Bach Hong Quyen, who has lived in Bangkok since May 2017, has been in hiding ever since the police came and questioned him at his home on 1 March. He fears that he could be arrested at any moment and deported back to Vietnam although his refugee status is guaranteed by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
The day after Quyen helped fellow Vietnamese blogger and journalist Truong Duy Nhat to apply for the same refugee status at the UNHCR office in Bangkok, Nhat mysteriously disappeared while in a Bangkok shopping mall on 26 January.
Nhat was probably abducted by Vietnamese agents with the complicity of the local authorities, fuelling fears that other Vietnamese journalists who have fled their country could suffer the same fate.
Accused by the Vietnamese authorities of disturbing public order, Quyen hopes to obtain asylum for himself and his family in Canada and is currently registered with Canada’s refugee reinstallation programme.
“We urge the Thai government to respect the status of Bach Hong Quyen and his family as refugees and to stop intimidating Quyen in any way,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk. “Aside from the obligation to respect the fundamental rights of an individual whose only crime was to have informed his compatriots, Thailand’s credibility on the international stage is stake.”
Quyen is well known for his investigative reporting on environmental issues, speaking on media outlets that broadcast in Vietnamese from abroad. In particular, he raised questions about the responsibility of certain Vietnamese officials in a marine environmental disaster resulting from a toxic spill from a steel plant owned by the Taiwanese firm Formosa.
Thailand was once a refuge for journalists persecuted by the region’s most repressive regimes but, under the current government headed by Gen. Prayut, it has on several occasions been complicit in the “repatriation” of journalists to the countries where they were wanted.
The victims have included Yang Jiefei, a Chinese cartoonist arrested in 2015, and Gui Minhai, a Chinese-born Swedish publisher who was abducted in 2015 while on vacation in Thailand. Both ended up in Chinese prisons. Nhat, the Vietnamese blogger who disappeared seven weeks ago, has not yet “reappeared” in a Vietnamese prison.
Thailand is ranked 140th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2018 World Press Freedom Index, while Vietnam has Southeast Asia’s lowest ranking – 175th.