A Vietnamese blogger who is believed to have been abducted from Thailand by secret agents last week has turned up in police custody in his native country.
Police in Vietnam’s northern province of Ha Tinh announced Sunday that they found a person without identification illegally entering the country via trails on its border with Laos. They were able to confirm that the person was named Duong Van Thai, born in 1982.
Duong Van Thai, also known as Thai Van Duong, is a blogger who in 2018 fled to Thailand fearing political persecution for his many posts and videos that criticized the Vietnamese government and leaders of the Communist Party on Facebook and YouTube.
Duong had been in Thailand, applying for refugee status with the United Nations Refugee Agency office in Bangkok.
He went missing on the morning of April 13 after he left his rental home in Bangkok to pick up a friend at the airport. Calls to his mobile phone that afternoon went unanswered, several of his friends said.
According to one of his acquaintances, who wished to remain anonymous for security reasons, Duong had just finished a virtual immigration interview with the UNHCR several hours before going missing.
Duong’s friends began to claim publicly that he was likely kidnapped by Vietnamese security forces and brought back to Vietnam after no one answered the door at his house on the evening of the 14th.
They said his case was similar to that of blogger and Radio Free Asia contributor Truong Duy Nhat, who was kidnapped by Vietnam’s security forces when he was applying for refugee status in Thailand in 2019.
Two months later, Nhat surfaced in Vietnam and he was sentenced to 10 years in prison in March 2020 for “abusing his position and authority,” charges the U.S. State Department said were “vague.”
In 2019, human rights activist Bach Hong Quyen told RFA that he and his family narrowly escaped a similar fate. While in an immigration detention center in Bangkok, the Vietnamese Embassy requested their extradition, but with the UN lobbying hard for his case, they were allowed to travel to Canada.
RFA contacted Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security and the Vietnamese Embassy in Bangkok to inquire about Duong’s case, but received no responses.
Also on Friday, Vietnam sentenced dissident blogger and RFA contributor Nguyen Lan Thang to six years in prison for “spreading anti-state propaganda.”
The sentence came just hours before U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken landed in Hanoi for an official visit.
The U.S. State Department condemned the sentence and urged the Vietnamese government to “immediately release and drop all charges against Nguyen Lan Thang and other individuals who remain in detention for peacefully exercising and promoting human rights.”
Bill Hayton from the British think tank Chatham House said that Duong’s abduction was “clearly a message from the Ministry of Public Security, demonstrating its power in the face of the United States.”
Translated by Anna Vu. Edited by Eugene Whong and Malcolm Foster.