Vietnamese authorities have detained a Vietnamese-American activist they say planned to disrupt the anniversary of the fall of Saigon and labeled him a “terrorist,” drawing condemnation from a U.S.-based opposition group which said he should be released unconditionally.
Nguyen Quoc Quan, 58, also known as Richard Nguyen, was arrested April 17 as he deplaned in Tan Son Nhat airport while “trying to enter Vietnam to instigate a demonstration and undermine celebrations,” the official Vietnam News Agency reported over the weekend.
Quan is a member of the U.S.-based opposition group Viet Tan, known as the Vietnam Reform Party, which is outlawed in one-party communist Vietnam.
He will be held for four months while the investigation into charges of “terrorism” is under way. A conviction could carry a penalty of death, though Vietnam has never executed a foreign national for political charges.
His arrest came ahead of the anniversary of communist troops taking Saigon, now known as Ho Chi Minh City, on April 30, 1975, which forced U.S. forces to withdraw at the end of the Vietnam conflict.
Viet Tan said in a statement Monday that Quan had met with a representative from the U.S. Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City on April 27 at a Ministry of Public Security detention center, where he “affirmed his innocence of any criminal offense.”
Viet Tan called the Vietnamese government’s accusation against Quan “completely fabricated” and baseless, saying his detention is just the latest example of the Communist Party’s “ongoing crackdown on human rights defenders.”
The group challenged authorities to prove the charges in a court of Vietnamese and international public opinion, adding that Quan and “all other voices of conscience must be released immediately and unconditionally.”
“We must deny the regime’s attempts at suppressing peaceful political advocacy under the pretense of national security,” said Viet Tan Chairman Do Hoang Diem.
“Viet Tan members and democracy activists worldwide will continue to stand with the people of Vietnam in overcoming social injustice and dictatorship.”
The Vietnamese government had previously handed Quan a six-month jail sentence, also on terrorism charges, and deported him out of the country in May 2008, according to Viet Tan. The opposition group said that he had been distributing materials promoting nonviolent tactics for civil resistance.
A resident of California, Quan received his doctorate in mathematics from North Carolina State University. He had previously taught high school in Vietnam.
Vietnamese police earlier this month arrested fisherman Vo Viet Dzien for also plotting against the state and seeking to disrupt the same anniversary. He was said to be involved with the U.S.-based Restoration Party, a banned prodemocracy group.
The California-based Vietnam Human Rights Network (VHRN) recently said communist authorities in 2011 monopolized information, intensified controls on the media, and hunted down those who dared to express views different from their own or advocate for victims of abuse of power.
The group listed 163 political prisoners still jailed in Vietnam as of March this year, a number greater than that recognized by most other rights organizations.
It said political prisoners included those who had used “unarmed” violence to defend themselves against the authorities and to protect human rights. The government has classified such prisoners as “terrorists.”
Reported by Joshua Lipes.