A former treasurer of a local post office in the Bac Lieu province of Viet Nam is facing a death sentence on charges of embezzlement. Tang Thi Ba was sentenced to death on 29 May on for embezzling 15 billion Vietnamese dong (just over US$900,000). She had been arrested in December 2006 and admitted the charges in court.
The prosecutors sought a life sentence, but the court sentenced her to death because of the amount of money involved. On 29 August, the court of appeals upheld Tang Thi Ba’s death sentence. Her final recourse is now appealing to the President for commutation of the sentence.
The death penalty may be imposed for 29 offences in Viet Nam’s Penal Code. These offences include economic crimes, such as fraud, embezzlement, smuggling, counterfeiting and offering bribes; manufacturing, concealing and trafficking in narcotic substances.
According to media reports Viet Nam has executed at least three people this year, and at least 28 people have been sentenced to death. However, executions are rarely reported and the actual number is believed to be much higher. In 2007, more than 25 people were executed.
International standards for fair trial are not followed in practice in Viet Nam. Legal counsel is often assigned to defendants at the last minute, allowing little pre-trial preparation. The defence is not always allowed to call or question witnesses, and private consultation with counsel may be limited. In many cases, all the defence counsel can do is plead for clemency.
On 3 November, the government presented amendments on some clauses of the Penal Code. In the amended law, the government proposed to remove the death sentence on offences of embezzlement, bribery and production of fake goods (including fake food, medicine), amongst others, which would reduce the number of capital offences to 12.
According to the government, to fight against corruption effectively, it is important to combine and act on several measures simultaneously instead of meting out a death sentence.
Amnesty International is calling on the Vietnamese authorities to carry out the proposed reforms and introduce a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty
"Viet Nam abstained in December 2007 when the UN General Assembly (UNGA) adopted a resolution on a moratorium on the use of the death penalty," said Martin Macpherson from Amnesty International. "Amnesty International welcomed the fact that Viet Nam didn't vote against the resolution.
"The resolution expresses deep concern about the application of the death penalty. It calls on states that still maintain it to respect international safeguards guaranteeing the rights of those facing the death penalty, to reduce the number of offences for which the death penalty may be imposed and to establish a moratorium on executions with the view to abolishing the death penalty.
"A second resolution on a moratorium on the use of the death penalty will be introduced at this 63rd session. The resolution will be put to a vote at the Third Committee around 18 November. Amnesty International calls on Viet Nam to join with the majority of countries in the world in voting in favour of a moratorium."