Radio Free Asia Vietnamese Blogger Missing Amid Abduction Reports
RFA – 02/05/2019
A Radio Free Asia blogger from Vietnam is missing after he fled to Thailand to
seek political asylum with a UN refugee agency, fueling fears in the exile
community that he has been abducted by Vietnamese security agents.
There has been no word from Truong Duy Nhat, a
weekly contributor for RFA’s Vietnamese Service’s blog section, since Jan. 26.
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.
“We are extremely concerned about the safety and
well-being of Truong Duy Nhat," RFA President Libby Liu said on Tuesday. "We
hope to hear from him as soon as possible about his whereabouts and to be
assured that he’s not in any danger,” she said.
Nhat’s disappearance has sent a chill through
the Vietnamese refugee community in Thailand and prompted a call from Human
Rights Watch for Thai authorities to investigate. RFA has also reported his case
to the State Department and staff of several U.S. lawmakers.
Exile sources said that Nhat 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
Thailand-based associates of Nhat, who requested
anonymity because they feared for their own safety, said that he went missing on
Jan. 26 during a visit to Future Park, a huge mall on the outskirts of Bangkok.
One of the sources said Nhat was “arrested” at an ice cream shop on the third
floor of the mall.
Thai police said they don't have Nhat in
“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 was 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.”
Afraid to talk
Nhat's wife, who is in Vietnam, and their
Canada-based daughter are afraid to talk about his fate, exile sources said.
The family believes Nhat left Vietnam for
Thailand about three weeks before they heard he had gone missing, according to
thevietnamese.org, an online magazine run by a group of Vietnamese activists and
The authoritarian Vietnamese government of Prime
Minister Nguyen Xuan 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
The government controls the news media, censors
the internet, and restricts basic freedoms of expression.
Nhat himself served a two-year-imprisonment in
2014-2015 for his activism after being arrested in May 2013 and held in
detention until his trial.
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. The U.S.-based
group called for the authorities to “consult with his family until he is found."
HRW said Vietnam’s embassy in Bangkok may also
be able to shed light on the blogger’s whereabouts.
"[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.
Robertson accused Vietnam of "consistently
engaging in hostile surveillance and harassment of Vietnamese and Montagnard
[minority] who fled the country to escape political and religious persecution,
and this includes activities in Bangkok."
"Pursuing dissidents and demanding the Thai
government shut down events about human rights and democracy in Vietnam is just
part of what makes Hanoi stand out as one of the worst rights abusing regimes in
ASEAN [the Association of Southeast Asian Nations],"he said.
"So there is every possibility that the Vietnam
Embassy may know much more about Truong Duy Nhat’s mysterious disappearance than
they are letting on," Robertson said.
The circumstances of Nhat’s disappearance in
Bangkok remain murky. But California-based blogger Nguyen Van Hai, who served in
the same prison with Nhat before Hai’s release in 2014, and Germany-based
blogger Bui Thanh Hieu said they suspect Nhat was abducted by Vietnamese
security agents in Thailand.
"We are looking at the possibility that he has
been abducted," Hai, who writes under the name Dieu Cay, told RFA.
"We know he arrived at Bangkok and went to the
UN’s office to apply for refugee status. If for any reason Nhat now appears in
Vietnam, it must be against his will," he said.
Sources say that Vietnamese exiles have inquired
about Nhat's whereabouts with hospitals and various district offices in Bangkok
but to no avail. An associate of Nhat’s said his disappearance was also reported
to Thai police late last week.
Fighting in the Party
Nhat is based in Da Nang city, next to Prime
Minister Phuc's home province of Quang Nam where there is infighting within the
Vietnamese Communist Party. He may have been privy to information that could be
detrimental to the prime minister, activists said. Nhat had previously worked
for a police newspaper in Da Nang, also Phuc’s stronghold.
Blogger Hieu said he suspected that Vietnamese
military agents abducted Nhat from Bangkok on the orders of the prime minister.
"I think the prime minister wanted Nhat arrested
at any costs because he has information about his faction in Quang Nam province
[in Da Nang]," Hieu, who writes under the name 'Wind Trader,' said on his
This is not the first time the Vietnamese
government has been accused of abducting its citizens from abroad.
Last year, a German court jailed a Vietnamese
man almost four years for helping his country’s secret services kidnap a former
oil executive from a Berlin street in 2017 and smuggle him back to Vietnam.
Ex-oil executive Trinh Xuan Thanh was seeking
asylum in Germany at that time and his disappearance soured bilateral relations,
with the German foreign ministry accusing Vietnam of breaching international
Thanh was subsequently tried and jailed for life
on corruption charges in Vietnam.
Reported by RFA's Vietnamese Service and
BenarNews. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai and Matthew Pennington.