Suspicion over Buddhist’s “suicide”

The police claim that Tan committed suicide during the interrogation session.

Claims that a detained man committed suicide during a police interrogation session have been challenged by the victim’s family and by human rights groups.

The body of Nguyen Huu Tan, a member of an independent Buddhist sect, was found on the floor of a police interrogation room on May 3 with his head almost severed.

The police claim that he used a letter opener to kill himself when they stepped out of the room. The family says the explanation lacks credibility.

They are pleading with the UN Human Rights Council, foreign governments and international human rights organisations to help in their search for justice.

“Anti-state documents”

Tan, 38, came from a family of independent Hoa Hao Buddhists in the Mekong Delta near Can Tho.

The family have been subjected to regular harassment by the local authorities because they had not joined the state sponsored Hoa Hao group.

Tan was taken in for questioning on May 2 and investigated for “disseminating anti-state documents”, according to state media reports.

His parents were called to the Vinh Long provincial police headquarters the following morning to be informed that he had committed suicide.

The police said Tan had rummaged in one of their bags when they briefly left the room and had found a letter cutter.

The first of two police videos was then produced for the father to see.

He said later that the video, and another produced at a police press conference later, was far from convincing and appeared to have been either fabricated or doctored.

He said he could not identify his son because his face was not visible in the CCTV footage. It did show a man in prison uniform apparently cutting at his neck with a small knife in his left hand.

The later video showed a man in handcuffs using both hands to slash at his neck.

The family say their son was right handed and it would have been impossible to inflict such deep wounds by himself.

They also question why he had an additional injury on his forehead, blamed by police on his fall, when he appeared to have fallen onto his back, and why the figure in the video was wearing a prison uniform when Tan was merely being investigated and had not been charged with any crime.

Apolitical family

Since their son’s death, they say the authorities have stepped up harassment and have warned them not to speak out.

The authorities have given no details as to what anti-state documents Tan was suspected of disseminating.

A religious rights activist said the family was apolitical and was not known to be involved in any campaigns.

The Hoa Hao church, which began as a grassroots Buddhist movement in the Mekong Delta, has some two million adherents.

Those that do not belong to the state affiliated church, which is supervised by the Communist party controlled Fatherland front, complain of frequent harassment and persecution.

Tan’s death is one of a series of suspicious deaths in police custody.

Rights campaigners say that impunity in the police force is a major obstacle in their struggle for a more just society.