Detained Vietnamese blogger allowed to send letter to family

Duong Van Thai mysteriously disappeared in Bangkok in April.
Duong Van Thai mysteriously disappeared in Bangkok in April.
2023.11.06
Detained Vietnamese blogger allowed to send letter to family Vietnamese blogger Duong Van Thai is seen before going missing in Thailand.
Facebook/Thai Van Duong

A blogger who mysteriously went missing in Bangkok, Thailand, and later ended up in Vietnamese police custody was allowed to send a letter to his mother, who told Radio Free Asia that his case is still under investigation.

Duong Van Thai, who fled to Thailand in either late 2018 or early 2019 fearing political persecution for his online criticism of the Vietnamese government, had been granted refugee status with the United Nations refugee agency’s office in Bangkok and had completed an interview for resettlement in a third country just prior to his disappearance on April 13.

The Vietnamese government in July acknowledged that he had been arrested and 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.

Though it is widely believed that Thai was abducted and taken back to Vietnam, Hanoi has neither confirmed nor denied this.

Thai’s mother Duong Thi Lu, 75, told RFA Vietnamese that she was summoned by the detention center to receive a letter from her son on Nov. 3.

The letter from her son inquired about her health, she said.

“[He] asked whether my knee pain had all gone and my cough had been less frequent,” she said. “He said he was well-fed there [in the temporary detention facility], so, there was nothing for me to be concerned about. He also said I am old already, and he had everything there, so I don’t have to worry about him.”

Doubtful about authenticity

Though she recognized the handwriting of the letter as Thai’s, she said she doubted its authenticity. 

During the visit, the police did not allow her to bring the letter home, and also denied her request to see her son because he was still in the “investigation period,” though a police officer comforted her by telling her that responsible agencies and her son were working together in the investigation.

Lu said that the family has yet to hire a defense lawyer because the investigation is still underway.

RFA called the Investigation Agency to get updates about Thai’s health, but staff who answered the phone refused to provide a response.

As is practice in national security-related cases in Vietnam, defendants are not allowed to see their families during the investigation period. 

Some are even only able to see their lawyer shortly before standing on trial, and they can only meet their family after the trial is complete.

After his disappearance, Vietnamese state media reported that a man named Duong Van Thai had illegally entered Vietnam and been arrested by police in the northern central province of Ha Tinh.

The official notification in July did not mention when he had been arrested and where the arrest had taken place.

The notice also said that Duong Van Thai would be temporarily detained until August 12, 2023. Nearly three months have passed, but his family has not received any official notifications about the investigation.

According to Vietnam’s Law on Temporary Detention and Custody, in very serious cases, temporary detention can last four months and can be extended twice, no more than four months each.

Hundreds of videos featuring Duong Van Thai’s talks have vanished on his YouTube and Facebook accounts since his disappearance. 

Rights organizations including Human Rights Watch, Reporters Without Borders, and the Committee to Protect Journalists, believe that Duong Van Thai was abducted and brought back to Vietnam by the Vietnamese security forces. 

They believe it was done in a manner similar to RFA contributor Truong Duy Nhat, who was taken from Bangkok in 2019, and former oil and gas company CEO Trinh Xuan Thanh, who was abducted in Berlin in 2017.

Translated by Anna Vu. Edited by Eugene Whong and Malcolm Foster.

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