Truong Duy Nhat
RFA Vietnamese Service
Jailed: January 11, 2017
Truong Duy Nhat, a weekly contributor for RFA’s Vietnamese Service’s blog section, is being held in a Hanoi prison. He went missing on January 26, and he last communicated with Washington-based RFA editors two days earlier over his commentary on the growing opposition movement in Venezuela and the prospects of change in Communist-ruled Vietnam.
Nhat’s disappearance occurred when he was in Thailand to seek political asylum with a UN refugee agency. The mysterious circumstances in which he went missing fueled suspicions that he has been abducted by Vietnamese security agents.
“We are extremely concerned about the safety and well-being of Truong Duy Nhat,” RFA President Libby Liu said.
Nhat’s case has sent a chill through the Vietnamese refugee community in Thailand and prompted calls from human rights groups, U.S. congressmen and the State Department for Thai authorities investigate but Thailand has offered no account of what happened.
Associates of Nhat said that he had gone to the office of the United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees, or UNHCR, in Bangkok on Jan. 25 to apply for refugee status and they subsequently lost contact with him.
He went missing on Jan. 26 during a visit to Future Park, a huge mall on the outskirts of Bangkok. Exile sources, who requested anonymity because they feared for their own safety, said Nhat was “arrested” at an ice cream shop on the third floor of the mall.
Bui Thanh Hieu, a popular Vietnamese blogger who lives in exile in Germany, alleged in a March 10 posting on Facebook that Thai police had then taken Nhat to a bar outside Bangkok where Vietnamese personnel bundled him into a vehicle and drugged him–an account that was repeated by two rights activists who are familiar with Nhat’s case. RFA has not been able to independently verify the details of that account.
After Nhat was first reported missing a few days after his disappearance, Thai police denied he was in their custody.
“We’ve checked through the list of detainees, we don’t see him, Truong Duy Nhat, on the list,” Police Colonel Tatpong Sarawanangkoon, who is in charge of the detention section at the Immigration Detention Center in Bangkok, told RFA.
The UNHCR meanwhile, has been tightlipped, citing privacy concerns. Associate external relations officer Jennifer Harrison said: “Due to reasons of confidentiality and data protection, we are unable to comment on [or even confirm/deny the existence of] individual cases.”
Around March 20, it emerged that Nhat was thrown into Prison T16 in Hanoi on Jan. 28, two days after he went missing. That’s according to Nhat’s daughter who is based in Canada. It’s not yet clear how he was transported from Thailand to Vietnam.
As of late April, Nhat’s wife, Cao Thi Ngoc Phuong, has not been permitted to visit him or provide him food and other supplies.
Vietnam’s police ministry told reporters at a news conference on March 25, that Nhat was detained for his involvement in a land corruption case at the newspaper where he used to be a bureau chief in the city of Danang in the 1990s.
However, associates of Nhat contend that his apparent abduction in Thailand and detention in Vietnam may be linked to information he has that could be detrimental to the Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, whose home province of Quang Nam is adjacent to Danang.
Nhat has served two years in prison before for his writings. He was released in 2015.
Human Rights Watch, or HRW, said Thai authorities have to investigate the case of Nhat, noting that he had come to Bangkok for the sole reason of applying for political asylum.
“[T]he Thai authorities have an urgent obligation to seriously investigate this disappearance,” Phil Robertson, HRW’s Bangkok-based deputy Asia director, told RFA, noting that the group itself did not yet know what had happened to Nhat.
“If it turns out that Vietnam and local Thai officials are found to be involved in his disappearance, there needs to be serious consequences for everyone responsible,” he said.
The authoritarian Vietnamese government of Prime Minister Phuc is at present holding more than 200 political prisoners, including rights advocates and bloggers deemed threats to national security, according to Nguyen Kim Binh of the California-based Vietnam Human Rights Network.
The government controls the news media, censors the internet, and restricts basic freedoms of expression.
This story originally appeared on USAGM.gov.