Beating death highlights Vietnam police ‘abuse’

It started with a row over a motorbike helmet. Eight days later a 53-year-old man was dead after a beating by Vietnamese police, in a case activists say fits a pattern of brutality in the force.

Trinh Xuan Tung was hit on the neck and left handcuffed despite his appeals to officers about the paralysis seizing his body, according to his family.

US-based Human Rights Watch said the case highlights the “alarming” use of violence among police in Vietnam, where small offences can have tragic consequences.

“There’s basically total impunity to abuse people in custody,” said Phil Robertson, HRW deputy Asia director. “It’s just out of control.”

A study by the group last September cited 19 incidents of police brutality, including 15 deaths, that were reported in state-controlled media over the previous year — often the only way to get information.

Many of the fatal cases involved people who were reportedly held for minor infractions, the watchdog said in its study, which Britain’s foreign office this year called “disturbing.”

Since then other cases of alleged brutality, including Tung’s, have been covered by local media. Robertson says nothing has changed and there appears little appetite for change within the force.

Recounting what he told her before his death, Tung’s 21-year-old daughter Trinh Kim Tien said her father took a motorcycle taxi to a Hanoi bus station one afternoon earlier this year, removing his helmet along the way to make a mobile phone call.

Riding without a helmet is illegal, so a policeman confiscated the vehicle and fined the driver 150,000 dong ($7.14), about three days’ wages.

But the driver refused to pay, leading to an argument and a scuffle that Tung tried to stop, according to his daughter.

“Then the policeman attacked my father,” Tien said.

Tung, who sold birds for a living and “never had any problem with anyone”, was beaten on the neck and back before being taken to a police station where his daughter found him with cuffs on his wrists and legs, complaining of paralysis.

“My father said that it hurt and could I please bring him to the hospital because he could not move his arms and legs,” she said, adding police initially refused the request.

“They said my father was trying to pretend” and that nobody had done anything to him. He later died in hospital.

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