Police in Vietnam broke into the house of a citizen and forced her to take a COVID-19 test according to a state media report that was deleted shortly after it was published – actions that lawyers said broke multiple Vietnamese laws.
Police in the city of Thuan An, in the southern province of Binh Duong, cut open a lock Tuesday to gain access to the apartment of Hoang Thi Phuong Lan to force her to get tested, reported Tuoi Tre, a Vietnamese daily newspaper.
Video footage of the incident shows the police dragging Lan out of her apartment, while a child can be heard crying in the background. She was taken to an outdoor testing site in front of her apartment building.
Lan wrote on Facebook that she was teaching an online yoga class at the time, had already tested negative in a home test for COVID-19, and didn’t want to go to a crowded testing area where she might get infected.
The Tuoi Tre report, published on Wednesday quoted Hoang Van Huong, a lawyer, as saying the actions by police were a “violation of human rights.”
“Because the implementation of a forceful act must follow an administrative process,” said Huong.
“The video clip shows that the coercion did not follow any decisions or processes,” the lawyer said.
Huong also said that the video footage was shocking because it involved women and children.
“The coerced woman did not receive any notice saying taking the COVID-19 test was mandatory. In addition, there was a child in the house,” he said.
“The child cried, screamed and was in a state of panic because they had broken the door lock and arrested the mother. The psychological shock could affect the child’s long-term psychological development,” said Huong.
Shortly after the report appeared on Tuoi Tre’s website, it was removed with no explanation.
Ho Chi Minh City lawyer Dang Dinh Manh told RFA the police broke the law to gain access to Lan’s home.
“The Party Secretary of the ward directed his staff to break the door lock of a person’s home and force her to get tested. This is a coercive act of the local authority which is not allowed by law,” he told RFA’s Vietnamese Service.
Manh said the taskforce committed three illegal acts—breaking into Lan’s home, damaging her assets, and arresting her illegally.
Police also were in violation of Decree 117 of 2020, which allows authorities to fine those guilty of administrative health care violations, but does not allow coercive sanctions, Manh said.
State media reported Wednesday that Vo Thanh Quan, the Communist Party secretary of Thuan An visited the apartment and apologized to Lan over the incident. But they still cited her for breaking quarantine rules, seized her ID card, and put the citation on her record.
The party officials spent 40 minutes trying to persuade Lan to remove video footage of the incident from her Facebook account, she told RFA on Wednesday.
They asked her to “forgive them, forget the incident, remove the Facebook post, and cooperate with them [in the fight against COVID-19],” she said in a Facebook chat.
Lan said she could not make any promises.
“It will depend on the situation. I can’t talk about what hasn’t happened yet. Depending on whether I will have been found to be in contact with confirmed COVID-19 cases or visited places where there are many positive tests, I will decide what I need to do,” she told RFA’s Vietnamese Service.
“I acknowledge their apology but do not accept it. In addition to their illegal acts, they also humiliated and insulted me in front of the crowd and my child and caused mental harm to him.”
Lan told RFA that the local authorities did not talk about returning her ID card and the records of administrative violations. She said that she would consult her lawyers about filing legal proceedings against the local government.
In a related development, Nguyen Hong Linh, party secretary of neighboring Dong Nai province, warned quarantine authorities there to refrain from violence while enforcing health policies.
“The pandemic fighting forces are not allowed to break down doors, trespass on people’s property or use force to get people tested,” he said.
“Enforcement officers should observe tactful and soft measures to address the difficulties facing local people and avoid causing discontent amid the pandemic,” said Linh
Vietnam had been among the most effective countries in tackling COVID-19, reporting no deaths through late July 2020—a record that was attributed to effective contact tracing, strict quarantines, and early testing.
After weathering three waves of the virus with confirmed cases numbering in the low thousands, a fourth wave arrived in April 2021. As of Thursday, Vietnam has confirmed 779,398 cases of COVID-19 and 19,098 deaths according to data from Johns Hopkins University’s Coronavirus Resource Center.
During the fourth wave, the country locked down its largest cities and forbade residents from leaving their houses except to procure food, a move that has led to widespread unemployment and loss of income.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Anna Vu. Written in Englsih by Eugene Whong.