tran Anh Kim and Le Tranh Tung to 13 and 12 years in prison, respectively, with four years of additional probation for each. The court convicted both individuals for “carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the people’s administration” (article 79 of the penal code) for attempting to create a new political organization, “National Forces Raising the Democratic Flag.”
Authorities also subjected many individuals who were not activists, particularly individuals suspected of crimes, to varying degrees of arbitrary detention. On January 11, police officials in Tinh Bac commune, Son Tinh District, Quang Ngai Province, detained Nguyen Tan Tam on allegations of theft without notifying his family or school. Police then searched Tam’s house and belongings without a search warrant. Tam committed suicide two days later, leaving a letter stating he was innocent. Tam’s family alleged that police had assaulted Tam while in custody and forced him to plead guilty. According to press, police began an investigation into the incident.
Pretrial Detention: 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 24 months for the most serious cases. Activists also reported police and prosecutors used lengthy periods of pretrial detention to punish or to pressure human rights defenders to confess to crimes.
In 2014 Ministry of Public Security officials arrested well-known activist blogger Nguyen Huu Vinh (also known as Anh Ba Sam) and his assistant Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy and charged them with “abusing democratic freedoms” (article 258 of the penal code). On March 23, a Hanoi court sentenced Vinh and Thuy to five and three years in prison, respectively, after they had served more than 22 months in pretrial detention, exceeding the maximum length permitted by law for their charges. On September 23, an appeals court upheld their sentences.
Authorities continued to hold activists Nguyen Van Dai and Le Thu Ha (since December 2015) in pretrial detention.
Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Persons arrested or detained often were not entitled to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention and obtain prompt release or compensation if detention is found to be unlawful.
Amnesty: The government released two prisoners of conscience under amnesty provisions. On May 17, authorities granted amnesty and early release to Catholic priest Nguyen Van Ly approximately three months before the end of his eight-year jail term. On October 7, authorities granted amnesty and early release to land rights activist Nguyen Kim Nhan two months before the end of his five and one-half-year jail term.