A lawyer and two witnesses are accusing investigators and a judge in Vietnam of harassment them during a death row convict’s trial. However, new evidence came to light to support Nguyen Minh Hung’s claims of innocence after being fingered by convicted drug dealer Phan Nguyen Anh Thu.
Hung’s death sentence was struck down last week by the HCM City Supreme People’s Court and a fresh investigation ordered after Thu retracted her earlier statement and said Hung was innocent.
The 28-year-old was found guilty last June by a Tay Ninh province court after Thu ‘picked’ him as her accomplice out of a police lineup and admittedly kept up the lie during the trial.
She said she had done that because of intense pressure from the police.
The death sentence was based on a cell phone number found in Thu’s notebook which also contained details of her heroin trade contacts that was traced down to Hung, and on a red shirt found in Hung’s room. Thu said she had sold heroin to a man in a red shirt.
Hung explained he had subscribed to the number on behalf of a distant relative while evidence including photos suggests the shirt belongs to Hung’s brother.
The Tay Ninh court concluded Hung carried over 8.4 kilogram of heroin from Cambodia and handed it to Thu in Tay Ninh on July 25, 2002, and one another date.
But it turned out that on July 25th Hung and his wife were visiting HCM City the hostel they stayed in confirmed it.
An appeal court overturned the guilty verdict and ordered a fresh investigation. The police then said Hung brought the drugs on the 24th, claiming Thu had not remembered the date correctly.
But Hung said that on the 24th he and his wife had attended the birthday party of Nguyen Thi Thuyen, a primary school teacher, in Tay Ninh. Thuyen confirmed his statement as did two other teachers, an official from the district judicial department, and two others.
But the police said that they all lied and that based on their records Thuyen’s birthday was not even in July but in May.
Thuyen explained that since her family did not remember her exact birth date, they had picked July 24th to celebrate it. She was celebrating on that date for a long time and she produced other evidence to support it.
But the second appeals court in Tay Ninh now at the centre of the bullying charges rejected the birthday party story and found Hung guilty again. It also told the police to bring criminal charges against all those who had testified on Hung’s behalf.
Witnesses grilled, insulted
The birthday party host, Thuyen, said she had broken into tears at the second appeals court last year after being pilloried.
At one point the court asked her: “You are a teacher responsible for training a whole generation. Are you ready to testify in this manner?”
She also told Thanh Nien that the police had interrogated her for two full days while she had classes.
She said she had been pushed to a point where “I could not stand it and retracted my statement but later my conscience gnawed at me and I went back to my earlier testimony that Hung did attend my party on July 24th.”
As a teacher and a state employee she is demanding an official apology.
Another witness, Nguyen Tuan Binh, who works for a state-run firm in Tay Ninh, said indignantly: “I met Hung and said I met him but I cannot understand why the police wasted so much of my time… they were so overbearing”.
“They repeatedly pressured me to retract my earlier statement [that he met Hung at the party]”.
He also complained that several policemen in uniforms had come to his office with the summons, causing some of his colleagues to think he was a criminal.
“We are all state employees and not thugs for them to do as they please”.
Lawyer says judge overbearing
Hung’s lawyer, Trinh Vinh Phuc, said in all his 20 years at the bar he had never witnessed a court hearing like the one last year.
When he was presenting to the court a piece of evidence related to another defendant named Son, judge Dinh Van Minh interrupted to ask: “Are you defending Hung or Son”?
When Phuc replied he was defending Hung but Son’s statements had a direct bearing on Hung’s case, the judge told him his responsibility was only to defend Hung and not anyone else.
This went back and forth for a while until the presiding judge, Tran Thi Trinh, stepped in and asked Phuc to continue.
But not much later Minh interrupted him again, Phuc recalled.