This is a story of a young man, detained by chance and got beaten by a mob of police (men and women) - actually, more like interrogated - from 2pm to 7-8pm Sunday, June 17, at Tao Dan (district 1, TP. HCM). Because he is very young, and he’s not a human right activist, nor he has any ambition to “be famous”, a common label that the security force and its followers would have made of him, in this story, he chose to be anonymous.
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When I opened my eyes, I’m on a hospital bed. There wasn’t any cops around. A nurse came and I found out that I was in the emergency room of the Police’s hospital. That’s about midnight. It seemed they had beaten me continuously from 2pm until I passed out, then they tossed me in here and… disappeared to avoid any responsibility. But it’s also very possible that they’re still on guard somewhere down the lobby.
The hospital asked for 2 million dong fee. I checked and luckily, they (the police) left my wallet and I still have a bit more than 100,000 dong. Nothing else. My phone was confiscated. All my family contact info were in the phone. My shoes are also gone - they took off my shoes and used it to hit my head hundred of times. They used batons to crush my feet. There are bruises, cuts all over my body. It’s painful just to move, even a little.
I wanted to go home. The doctor did not allow, and said that he has to make sure I don’t have blood clots in my brain, or any brain concussion (I don’t know if he really worried for my wellness, or he’s afraid of the policemen somewhere out there). “I’m not responsible if you die on the way home”, he said. But I didn’t have enough money to pay for the hospital fee. My head hurt, and dizzy. “I’m OK. I just want to go home and go to sleep… and let my family know of my whereabout”, I said. Looking at my swollen face, eyed blacken like a panda, torn lips as big as a tomato, the nurse softly said: “Just go. Let’s make it look like you left without proper discharging”. She led me through a small door, via a private path, discreetly out of the hospital.
I dragged myself from the taxi to the front of my house and collapsed. That was about 1am.
* * *
12 hours before, about 1pm Sunday, June 17, I left home and went to district 1 to hangout. I’ve never seen that many cops and cop helpers (dân phòng, civilian paid by the government to keep peace) in the center of Saigon. On the sidewalk, in coffee shops, there were full of green-cloth cops, cop helpers with red ribbon on their arms, and lots of big burly angry looking guys (translator: these are plain-clothe thugs). The continuously grabbed and detained people; It’s as if they would detain anyone who was walking by with a phone on their hand. They even went inside the cafe to check for paper and pulled coffee shop patrons out to drive away. Just like a war zone, where cops and cop helpers had full rights to stop and search and take anyone away.
I stopped by a cafe for a cup of coffee and went to the book street (translator: one of a rare street left in Saigon where books are sold). It seemed that the book street is shutdown today. I proceeded a couple of meters and was stopped by a group of cops; perhaps they had targeted my somehow and I did not notice. They asked for my paper. My bad luck, I just went for coffee, so I didn’t have my paper with me. They asked me to tell my family to bring my paper. As I called home, just after I said: “I got detained…”, one of them yanked the phone off my hand. I protested, but they pushed me onto a car and sped away.
They took me into a big room in Tao Dan. There were people, sitting everywhere: old, young, men, women. There were some even with traditional “ao dai”. They must be tour guides (translator: ao dai = Vietnamese traditional long dress). Later on I learned that the city cops detained 179 people at Tao Dan: tourists, tour guides, some seniors who went on their morning exercise. We were all detained, more ridiculously, we were all beaten.
They took me into a room, took out my phone and asked for my password. I asked “Why did you take my phone?” and got a straight punch to the face. After that were a series of slaps. I still didn’t provide my password. They grabbed my hair, pushed my head down on the table and gave me another series of punches to my ears. They told each other that I am incorrigible, hard-core and proceeded to bring me to a different room.
It turned out that in the first detaining room, I was the only one who didn’t give up the phone password, so they filtered people and moved them to separate private room for more interrogating.
Once I was in the new private room, they jumped me right away. About 20 big strong men, both cops and plainclothes, surrounded and beat me with batons, sticks and of course, with their fists and feet. I sat on the floor, huddled myself, covering my head. Two of them then pulled my hands behind my back while the rest of them punch my face. “Mother fucker, you think you’re tough” - they yelled at my while providing the beating.
The asked for some tech guys to break in my phone. While the tech was working on my phone, for about 15-20 minutes, they beat me continuously. There were also some cute looking female cops slapping me until I could only see a blurry white shade. One of the older cop, about 60 or more, were very good with his baton. All kind of cops: young, old, men, women involved in the beating.
