Cablegate: Ba Sao Prison: A Preview

Published: Wed 9 Jun 2004 08:46 AM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
E.O. 12958: N/A
REF: A. HANOI 059 B. HANOI 638 C. HANOI 1562
1. (U) Summary. The Ha Nam (more commonly called Ba Sao)
prison that A/S Craner may visit on June 18 appears a model
facility, with clean if Spartan cells and extensive grounds.
It holds a relatively high number of recidivists; a plurality
of prisoners were convicted on narcotics charges. Activists
Pham Hong Son and Le Chi Quang are definitely held here, and
were described as both in good health. Prisoners do not have
access to religious services or workers. Central GVN
authorities will make the decision about whether A/S Craner
can visit prisoners of concern or not. End summary.
2. (U) Pol/C joined with a group of EU diplomats -- from
Austria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany,
Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Sweden, and the UK -- for a
visit to "Ha Nam Detention Camp" in Ba Sao village, Ha Nam
province on June 9. This is the prison where Senator
Brownback visited Father Nguyen Van Ly in January (ref a) and
where we have asked permission for DRL A/S Craner be allowed
to see prisoner(s) of concern such as Le Chi Quang, Nguyen Vu
Binh, and Pham Hong Son during his June 18 visit to Hanoi.
Superintendent Duong Duc Thang (who also received Senator
Brownback) confirmed that Son and Quang were incarcerated
here (he did not mention Binh) and claimed that both were in
good health. He specifically said that reports of Quang's
medical problem reaching abroad were "not based on reality."
(Ref c provides some comments by relatives inmates on
conditions in the camp.)
3. (U) Superintendent Thang insisted that this was a
"detention camp" rather than a "prison," based on
distinctions laid out in 1993 regulations; previously, this
and similar facilities were labeled "education camps," he
noted. He highlighted the key task of educating the
approximately 2000 prisoners about the law and their
responsibilities to society, as well as reforming them
whenever possible into useful citizens able to make economic
contributions to the nation. He claimed that all camps in
the Vietnamese penal system have an explicit duty to "protect
the dignity" of prisoners. He said that, unusually, this
camp has prisoners whose sentences range from one year to
life. (Note: Unlike the Class I prison we visited in March
-- ref b -- where prisoners all had sentences of over 15
years, or the Class II prison we visited in 2003, where
sentences were under 15 years. End note) He explained that
Ba Sao was the camp where the GVN often sent recidivists, who
make up about 30 pct of the camp population. He confirmed
that all prisoners had already been sentenced by a court when
they arrive; the camp does not hold pre-trial detainees or
those convicted of a death sentence. Only men are held here,
and ages run between 18 and about 60 years old. There have
not been any foreign prisoners held here "in a long time," he
claimed. (Note: Amcit Ly Tong was imprisoned here until his
release in the late 1990's, and conoffs were able to visit
him regularly. End note)
4. (U) The camp is divided into at least three
geographically separate sub-camps, and has existed about 40
years. Superintendent Thang said that the GVN had spent over
7 billion dong (approximately USD 446,000) renovating the
camp structures in recent years. Communal cells were Spartan
but clean and housed about 60 inmates, who sleep on adjacent
mats on a concrete floor. The State each year provides two
sets of clothing and underwear, a blanket, mat, sandals, and
soap. Families are able to provide higher quality bedding
and clothes for off-hours, he noted.
5. (U) Food rations (rice, meat, fish sauce, etc.) are set
by the state for all inmates, with additional food provided
on holidays at the Tet lunar festivities, and the prison is
often able to add to these minimum levels with revenue earned
from prison labor. At Ba Sao, prisoners engage in vocational
labor (we witnessed them weaving straw doormats), including
agricultural production. Prisoners work 8 hours a day (with
a two hour break for lunch and siesta) and have Sundays and
holidays off, Superintendent Thang explained. He confirmed
that they did not/not receive wages.
6. (U) About 35 pct of all prisoners had been convicted on
narcotics-related charges (a notable increase, he admitted,
which followed national trends) and about 10 pct had tested
positive for HIV. He insisted that all prisoners were tested
upon arrival, and that those who were HIV were so informed,
received medication, and integrated into the general camp
population. Rudimentary health care is available from prison
doctors and nurses; more serious cases are taken to
provincial or even central-level hospitals, he noted. The
300 prison officials and guards make an effort to group
people into cells based at least in part by native provinces,
he added. There are regular soccer games, with teams having
a mix between guards and prisoners. Other cultural
activities (singing, reading) are also available after work
hours, and inmates can watch TV in their communal cell or
listen to Voice of Vietnam radio. There are no plans to
install Internet access for inmate use, the Superintendent
7. (U) As a general rule, close family members (parents,
spouses, children, siblings) may visit prisoners once a
month, and may bring or send gifts and letters. Prisoners
whose behavior has been exemplary may spent overnight in a
special room with their spouses (and children, if desired),
the Superintendent explained. For prisoners who misbehave,
there are four levels of punishment:
-- warning;
-- cessation of family visits;
-- isolation in the "House of Discipline," sometimes with
shackles, and sometimes for as long as two months (but "not
many" at any given time); and,
-- sue them in a Vietnamese court (i.e. add to their prison
He denied corporal punishment. Prisoners who believe they
are being mistreated have the right to complain to the next
higher level, ultimately up to the Minister of Public
Security, or to the provincial or central prosecutor's
office, the Superintendent claimed. On the other hand,
prisoners who behave well can be recommended for amnesties by
the court, he added.
8. (U) Superintendent Thang said that penal regulations
"did not provide for" visits to religious prisoners by monks,
priests, or pastors and so were not offered. He said,
however, that the camp regularly brought in outside experts
to lecture on other topics as part of the education process.
9. (U) Comment: The structure and activities of this camp
appeared virtually identical to those we have previously
visited, and likely reflect a standardized approach to penal
oversight and conditions, not surprising in this centralized
system. It is not possible to confirm that egregious
conditions do not exist elsewhere, however. Whether A/S
Craner will be allowed to visit prisoners of concern here
will be a matter for central authorities -- not the camp
officials -- to decide for political reasons.
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