Vietnamese Police Release Ethnic Cham After Four-Day Interrogation

Of two friends also arrested for unknown reasons, one remains in custody.
2021-04-13
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Poet Dong Chuong Tu (left) and his friend Nguyen Van Son Trung (right)
Facebook pages of Đồng Chuông Tử and Nguyễn Văn Sơn Trung

Police in Vietnam have released an ethnic Cham poet after detaining him for four days for investigation, he revealed on social media.

Prior to his April 10 release, Nguyen Quoc Huy, who goes by the pen name Dong Chuong Tu, had been missing since April 7, after police in Thuan Bac district in the country’s southern coastal Binh Thuan province asked him to come to the station for a meeting while he was in the area for a visit.

“On Tuesday [April 6,] Dong Chuong Tu visited his hometown in Ma Lam to handle some business. Then he met some friends there that he hadn’t seen in a long time,” a friend of Tu, who requested anonymity for security reasons, told RFA’s Vietnamese Service on April 9.

“On April 7, he was ‘invited’ to have a meeting with the police. I don’t know whether he was actually invited or if they took him in, but he texted a friend saying he was detained in the Ma Lam police station,” Tu’s friend said.

Another of Tu’s friends told RFA that Tu often writes poems and media articles and was involved with charitable causes, such as advocating for assistance to help Ma Lam’s poor, including helping to provide a new public library for the town.

RFA contacted the Ma Lam police station on April 9, but the officer who picked up the phone there denied having any knowledge of Tu’s case, while an officer at the provincial-level police department said his department was unaware of local-level cases.

Following his release, Tu wrote that evening on Facebook that he had returned home safe and sound, and he thanked the Cham community for their support. In a later post, he said that he had signed police documents to secure a quicker release including affidavits that verified his travels abroad since 2019, his correspondence with international media, and the status of his self-nomination for a National Assembly seat, his support of the Cham ethnic minority community in a land dispute in Ninh Thuan province, as well as acknowledgement that his passport had been confiscated.

Candidacy

Writing on social media, Tu had expressed his hopes to represent fellow members of Vietnam’s ethnic Cham minority in the country’s National Assembly.

He first declared his candidacy in a June 2020 Facebook post, writing, “Though I know that I’ll be eliminated in the very first rounds, I still decided to nominate myself, as I see most of the National Assembly members who come from my ethnicity are there only for show, but actually do nothing.”

“They are like bonsai trees,” Tu wrote.

He then updated his quest for candidacy in a cryptic February 2021 Facebook post.

“Binh Thuan province has only seven seats, of which three area already reserved for representatives from the central authorities in Hanoi. How can I manage to get one of the remaining four? To be safe and sound, I’ll quit the game, my dear Cham fellows,” he wrote.

The nomination of candidates for election to Vietnam’s National Assembly is a political process tightly controlled by the country’s ruling Communist Party, which carefully vets named candidates for Party approval.

RFA was unable to confirm whether Tu has formally submitted his application for candidacy in the election scheduled for May 23.

Friends detained

During the time that Tu was in custody for interrogation, Binh Thuan police arrested two of his friends, Tran Duc Tin and Nguyen Van Son Trung.

Tin was attending a training class in Ho Chi Minh City on the afternoon of April 10 when police took him in. He was released Monday.

Police arrested Trung April 9 in Binh Thuan. He remains in custody and his family has not received any information about his case.

“My husband was arrested April 9. They called him to come outside, so I don’t know where the arrest happened,” Trung’s wife, Ms. Hien told RFA.

“I only heard from my neighbors that the police had searched for him at home. Before he left, my husband asked the kids to tell me that he was going to eat out at a restaurant. But I don’t know if he really went to the restaurant or somewhere else,” Hien said.

“I don’t know when my husband was arrested. After I came home at around 5 p.m. and heard the story from my neighbors, I called my husband to ask where he was. He only said he was taking care of business outside. His friends told me that he had been arrested at 6 p.m.,” she said.

According to Hien, several men dressed in plainclothes visited her home the next day and identified themselves as policemen. They asked Trung’s mother to go to the station to give her son some advice, but she refused.

After the men left, Trung’s family received a phone call from Trung, who only said he was in temporary detention at the Binh Thuan police station.

RFA was unable to confirm why Tin and Trung were arrested, but one of Mr. Trung’s friends told RFA that both men were members of a chat group that discussed Tu’s candidacy for a seat in the National Assembly.

In one of Tu’s Facebook posts, he apologized to Nguyen Van Son Trung and his wife for texting Trung while he was in police custody.

Trung’s detention goes against Vietnamese law, which stipulates that police cannot temporarily detain anyone without a temporary detention warrant unless they provide in writing a specific reason to the person in detention and their family.

Temporary detention should also not last more than 12 hours unless “absolutely necessary” and must not last longer than 24 hours, Vietnamese law says.

During the past three months, police have arrested two other self-nominated assembly candidates from Hanoi, Tran Quoc Khanh and Le Trong Hung, for “disseminating anti-State materials,” even though the central government has openly discussed an initiative to “open doors wider for self-nominated candidates”.

Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Anna Vu. Written in English by Eugene Whong.

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