Vietnam rehab center inmates say they were tortured

By Hoang Nam   August 12, 2018 | 08:53 pm PT
Vietnam rehab center inmates say they were tortured
Escaped inmates gather for a meeting with local authorities in Tien Giang Province in southern Vietnam on August 12. Photo by VnExpress/Hoang Nam
Inmates of a rehab center in Vietnam claim they were forced to kneel for hours, and thrashed when their backs slumped.

Such brutality provoked 242 inmates to escape from a rehabilitation center for drug addicts in Chau Thanh District of the southern Tien Giang Province, they told authorities on Sunday.

Police are still looking for 18 missing inmates after 224 returned to the facility after escaping on Saturday morning. The returnees were either forced by the police or persuaded to do so by their families.

The inmates told the police that they were very harshly treated by the rehab center.

“We had to work 8 hours a day, which is itself tiring. But if we made the smallest mistake, like not folding our blankets as neatly as they required, we would be beaten and made to kneel for three hours.

“And if we could not keep our backs straight when kneeling, there would be more thrashing,” one of them said at a meeting with the authorities after returning.

Nguyen Xuan Lap, head of the Ministry of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs' department of social vices prevention and combat, promised that he will work with center’s staff on the inmates’ complaints.

Pham Minh Tri, director of Tien Giang Department of Labor and Social Affairs, told VnExpress that punishment for the inmates is autonomously decided at the center, and he will review these and make proper adjustments.

On Saturday morning, a disagreement between a group of addicts with the staff escalated into an assault, with inmates wielding knives and bricks and encouraging others to break down the door. A staff was injured in the scuffle.

Images and videos circulating on social media showed dozens of men, many shirtless, wandering on a highway near the rehab center.

The center in Chau Thanh manages more than 650 inmates. They are supposed to treat the addicts and provide them with vocational training.

Vietnam has 132 rehab centers in total, and there are around 220,000 drug addicts on official records.

Several breakouts have occurred in recent years at rehab centers.

Vietnam developed its approach to drug addiction based on the presumption that it represents a “social evil” that can be cured with abstinence and re-education.

Following international criticism, the government established a timeframe in 2013 to gradually replace compulsory detention centers with community-based, voluntary treatment regimens.

The transition, however, has proven tricky given inconsistencies in the legal system, the widely-held belief that drug addiction stems from moral failure and the lack of competent doctors, therapists and equipment.

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