Bangkok, March 21, 2019 -- Vietnamese authorities must immediately and unconditionally release detained blogger Truong Duy Nhat and allow him to travel freely outside of the country, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
Nhat, a blogger with the U.S. Congress-funded Radio Free Asia's Vietnamese language service, is being held without charge at Hanoi's T-16 detention center, under the authority of the ministry of public security, according to news reports and his daughter Thuc Doan Truong, who communicated with CPJ via WhatsApp.
The reports of Nhat's detention are the first news of his status since he went missing from a shopping mall in Bangkok on January 26, as CPJ reported at the time.
"Vietnamese authorities should immediately and unconditionally release blogger Truong Duy Nhat and allow him to travel freely outside of Vietnam," said Shawn Crispin, CPJ's senior Southeast Asia representative. "Authorities in Vietnam and Thailand should investigate the circumstances around Nhat's apparent abduction in Thailand and hold those responsible to account under the fullest extent allowable under local laws."
Prison authorities told Nhat's wife, Cao Thi Xuan Phuong, that the blogger was formally arrested in Vietnam on January 28 and taken to the T-16 detention center the same day, where she has not been allowed to visit him, according to Radio Free Asia.
Truong told CPJ and RFA that she believes Nhat was taken from Thailand on January 26 against his will. "It's clear that my father did not voluntarily go back to Vietnam," she told RFA.
Nhat had applied for refugee status at the UNHCR's office in Bangkok on January 25, the RFA report said.
Vietnam's Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to CPJ's emailed request for comment.
Two of Nhat's associates and several activists tracking the case in Thailand, who spoke with CPJ on condition of anonymity due to fear of reprisal, said they suspect he was abducted by Vietnamese agents working in cooperation with Thai special police and driven across the Thai-Cambodian border and then on to Vietnam.
Nhat was previously arrested in Vietnam in 2013 and served two years in prison for "abusing democratic freedoms to infringe on the interest of the state," for his critical blogging on the Communist Party's leadership, CPJ reported at the time.
Thailand's status as a regional safe haven for journalists and dissidents has deteriorated under nearly five years of military rule, with reported cases of dissidents being abducted by foreign agents or arrested and deported by Thai authorities to their home countries where they faced harsh reprisal, according to news reports.