A blogger from Vietnam is missing after he fled to Thailand to seek political asylum with a UN refugee agency, fueling fears that he has been abducted by Vietnamese security agents.
There has been no word since Jan. 26 from Truong Duy Nhat, a weekly contributor to the Vietnamese-language service of Radio Free Asia (RFA), a sister entity of BenarNews.
“We are extremely concerned about the safety and well-being of Truong Duy Nhat," RFA President Libby Liu said on Tuesday. "We hope to hear from him as soon as possible about his whereabouts and to be assured that he’s not in any danger,” she said.
Nhat’s disappearance has sent a chill through the Vietnamese refugee community in Thailand and prompted a call from Human Rights Watch for Thai authorities to investigate.
Sources said that Nhat had gone to the office of the United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees in Bangkok on Jan. 25 to apply for refugee status.
The Thailand-based sources, who requested anonymity because they feared for their own safety, said that Nhat went missing the next day during a visit to Future Park, a huge mall on the outskirts of Bangkok. One of the sources said Nhat was “arrested” at an ice cream shop on the third floor of the mall.
Thai police said they don't have Nhat in custody.
“We’ve checked through the list of detainees, we don’t see him, Truong Duy Nhat, on the list,” Police Col. Tatpong Sarawanangkoon, who is in charge of the detention section at the Immigration Detention Center in Bangkok, told RFA.
The UNHCR was tightlipped, citing privacy concerns. Associate external relations officer Jennifer Harrison said: “Due to reasons of confidentiality and data protection, we are unable to comment on individual cases.”
‘An urgent obligation’
Nhat's wife, who is in Vietnam, and their Canada-based daughter believe that he left Vietnam for Thailand about three weeks before they heard he had gone missing, according to thevietnamese.org, an online magazine.
The authoritarian government of Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc is at present holding more than 200 political prisoners, including rights advocates and bloggers deemed threats to national security, according to the California-based Vietnam Human Rights Network.
The government controls the news media, censors the internet, and restricts basic freedoms of expression.
Nhat himself served a two-year-imprisonment in 2014-2015 for his activism after being arrested in May 2013 and held in detention until his trial.
Human Rights Watch, or HRW, urged Thai authorities to investigate the case of Nhat, noting that he had come to Bangkok to apply for political asylum.
"[T]he Thai authorities have an urgent obligation to seriously investigate this disappearance,” Phil Robertson, HRW's Bangkok-based deputy Asia director, told RFA.
Robertson accused Vietnam of "consistently engaging in hostile surveillance and harassment of Vietnamese and Montagnard [minority] who fled the country to escape political and religious persecution, and this includes activities in Bangkok."
California-based blogger Nguyen Van Hai, who was detained in the same prison with Nhat before Hai’s release in 2014, said he believes Nhat was abducted by Vietnamese security agents in Thailand.
"We are looking at the possibility that he has been abducted," Hai told RFA.
"We know he arrived at Bangkok and went to the UN’s office to apply for refugee status. If for any reason Nhat now appears in Vietnam, it must be against his will," Hai said.
Kidnapped in Berlin
This is not the first time the Vietnamese government has been accused of abducting its citizens from abroad.
Last year, a German court jailed a Vietnamese man almost four years for helping his country’s secret services kidnap a former oil executive from a Berlin street in 2017 and smuggle him back to Vietnam.
Ex-oil executive Trinh Xuan Thanh was seeking asylum in Germany at that time and his disappearance soured bilateral relations, with the German foreign ministry accusing Vietnam of breaching international law.
Thanh was subsequently tried and jailed for life on corruption charges in Vietnam.