A Vietnamese blogger for Radio Free Asia, Truong Duy Nhat, who disappeared in Bangkok in late January amid suspicions he was abducted by Vietnamese agents, is in a Hanoi jail, his daughter and a local writer said Wednesday, in the first word of his fate since he went missing.
Canada-based Thuc Doan Truong told RFA's Vietnamese service that her mother was informed by prison authorities that Nhat was arrested on Jan. 28 and thrown into a jail in central Hanoi district on the same day.
Rights activists had suspected that Nhat was detained by Thai authorities on the outskirts of Bangkok and handed to Vietnamese agents on Jan. 26 after he had fled to Thailand to seek political asylum with a U.N. refugee agency.
"They (the prison authorities) told my mom that my father was arrested on January 28 and admitted to the detention center on the same day," Truong told RFA by telephone.
"In fact, he was missing since Jan. 26 in Thailand but now he is in Vietnam," she said. "It's clear that my father did not voluntarily go back to Vietnam."
Cao Thi Xuan Phuong, Nhat's wife and Truong's mother, went to jail to visit her husband on Wednesday but prison authorities refused to allow her to meet with him, saying investigations were not completed yet, according to Truong.
But they collected part of the food supplies and clothing she brought for him.
Truong’s account is the first confirmation that Nhat, a weekly contributor to the Vietnamese service of RFA, a U.S. funded broadcaster, has been taken to Vietnam after being last seen in Thailand.
He last communicated with Washington-based RFA editors on Jan. 24 over his commentary on the growing opposition movement in Venezuela and the prospects of change in Communist-ruled Vietnam.
Nhat vanished at a shopping mall on the outskirts of Bangkok after going to the Bangkok office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on Jan 25.
She flew to Hanoi to meet with her husband on Wednesday after gaining permission from the Da Nang local authorities.
Former Hanoi Writers Association head Xuan Nguyen Pham said he had taken Phuong to the jail to meet with Nhat.
"The prison authorities provided Nhat's wife with a booklet that would enable her to visit her husband in the future. In the booklet, it was written that Nhat was arrested on January 28 and on the same day transferred to T16," Pham wrote on his Facebook page.
RFA has reported Nhat's case to the U.S. State Department and staff of several U.S. lawmakers.
His disappearance had sent a chill through the Vietnamese refugee community in Thailand, which had ordered an investigation into the issue.
The State Department had welcomed the Thai government’s investigation, saying it was monitoring the situation closely.
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 Rights Network.
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.
Phil Robertson, HRW's Bangkok-based deputy Asia director, had told RFA last month that if it turned out that Vietnam and local Thai officials were found to be involved in Nhat's disappearance, "there needs to be serious consequences for everyone responsible.”
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.
Reported and translated by An Nguyen for RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.