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ICC Note: Hoang Van Ngai was a church leader in the Hmong Christian community who died in policy custody on March 17th. His body was photographed with what appeared to be severe bruising and electrical burns while Ngai’s brother, who was arrested with him, reported hearing sounds of violent beating coming from his brothers cell. Despite international attention on the case, Vietnamese authorities have ruled the death while in police custody was suicide by self-electrocution. Considering Vietnam’s track record for arresting, beating, and imprisoning Hmong Christian leaders on a regular basis this ruling by authorities seems extremely unlikely.
6/11/2013 Vietnam (CSW) –  The family of Hoang Van Ngai, the Hmong Christian who died in police custody on 17 March, was notified in mid-May that the Vietnamese authorities’ investigation confirmed his death was caused by “suicide by self-electrocution.” However, the family believes that he was killed extra-judicially because of his defence of his church and determination to stand up to corrupt local officials.
Hoang Van Ngai was an elder of Bui Tre Church, which belongs to the legally recognised Evangelical Church of Vietnam (South). Ngai’s older brother believes he made enemies amongst government officials because he stood up against abuses of power and refused to pay bribes. He also defended the church when the authorities tried to force them to close.
Ngai was arrested on 15 March with his elder brother, Hoang Van Pa. His wife and sister-in-law were forcibly detained the day before. The police did not present or refer to any arrest warrant or temporary detention order. On 17 March, Ngai’s brother heard the sound of violent beating coming from his brother’s cell. When the police took Ngai out of his cell, his brother saw that he was “completely limp as if he was dead, gone, purple marks on his throat.” Photographs of Ngai’s corpse show severe bruising which were not there before he was detained.
On 18 March, the police headquarters announced that Ngai was dead; however, his family felt that this announcement did not make clear the reason for his death. The family submitted an urgent petition to the Chief of Police in Dak Nong Province, contesting the suggestion made by the Chairman of the People’s Committee that Ngai committed suicide. The case was widely publicised, and several international organisations and government representatives raised the case with the Vietnamese authorities. In mid-May, after two months of petitioning, the authorities finally notified the family that their investigation had confirmed the original finding of suicide by self-electrocution.

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