The wife of an American citizen detained in Vietnam attended Tuesday’s State of the Union address, hoping to raise awareness about her husband’s case.
Helen Nguyen, a resident of California, was invited to the annual speech by the U.S. president as a guest of Rep. Katie Porter (D-CA).
Nguyen’s husband Michael Nguyen disappeared on July 6, 2018 while visiting friends and relatives in Vietnam, and his whereabouts and condition remained unknown for more than three weeks.
On July 31, the U.S. Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City Franc Shelton confirmed that Michael Nguyen had been arrested and was being held at a detention center in the city while under investigation for “activity against the People’s government,” according to Article 109 of Vietnam’s Penal Code.
“Since he was detained, he’s had no due process at all,” Nguyen said in an interview with RFA’s Vietnamese Service.
“No visitors, no letters, nobody can contact him, even including lawyers. Only [staff from] the U.S. consulate visit him once a month for 20 to 30 minutes,” she said.
“The latest news that I heard was on Jan. 30,” she said, adding, “He’s doing well, just minor issues that he complained about, having jaw pain, but mentally everything is okay with him.”
A plea for freedom
Nguyen said that her husband had visited Vietnam at least once each year for the past 16 years and had never had problems before.
“I don’t know what’s the reason this time, last year, that he got detained,” she said.
“I don’t know where they got the idea to investigate him about [activity against the government], because he is very busy here in the United States,” she said.
”He’s a full time mom, because I work with my heavy schedule and on call, so he basically takes care of the kids and my elderly parents.”
Nguyen said her husband also works, takes care of extended family, and has dinner with her every night.
“In between all that, I don’t know where’s the time that he can do any of those things the Vietnamese government [is] investigating him for, like overthrowing the government,” she said.
While in Washington, Nguyen met with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Eliot Engel (D-NY).
“They will relay the message to the president for me, because the president will visit Vietnam in late February,” she said.
“The Vietnamese government needs to change to a better future,” Nguyen said.
Nguyen said she has no idea when the Vietnamese authorities will finish their investigation.
“They say they might finish in late March,” she said, “but who knows? Because according to their rules, they can extend it longer.”
“The only thing I ask the Vietnamese authorities now, I’m calling on them to release Michael. Give him back his freedom, please,” she said.
Jailed in China
Meanwhile, Lee Ching-yu, the wife of a Taiwanese activist jailed in China, also attended the State of the Union address as the guest of Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ).
Her husband Lee Ming-cheh is a pro-democracy activist in Taiwan, and a supporter of human rights in China. While visiting China in March 2017, he was arrested for “engaging in activities that endangered national security.”
He was sentenced to five years in jail for "attempting to subvert state power” in November 2017.
“[Lee Ching-yu’s] very presence helps highlight the unjust imprisonment of Lee Ming-cheh and the over 1,300 prisoners of conscience in China, many [of whom] are tortured and jailed for little more than peacefully supporting human rights and the rule of law,” Smith said in a press release.
“In addition to prisoners of conscience, we must continue to object to the Chinese Communist Party’s relentless efforts to ostracize, intimidate, and isolate democratic Taiwan,” Smith said.
Lee Ching-yu said recently she has been banned by China from visiting her husband for three months because of her public reports of the harsh prison conditions he now endures.
"Your country has stated that I disregard the facts, and that my public statements are inconsistent with the facts," Lee told the Chinese Communist Party in a news conference on Jan. 30.
"I request that you make public the video footage of visits," she said.
"Tell me, what lies have I told about my husband, who is locked up in one of your jails? I will be able to dismantle your lies right away," Lee said.
With additional reporting by Viet Ha of RFA’s Vietnamese Service.