Human rights activist Bach Hong Quyen arrived in Canada from Thailand On May 3, after narrow escape in Bangkok from being extradited to Vietnam for his role in helping a dissident blogger apply for asylum in Bangkok before he was abducted by Vietnamese agents. Truong Duy Nhat, an RFA contributor, disappeared in Bangkok in late January, and two months later was revealed to be in a Hanoi jail, a secret rendition that legal experts said was a violation by Vietnam's police of the country's criminal procedure laws. Quyen had fled to Thailand in May 2017 after Vietnamese police issued a warrant for his arrest for organizing a protest march on the anniversary of a 2016 waste spill that that polluted the coast of central Vietnam. Quyen, his wife Bui Huong Giang and the couple’s two daughters are in Canada under a refugee program funded by the Canadian government. He spoke to RFA’s Vietnamese Service about avoiding the fate of blogger Nhat, who is in Prison T16 in Hanoi and as of late April had not been allowed visits from his wife. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
RFA: During your two weeks in the Immigration Detention Center (IDC) in Bangkok, who came to see you?
Quyen: On the third day, the Vietnamese embassy asked IDC for my information: When I went there as well as my IDC number. A week later, last Tuesday, a Vietnamese embassy representative met me in the IDC for about one minute, then a U.N. High Commission for Refugees at the IDC took me to the UNHCR office. A UNHCR staffer asked me why the Vietnamese Embassy representative came and what questions he asked. He asked me how I lived in that cell and when I would go to the West.
RFA: When you were in the IDC, the Vietnamese government asked Thailand to extradite you to Vietnam. What do you think about this?
Quyen: It was not only when I entered the IDC that the Vietnamese side wanted to cooperate with the Thai side to take me back to Vietnam. Friends, staff at human rights organizations had already told me that before. When I came to the IDC, I was really worried about being extradited to Vietnam. I knew in advance that when you enter the IDC, the chance of immigration to a third country versus extradition to Vietnam is 50/50. By the time I got there, I learned that the Vietnamese embassy had asked the police at IDC about my information and after the meeting, I felt like I was even in more danger of being extradited to Vietnam. I was really worried. The UN gave me a notice from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) on May 2 that I was scheduled to leave Thailand announced on May 29. Fortunately, due to the concern about my being extradited to Vietnam, IOM as well as the UN pushed hard my case for emigrating to a third country—Canada--and I am now in Canada.
RFA: Before going to the IDC, did you have to hide, especially after publicizing the urgent call for helping Nhat in that letter?
Quyen: I had to escape on March 1, after Thai police came to my house to ask for my information, not when the letter for help was issued on March 8. I had to constantly change the condos I rented to avoid Vietnamese security searches as well as some corrupt police in Thailand. When you’re in hiding like that, the situation is really difficult. I had to find ways to disguise myself. Luckily I am now in Canada and I have been able to come to this country freely, and I don't have to worry like that anymore.
RFA: At the time of blogger Nhat's detention at T16 camp was confirmed by his family and friends in Vietnam, what did you think about how he was taken back to Vietnam?
Quyen: There has been a history of Vietnamese secret agents doing things like kidnapping (former head of PetroVietnam Construction) Trinh Xuan Thanh in the center of Berlin. So it is no surprise that secret Vietnamese agents would come to an ASEAN nation to abduct Truong Duy Nhat, a blogger who revealed social injustices and internal information on the Vietnamese government. Such abductions will affect the reputation as well as the face of a police state, a dictatorial country. I see the Vietnamese government is willing to defy everything to achieve its goals. I found my escaping abduction and being safe today is a matter of me being luckier than Truong Duy Nhat. Truong Duy Nhat was unlucky. He ran to Thailand to seek asylum and while waiting for resettlement in a third country, he was abducted by the Vietnamese government.
Reported by RFA's Vietnamese Service. Translated by An Nguyen.