A U.S. citizen of Vietnamese ethnicity missing since earlier this month is believed to have been detained by Vietnam’s government, according to members of his family, who have called on Washington to pressure Hanoi for his immediate release.
Michael Phuong Minh Nguyen, a 54-year-old father of four from California, disappeared on July 6 while visiting friends and relatives in Vietnam, representatives of his family said in a recent statement.
The statement cited anonymous sources as saying Michael Nguyen is “presumed to be … detained and imprisoned by the Vietnamese government” and “allegedly accused of conspiracy,” although Hanoi “refuses to either acknowledge his detainment, or share any information about his condition.”
Michael Nguyen’s family has been unable to confirm his whereabouts, it said.
The statement noted that under an agreement between the U.S. and Vietnam, Hanoi is obligated to notify the U.S. Embassy in Vietnam within 96 hours of an American citizen’s arrest and detention, but the U.S. Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City has sought access to Michael Nguyen and is awaiting a response weeks after his disappearance.
“The family is actively seeking any actionable information that will lead to the safe return of Michael Nguyen,” it said, adding that they are “anxious to bring their father home.”
According to the statement, the family’s local Congresswoman, Mimi Walters, is actively investigating his case.
Speaking to RFA’s Vietnamese Service, Michael Nguyen’s brother-in-law Robert Mark said the family had learned that he may have been detained after contacting some of his friends through social media when he failed to return to the U.S. on a July 16 flight.
But Mark said that repeated efforts to contact various state agencies in Vietnam had yielded nothing.
“We have no answers—the family is very distressed and very disturbed that ... there's no information coming out,” he said.
“We need the support of our U.S. government to help free Michael if he has been detained, to locate him, and for the government there to identify charges if there are any charges against him so that we can ascertain if there is any validity to those charges.”
While the family’s statement did not address where Michael Nguyen was traveling or what he was doing on the day he disappeared, it noted that Vietnam had seen large-scale protests in recent months over government plans to grant long-term leases to foreign companies operating in special economic zones (SEZs) and against a controversial new cybersecurity law seen as restrictive by the country’s netizens.
William Nguyen, a 32-year-old graduate student of Vietnamese descent from Houston, Texas, was beaten by police and detained along with other protesters on June 10 in Ho Chi Minh City after attending what began the day before as a peaceful demonstration over the concession proposal, which had stirred public fears that the leases would go to Chinese-owned firms.
Following a half-day trial at the People’s Court of Ho Chi Minh City on July 20, Will Nguyen was found guilty of “disturbing public order” under penal code article 318 and ordered to leave Vietnam, weeks after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had traveled to Vietnam and urged government officials to find a quick resolution to his case.
Petition for intervention
Michael Nguyen’s family also recently posted a petition on Change.org which had received nearly 4,400 of 5,000 required signatures as of Tuesday, urging Pompeo to intervene on his behalf in talks with Vietnamese counterparts and calling for assistance from U.S. lawmakers.
“For any government to incarcerate anyone without any probable cause is a blatant violation of human rights and of international law, especially if the detained is a citizen of another country,” a statement accompanying the petition said.
“We, as U.S. citizens, hereby demand an immediate and unconditional release of Michael Phuong Minh Nguyen. Failure to do so only serves to further discredit the Vietnamese government in the eyes of the international community, and equally important, in the eyes Vietnamese people.”
After demonstrations against the land concession proposal spread to several cities throughout Vietnam in June, authorities arrested dozens of protesters and have sentenced several to prison. The government eventually tabled the proposal, pending “further research.”
Rights group Amnesty International estimates that at least 97 prisoners of conscience are currently held in Vietnam’s prisons, where many are subjected to torture or other ill-treatment.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.