Vietnam arrests blogger who went missing in Thailand in April

Many believe Duong Van Thai was abducted near his Bangkok home.
By RFA Vietnamese
2023.07.20
Vietnam arrests blogger who went missing in Thailand in April Vietnamese blogger Duong Van Thai was recently arrested in Vietnam after disappearing in Thailand.
Screenshot from YouTube video

Vietnam has arrested Duong Van Thai, a blogger and YouTuber who mysteriously went missing in Bangkok, Thailand, in April, his family told Radio Free Asia.

In a letter sent to the family this month, Vietnam's Ministry of Public Security confirmed the arrest, saying he was in Vietnam’s custody and was charged with creating “propaganda against the state” in violation of Article 117 of the penal code, a vaguely written law that rights organizations have said is often used by Hanoi to silence dissent.

Duong Thi Lu, Thai’s mother, told RFA’s Vietnamese Service that the document she received from authorities is the first news of her son that she has heard since he went missing on April 13 in what many believe to be an abduction. 

Vietnam has neither confirmed nor denied that he was abducted and taken back to Vietnam.

Thai had fled to Thailand in 2019 fearing political persecution for his many posts and videos that criticized the Vietnamese government and leaders of the Communist Party on Facebook and YouTube. He had been granted refugee status by the United Nations refugee agency’s office in Bangkok.

ENG_VTN_YouTuberArrested_07202023.2.jpg
In this screenshot from security camera footage, blogger Duong Van Thai backs his Fino motorbike in Bangkok, Thailand. Credit: Screenshot from security camera footage

According to the document, Thai had “collected information and documents to edit and write articles, recorded video clips with illegal content and distributed them on the Internet, violating Article 117 of the Penal Code."

The document also explained that he would be detained until Aug. 12 at Detention Center B14 in Hanoi. It also listed his permanent residence in Hanoi, but listed his Thai address as his “current residence.”

The notice did not specify when and where Duong Van Thai was detained, but RFA reported several days after he disappeared that Vietnamese police said they caught him trying to enter Vietnam illegally.

Release demanded

Rights groups have clamored for Thai’s immediate release since his disappearance.

Organizations such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Reporters Without Borders and the Committee to Protect Journalists have condemned Hanoi for how it has handled his case.

It was a “clear case of transnational repression,” and U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen should raise the issue during her trip to Vietnam this week, said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

“This outrageous and unacceptable action by Vietnam showed yet again the inherently rights abusing orientation of the government that makes Vietnam one of the worst rights abusing countries in Southeast Asia,” said Robertson. “Hanoi should apologize publicly to Thailand for its act that clearly violated Thai sovereignty.”

He said that Thai should be released immediately and called for those responsible for abducting him to be punished.

Amnesty International’s Joe Freeman, the interim deputy regional director of communications, said Thai’s alleged abduction shows the “real dangers those who dare to have an opinion against the government in Vietnam face, at home, or when seeking safety in other countries in the region, such as Thailand.”

He called for Thailand to launch an investigation on the case to determine exactly how Thai ended up in Vietnam, emphasizing that it was a clear violation of Thailand’s Prevention and Suppression of Torture and Enforced Disappearance Act.

A lawyer in Hanoi who wished to remain anonymous for security reasons told RFA that the announcement of custody and prosecution of the accused to the family in the case of Mr. Duong Van Thai was inconsistent with laws on detention and criminal procedure.

“Police have an obligation to notify the family as soon as they take measures to detain and prosecute the accused and take him into custody,” the lawyer said.

Thai’s case has drawn similarities to that of RFA blogger Truong Duy Nhat, who applied for political asylum in Thailand but disappeared in 2019. He later resurfaced in Vietnam and was sentenced to 10 years in prison for “abusing position and power while on duty.”

Translated by Hanh Seide. Edited by Eugene Whong and Malcolm Foster.

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