Vietnamese authorities violated criminal procedure laws when they detained a local blogger for Radio Free Asia, Truong Duy Nhat, who disappeared in Bangkok in late January amid suspicions he was abducted by Vietnamese agents and was revealed this week to be in a Hanoi jail, experts said on Friday.
Canada-based Thuc Doan Truong, the blogger's daughter, 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.
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 and 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.
Nhat’s convoluted route to his Hanoi cell involved violation of Vietnam’s criminal laws, said legal affairs blogger Pham Le Vuong Cac.
“According to Vietnam’s law on criminal procedure, within 24 hours of an arrest, authorities must inform the family,” he told RFA.
“The law helps to prevent arrests that are made in secret to avoid situations where detainees may be tortured or don’t have access to lawyers. According to reports, Nhat was arrested in Thailand and then transferred to Vietnam,” added Pham.
“This case is sensitive for the government. If Vietnam has to make clear about Truong Duy Nhat, this may affect their reputation and the legitimacy of the government,” he said.
Vietnamese authorities, he said, “are in the process of covering up sources about how he was arrested in Thailand and then brought back to Vietnam. They need more time to handle this case in the media,” added Pham.
Others noted that Vietnam had posted a warrant for Trinh Xuan Thanh, the former head of PetroVietnam Construction, whom Hanoi agents are believed to have abducted from Berlin in July 2017. Taken home by force to face charges of mismanagement and embezzlement, Thanh, who had been seeking asylum in Germany, was sentenced to two terms of life in prison in January 2018.
“According to what I read in the media, I didn’t see any warrant notice for Truong Duy Nhat,” said blogger and activist Nguyen Ngoc Gia, who formerly wrote for RFA.
Laywer Dang Dinh Manh told RFA that “in principle, they have to inform the family of the arrest. If the arrest has anything to do with serious effects in society or national security, they also need to announce this on newspapers.”
Truong, the blogger’s daughter, told RFA that her family never received any official notice from the government about the arrest.
Earlier this week she told RFA by telephone that prison authorities “told my mom that my father was arrested on January 28 and admitted to the detention center on the same day.”
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.
His disappearance had sent a chill through the Vietnamese refugee community in Thailand, which had ordered an investigation into the issue.
Rights groups condemned the abduction and demanded explanations from Hanoi and Bangkok.
“Reports that Nhat is now in a Hanoi prison are extremely worrying, and we are calling on the Vietnamese authorities to confirm whether he is in their custody and disclose his whereabouts at once,” said Joanne Mariner, Amnesty International’s senior crisis adviser.
“The Vietnamese and Thai authorities need to come clean about why and how Nhat returned to Viet Nam so soon after he applied for asylum in Bangkok,” she said in a statement.
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.
Reported by RFA's Vietnamese Service. Translated by Viet Ha. Written in English by Paul Eckert.