Not much is known about the lives of the inmates inside Vietnam’s secretive prison system. While media access is is heavily restricted and details are scarce, Vietnam is believed to be one of the leading executioners in the world.
According to AFP, in a rare report last year the Ministry of Public Security said 429 people were executed between 2013 and June 2016.
That makes it an average of 147 executions per year, putting Vietnam among the world’s top executioners along with China and Iran.
The limited and supervised contact between inmates and their families hasn’t stopped a handful of prisoners crafting intricate art pieces in the shape of animals, flowers, and hearts to be passed along to their families.
The pieces are made made from plastic bags passed on by fellow prisoners and then smuggled out by prisoners released after serving their terms.
Families reported they stopped receiving them a few years ago. Chinh and other parents believe the guards have cracked down on the forbidden activity.
The artwork serves as an emotional lifeline for desperate parents who are fighting to release their children who they claim have been wrongly convicted.
“Anytime we receive the gifts from my son I feel like he’s here with me, like he’s come back home,” said Nguyen Truong Chinh.
The law requires death row inmates to be held in solitary confinement and monitored around the clock.
Prisoners deemed “dangerous” are shackled by the foot for most of the day and given a 15 minutes break to bather inside their prison cell, where they eat and use the toilet.
“When I see the animals, I know somehow that my son is stable enough to create these things, that he is mentally strong,” said Chinh. “They motivate our fight for justice.”
In letters to his family, Chuong said he was tortured in custody, hung upside down and naked with a dirty sock in his mouth and beaten during interrogation.
Police electrocuted his genitals and prodded him with needles until he confessed under duress, he wrote.
However Vietnam’s foreign ministry have rejected allegations of torture as “false information” in a statement and said it does not do anything to harm the “honour and dignity” of inmates.