Dieu, a religious activist and frequent contributor to the news website Vietnam Redemptorist News, was arrested at Tan Son Nhat airport in Ho Chi Minh City. Vietnam Redemptorist News, which is run by the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, a Catholic church in Ho Chi Minh City, reports on the plight of the country’s persecuted Catholic minority, land disputes between the government and grassroots communities, and other social issues.
Dieu was first detained on unspecified charges under article 79 of the penal code, which outlines penalties for activities aimed at overthrowing the government. He was also accused of being a member of the exile-run Viet Tan political party, an organization outlawed by the dominant Communist party.
In a two-day trial that concluded on January 9, 2013, a court in the northern city of Vinh convicted and sentenced the journalist to 13 years in prison and five years’ house arrest on charges of participating in “activities aimed at overthrowing the people’s administration,” “undermining of national unity,” and disseminating “propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam,” news reports said.
In 2013, Dieu submitted a petition to authorities calling for a new investigation and trial on the grounds that his conviction was based on fabricated information, according to Radio Free Asia. After his petition was rejected, he refused to wear prison clothes emblazoned with the word “criminal,” according to his brother and a former fellow inmate who were quoted by Radio Free Asia. Dieu was severely beaten by prison authorities and refused visitation rights in response, according to the same Radio Free Asia report.
Dieu went on hunger strike several times in 2014 to protest prison conditions, including overcrowding and poor sanitation in his cell, according to a news report that quoted one of his former prison mates, Truong Minh Tam. His brother, Dang Xuan Ha, told Radio Free Asia that Dieu was frequently beaten and humiliated by prison authorities and other inmates.
Dieu and fellow inmates staged a 10-day hunger strike in January 2015 to protest ill-treatment in prison, including denial of access to newspapers, books, and a Vietnamese-English dictionary sent to them by supporters, according to a Radio Free Asia report that quoted the mother of one of his fellow inmates. He staged another hunger strike in March 2015 to protest the mistreatment of one of his cellmates, the report said.
Dieu was transferred from Thanh Hoa province’s No. 5 prison to Ba Ria Vung Tau province’s Xuyen Moc prison in late 2014. In 2015, Dieu was said to be frail and sickly after staging the hunger strikes, according to Truong Minh Tam, a former fellow political prisoner who regularly visits him, Radio Free Asia said. Tam told a Canadian House of Commons Subcommittee in May 2015 that Dieu has a condition that affects his joints and digestive system, and that his back is badly bent.
In a July 2016 report on the treatment of Vietnamese political prisoners, Amnesty International said Dieu “had variously been held in solitary confinement for prolonged periods, beaten by prison guards, shackled in a cell with a prisoner who beat him, forced to drink unclean water, denied water for washing, a blanket and mosquito net, and lived in unsanitary conditions with no toilet in the cell” in a report on the treatment of Vietnamese political prisoners. The government made no official response to the report, Agence-France Presse reported.