Vietnam’s death row inmates enduring a wait worse than death

Vietnam has postponed its planned resumption of executions yet again after having approved the use of locally produced lethal injection drugs, leaving 568 death-row inmates tortured by uncertainty.

Death-row prisoner Nguyen Tien Cong got tired of waiting for the state to kill him.

The 35-year-old man committed suicide in prison on June 15, 2 years after the Hai Phong People’s Court sentenced him to death for killing a 61-year-old who caught him breaking into his house.

Executions were scheduled to resume last month, after having been delayed indefinitely since Vietnam shifted from the firing squad to lethal injection under the amended Law on Execution of Criminal Judgments that took effect on November 1, 2011.

The initial delays were the result of the European Union’s refusal to sell the lethal drug cocktail Vietnamese law mandated must be used for executions. The government further amended its decree, which took effect June 27, to make way for the use of locally produced drugs.

However, executions were delayed once again last week, leaving 568 death-row inmates to wonder when the country would get around to killing them.

Cao Ngoc Oanh, director of the central police department in charge of managing nationwide prisons, told the media on June 26 that “we are not ready to carry out with lethal injections.”

According to Nguyen Xuan Truong, a Ministry of Health spokesman, the Drug Administration of Vietnam was appointed to manufacture lethal injection cocktails. However, he refused to provide further details, saying the matter was “classified”.

While it is unclear when locally produced lethal injections will be administered, experts have said the continuance of delays has placed a tremendous amount of pressure on both death-row inmates and prison guards.

At a recent parliamentarian session, lawmaker Nguyen Van Hien said there are 76 people on death-row in Hanoi, while the city???s facility where they are being held was only designed to house 62 prisoners.

“Many prisoners have been waiting to be executed for 5 to 6 years,” he said, adding that many prisoners have been begging to be executed.

Nguyen Hoa Binh, chief of the Supreme People’s Procuracy, Vietnam’s highest prosecutors’ agency, even proposed further amending the law to allow for either the firing squad or lethal injection to be used.

Scrap death penalty?

Meanwhile, international experts are urging Vietnam to take this latest delay as an opportunity to scrap the death penalty altogether, saying it is not a deterrent anyway.

Vietnam modified the Penal Code in 2009 to reduce the number of criminal offences eligible for the death penalty from 30 to 23.

As of 2012, 8 of the 21 countries worldwide which were still carrying out executions were located in the Asia Pacific region.

Maja Kocijancic, an EU spokesperson, said the bloc is “firmly opposed to the death penalty in all cases and under all circumstances, regardless of the crimes committed.”

In an email to Vietweek, the EU suggested Vietnam formalize its de facto moratorium on capital punishment, rather than go ahead with its plan to use locally made lethal injections.

Janice Beanland, Amnesty International’s campaigner for Vietnam, maintained that “there is no evidence that the death penalty works as a particular deterrent for crime.”

Although there are no official statistics, the death penalty is most frequently handed down in Vietnam to those convicted of drug offences and murder.

According to a recent report issued by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Vietnamese drug law enforcement agencies arrested 31,419 people involved in drug related crimes last year, an 18 percent increase over 2011.

Meanwhile, according to the Ministry of Public Security, extremely cruel murder cases in Vietnam have been on the rise. The media has also been carrying story after story of people not hesitating to kill others for the most insignificant reasons.

With the debate over the effectiveness of the death penalty in deterring crime becoming more voluble in recent years in the country, Beanland said: “Vietnam should perhaps be seeking advice from those countries that do not use the death penalty on how to effectively manage its criminal justice system.”

(source: Thanh Nien News)

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