Rights groups call on UN refugee chief to push Vietnam to free two detained bloggers

They want Filippo Grandi’s office to increase protective measures for refugees in Thailand.
By Roseanne Gerin
Rights groups call on UN refugee chief to push Vietnam to free two detained bloggers Vietnamese blogger Duong Van Thai was arrested in Vietnam in April after disappearing in Thailand.
Screenshot from YouTube video

More than 20 human rights organizations have urged the United Nations to pressure Vietnam to release bloggers Duong Van Thai and Truong Duy Nhat and to take action to protect Vietnamese asylum seekers in Thailand from being forcibly returned to authorities in their home country.

In a letter dated May 18, the groups urged U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi to protect Vietnamese refugees and asylum seekers in Thailand who are at risk for abduction and refoulement — the extradition or deportation of individuals back to their home countries — by Vietnamese government agents.

They referred to the case of blogger Thai, 41, who fled Vietnam in 2018 fearing political persecution for his blog posts and videos on Facebook and YouTube that criticized the government and leaders of the Vietnamese Communist Party. 

Thai applied for refugee status in Thailand while seeking relocation in a third country under the U.N. refugee resettlement program, but was abducted in mid-April, allegedly by security agents, and forcibly returned to Vietnam where he is being held by authorities. 

In another case, journalist and blogger Nhat, 58, was allegedly abducted in Thailand by Vietnamese security agents in January 2019 while seeking asylum and was subsequently sentenced by Vietnam authorities to 10 years in prison for “abusing his position and power while on duty.”

Nhat had been a weekly contributor to Radio Free Asia until his arrest.

“These reported abductions, followed by arbitrary detention, are a clear violation of international refugee law and human rights law,” the 21 groups said in the letter. “These acts of transnational repression are also conducted as a means for repressive regimes to continue to silence and threaten the freedom of expression of dissident voices, even beyond national borders.”

Though Thailand has served as an informal safe haven for political refugees in the region for decades, Thai law does not provide formal legal status to refugees and asylum-seekers, and the government has frequently violated the rights of refugees, according to London-based Amnesty International.  

The Thai government has returned refugees and asylum-seekers to countries where they face persecution, imprisonment, and other human rights violations, conflicting with the country’s s obligations under international law.

The rights groups called on the U.N.’s refugee office, or UNHCR, to pay closer attention to their cases and conduct assessments of all Vietnamese asylum seekers and those granted refugee status to determine the risks of physical attacks, abductions and illegal transfers to Vietnam they could face, and to implement protective measures.

The organizations, which include PEN America, Safeguard Defenders, and Reporters Without Borders, also urged the UNHCR to accelerate the third-country resettlement procedures for refugees so they have a safe alternative to staying in Thailand or being forcibly returned to Vietnam.

They also demanded that the UNHCR call on the Vietnamese government to immediately release Thai, Nhat, and other asylum seekers and human rights defenders who were previously abducted in a foreign country. 

Edited by Paul Eckert.


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