Finally, the tech got in my iPhone 5s. The cops: “Mother fucker, you think you’re cool. You think we can’t hack your phone?” The cuffed my hands, and more beating. They beat me while “investigating” about each of the people on my contact list. “Who is this?”. “My FB friend”. “You met him? For what?”. “For coffee”. “Where? When?”. “Don’t remember”. “God damn, don’t remember? don’t remember?”
For each of the “I don’t remember”, or “I don’t know”, they use iron stick to hit the sole of my feet. My feet swollen, and I’m sure my face was too. One of them pulled my head back and they spitted on my face. “I hate the phrase don’t know or don’t remember. If you keep on saying that, I’ll keep beating”.
One of the many bruises left on his body after the five-hour torture by the police.
“Who is this girl?”. “My friend”. “Girl friend? Did you fuck her? Did you …” There was no vulgar language that they did not use.
They took off my shoes and use them to beat my face. “Spread your leg”, they shouted. I was afraid they were going to beat my private part, so I curled my self into a ball. Luckily, they didn’t hit me there, but only took off my shirt and pants and punch and kick my stomach, chest while screaming: “Do you believe that we can hang you up and beat you like a dog?”
The rested. I crawled up an exercise pad nearby (this is inside a exercise room, for athletes). One of them yelled: “God damn. You want padded bed?” Then they pulled my by the legs down to the floor, and continued to beat and stomp me. Just like that.
For a long while, maybe it’s now late afternoon, they still didn’t stop. I couldn’t open my eyes anymore. When the last sun ray receded, my head was floating. They grabbed my head, pulled my hands and tossed me out of the private room into the common area. I only heard people talking, crying, screaming. Lots of crying, not sure what they were crying about. I tried to open my eyes and realized they were crying for me. There were lots of people around me. Perhaps they were beaten too, since lots of them have swollen faces. The very old people were beaten too. But they all looked at me, and cried. They told each other: “Let’s cover the kid up”. Then a number of shirts were passed over, covering me.
Why does it look like Con Dao - like the stories told in literature and history (translator: Con Dao stories are the ones depicting the cruelty of French colonists upon revolutionist - according to the revolutionist point of view). The only difference, here, is that the cops are sons and daughters of the revolutionists of yesteryear, showing their true selves as cruel thugs, terrorizing the people to protect the dictatorship from the single political party. Cruel communists.
An older woman came over. She put my head on her thigh, put balm oilment on my forehead, held my hands and cried. I could not open my eyes to see her clearly. I tried to speak with my swollen lips: “Please don’t cry. You make me want to cry too.” I wanted to add: “I don’t want them to see our crying”, but my breath was short and I couldn’t.
I heard people talking: “Why did they beat the kid so badly?” Seeing that the air was tensed, and that everyone loved me, and worrying that the crowd might react in a rebellious way, the cops ran in and pulled me out. The old women burst out crying and asked: “You take me, cuff me, let the kid go. You’re going to beat him to dead?”.
I tried hard to open my eyes to remember her face, but couldn’t. My head was shutting down. The cops were tossing me onto a car. (Later I learned that they sent me to the hospital). Everyone was trying to keep me with them. The cops were pulling. There were people trying to cover my body to avoid more beating. The cops were still able to pull me away. The old woman ran after the car. They pulled her back, shut the door. I heard one of the cops said: “Mother fucker. Nice play. Good acting to get those pep crying?”.
After that, I don’t know anything anymore. When I woke, I was in the hospital but there was no treatment, because… hospital fee was not paid.
* * *
That night, I slept like a log. The next morning, I went to the hospital for a checkup. Lucky for me, I was just badly beaten, but no brain damage. The last two days, lots of friends came to visit. They all loved me, gave me money and lots of treats.
I still remember the people holding me, covering for me, and sharing their shirts for me on that Sunday. Especially the old woman who was treating me like her own son, rubbing my forehead, holding my hand, and crying. I want to remember her face, but couldn’t. Even her name, I do not know. I don’t recognize any of the people who were beaten that day. Those who tried to cover me, to protect and to encourage me in that horrific time. Those who share the pain of the innocent people. Those who got detained lawlessly and were beaten as if they were the enemies.
During the whole time, I didn’t remember any of the evil faces, but I was able to see one name tag on one of the cops: Nguyen Luong Minh. They didn’t know who I was. Just because I didn’t give up my phone password, they treated me this way; I don’t understand how they would treat people that they refer to as “protesters”, “human rights activists”, “dissidents”. Beside myself, there were hundred of people, illegally detained that day, the old men, the young fresh students, the tour guides in ao dai…
Here, I would like to ask for any information about the woman who cried and held me that night. It was about 7-8pm Sunday, Jun 17, in a room in Tao Dan.