Vietnam fails to reveal fate of blogger abducted in Thailand
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on the Vietnamese government to come clean about the disappearance of a Vietnamese blogger two weeks ago in Thailand. Despite having refugee status in Thailand, he was almost certainly abducted by Vietnamese agents with the complicity of Thai officials.
Freelance journalist and blogger Duong Van Thai has been missing ever since his abduction on 13 April near his home in Pathum Thani province, in the centre of Thailand, where he sought refuge four years ago to escape the persecution of journalists in his country.
The only official information about his fate since then has been an announcement by the police in Ha Tinh province, in north central Vietnam, on 14 April (the day after his abduction in central Thailand) that he had been arrested for “illegal entry” into Vietnam from Laos.
Since then, the Vietnamese authorities have said nothing although, under Vietnam’s code of criminal procedure, they must either release him or formally charge him within nine days. This deadline expired on 23 April but no official statement about his fate has been issued.
“We would like the Vietnamese government to answer an extremely simple question: where is Duong Van Thai? On the one hand, everything suggests that he was abducted in Thailand by Vietnamese agents. One the other, his arrest for entering the country illegally from Laos has all the hallmarks of a crude attempt to confuse the issue. And now, the police have even failed to respect their own rules on deciding what they will do with him. This case is a sad example of the abysmal level of contempt in which the government holds the rule of law and press freedom.
Three days after the expiry of the deadline for either releasing or charging Thai, RSF contacted police headquarters in Ha Tinh province, where he is supposedly being held, but received no answer.
Confidential sources told RSF that Thai’s abduction bears the imprint of Vietnamese Communist Party general secretary Nguyen Phu Trong, who is currently conducting a major purge within the party that led to the president’s replacement last month. Trong has held on to the party leadership for so long that he is now in this third term – which none of his predecessors dared do – and has a prominent place in RSF’s gallery of press freedom predators.
As Thai had good, high-level Communist Party sources, he was able to publish a great deal of information, in the form of written posts and videos, about corruption and power struggles within the party. This gave the all-powerful general secretary every reason to target him.
Because of his profile, Thai was awarded refugee status by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Bangkok in 2020. On 20 April, RSF sent a written request to Thailand’s interior ministry for information about the abduction, which could not have been carried out without the passive complicity of local officials, experts say. The ministry did not respond.
This is not the first time that a foreign journalist who was a refugee in Thailand has been forcibly “exfiltrated” to their country of origin without Bangkok taking any particular offence. Truong Duy Nhat, a contributor to Radio Free Asia’s Vietnamese service, was kidnapped in the heart of Bangkok in January 2019. On 9 March 2020, he was sentenced to ten years in prison in Vietnam for “abusing his position and power while on duty.”
In 2016, Li Xin, a Chinese journalist who had fled to Thailand after working for the daily Nanfang Dushi Bao, was kidnapped while on a train from Bangkok to northeastern Thailand and, although he had been about to request asylum, was sent back to China – and to prison.
In 2015, a Swedish publisher of Chinese origin, Gui Minhai, was kidnapped while staying in Pattaya, a Thai beach resort, and finally reappeared a few months later making a forced confession on China’s state-owned CCTV channel. On 24 February 2020, the Chinese authorities sentenced him to ten years in prison for “illegally providing intelligence” to foreign countries.