Vietnamese-American Detained in Vietnam For ‘Disturbing Public Order’

Police are holding William Nguyen in custody for participating in a protest in Ho Chi Minh City.

Protesters in Ho Chi Minh City demonstrate against the Vietnamese government's plans to grant long-term leases to foreign companies operating in special economic zones, June 9, 2018.

Vietnam’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Thursday that it is detaining a Vietnamese-American citizen for “disturbing public order” for participating in a peaceful protest that turned violent in Ho Chi Minh City on June 9.

William (Will) Anh Nguyen, a 32-year-old graduate student from Houston, Texas, who is visiting Vietnam, tweeted about clashes between protesters and police over government plans to grant long-term leases to foreign companies operating in special economic zones (SEZs).

He was detained the following day in Ho Chi Minh City, also called Saigon, for participating in the protest where dozens of demonstrators were taken into custody, with some assaulted by police, sources told RFA in an earlier report.

“A consular visit for this individual is under arrangement, and there was no use of force concerning this individual,” ministry spokeswoman Le Thi Thu Hang was quoted by Agence France-Presse as saying.

Last weekend, thousands of Vietnamese citizens in Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, Nha Trang in Khanh Hoa province, and Binh Thuan province, publicly demonstrated against the communist government’s plan to sign into law a decree on SEZs amid fears that leases for periods as long as 99 years in the areas could go to Chinese-owned and operated firms.

In one of several tweets about the protests, Nguyen said the Vietnamese were also demonstrating against encroachment by China and a cybersecurity bill that would further restrict citizens’ use of the internet.

The law, approved by Vietnam's National Assembly on Tuesday, requires companies like Google and Facebook to delete posts considered “threatening” to national security and to store users’ personal information inside Vietnam.

'Beaten over the head'

Nguyen’s family and friends said in a statement that he was “beaten over the head and dragged into the back of a police truck,” when officers started to break up the protest, and that he was taken to a police station. He is thought to be in Ho Chi Minh City, but his whereabouts remain unclear.

Nguyen’s mother, Van Nguyen, told RFA’s Vietnamese Service on Monday before Vietnam confirmed her son’s detention that relatives in the country had tried but failed to see her son.

“They asked the police why William had not been released and were told that it was because he did not want to sign some paper,” she said by telephone on Monday. “We are very worried about William.”

Ngyuen’s family called the American embassy in Hanoi after they heard that he had been arrested, his mother said.

The embassy said in a statement that it was aware of media reports that a U.S. citizen had been detained and said it would offer assistance, but declined further comment, citing “privacy concerns,” the Associated Press reported Thursday.

The family has also contacted U.S. congressional offices to exert pressure on officials in Vietnam to release Nguyen.

Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Viet Ha. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.