Vietnamese blogger Truong Duy Nhat, who fled to Thailand, has disappeared. Friends suspect that the secret service has kidnapped him.
Truong Duy Nhat at the U.S. station Radio Free Asia, 2016 Photo: ap
After abducting ex-politician Trinh Xuan Thanh from Berlin to Hanoi in July 2017, did Vietnam’s intelligence service kidnap another Vietnamese citizen who was seeking protection abroad? That is what friends, relatives and employers of the blogger and journalist Truong Duy Nhat suspect. There has been no trace of the man, who fled to Thailand in early January, since January 26. Following international pressure, Thailand’s immigration police chief Surachate Hakparn has since ordered an investigation.
Nhat worked for a state-owned regional newspaper until 2010 and had been one of Vietnam’s most influential bloggers since being banned from the profession. The topics of the man in his mid-forties: corruption and abuse of office by politicians, as well as environmental pollution. He is a freelancer for the U.S. broadcaster Radio Free Asia. In 2014, he was sentenced to two years in prison in Vietnam for "abuse of democratic freedoms," meaning his journalistic reports. One day before his disappearance, Nhat registered as a refugee with the UN refugee agency UNHCR in Thailand’s capital Bangkok, according to Radio Free Asia. The UNHCR would not comment on the matter. Spokesman Chris Melzer told the taz that the UNHCR does not provide information on individual cases in the interest of refugee protection.
On the day of his disappearance, Nhat visited a shopping center on the outskirts of the city, according to his friends. There he is said to have been abducted. The statements of his Bangkok friends, including Vietnamese bloggers who have applied for asylum in Thailand, are very specific. According to them, by kidnapping Nhat, the intelligence service wanted to pre-empt planned revelations about the family of Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc. The circle of friends wants to know that the kidnapping was carried out by military intelligence and not police intelligence as in the case of Trinh Xuan Thanh.
On the other hand, a citizen journalist claims to the taz that Nhat was not kidnapped but went into hiding to avoid being kidnapped. Since the visit to the mall, there has been no sign of life from Truong Duy Nhat. He would not answer his phone. His last posts on Facebook and on his blog are dated January 24.
Not the first suspected kidnapping case
The diplomatic missions of Vietnam and Thailand did not respond to taz inquiries. Thailand’s police denied to Reporters Without Borders (ROG) that Nhat was in their custody or in a Thai detention camp. ROG is demanding clarification from Thailand on the man’s "extremely disturbing disappearance." ROG Asia Director Daniel Bastard says, "If there are no Thai authorities involved here, it means Vietnam’s intelligence service is not abiding by international law and is violating the sovereignty of a partner country to persecute a critic." This would also be troubling for other Vietnamese bloggers who have sought refuge in Bangkok. Human Rights Watch is demanding information from Hanoi about Nhat’s fate.
It is not the first suspected case of abduction of a Vietnamese citizen from a neighboring Southeast Asian country by Vietnam’s secret service. In 2003, the monk Thich Tri Luc disappeared in Cambodia. There he had refugee status. He was subsequently sentenced to prison in Vietnam and traveled to Sweden after serving his sentence. There he reported having been abducted by Vietnam’s secret service. The disappearance of dissident Le Tri Tue in Cambodia in 2007 has not been resolved. His family suspects the Vietnamese secret service. There has been no sign of life from Le Tri Tue since then.
The fugitive couple Pham Ba Huy and Pham Thi Phuong were abducted from Thailand by Vietnam’s secret service in 2010, according to their family and traces left at the scene. They were subsequently sentenced to eleven years in prison in Vietnam, which they are still serving.
And in 2012, renegade economic official Duong Chi Dung disappeared from Cambodia and only resurfaced in Vietnamese custody. He has since died there. Vietnam did not admit to kidnapping or bring suspected kidnappers to justice in any case.