Manila, April 18, 2023—Vietnamese authorities should immediately release journalist Duong Van Thai and stop all efforts to harass and detain members of the press living in exile, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Tuesday.
On April 13, Thai, an independent journalist who posts political commentary on YouTube and has about 119,000 followers, went missing in Bangkok, Thailand, according to multiple news reports.
He had lived in Thailand as a refugee since 2020 and visited the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ office hours before his disappearance, according to those reports and Nguyen Van Hai, a colleague familiar with Thai’s situation and CPJ’s 2013 International Press Freedom Award winner, who communicated with CPJ via email.
On April 16, Vietnamese state media reported that Thai had been arrested while allegedly trying to enter Vietnam and was being held by police in the Huong Son district of central Ha Tinh province.
“Vietnamese authorities must immediately release journalist Duong Van Thai and disclose the exact details of his detention,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative. “Vietnam has a history of targeting journalists living in exile. Thai authorities should thoroughly and transparently investigate the circumstances of his disappearance in Bangkok, and ensure that members of the press are not targeted for their work.”
Those Vietnamese state media reports alleged that Thai was arrested while attempting to illegally enter Vietnam on April 14. CPJ called and emailed Thai after his arrest was announced but did not receive any replies.
On his YouTube channel, Thai recently aired commentary critical of Vietnam’s industrial policy, Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh, and the country’s finance minister.
In 2019, Vietnamese blogger Truong Duy Nhat was abducted in Thailand; he resurfaced in Vietnam days later and was subsequently sentenced to 10 years in prison. Two of Nhat’s associates, who spoke with CPJ on condition of anonymity due to fear of reprisal, said they suspected that he was abducted by Vietnamese agents working in cooperation with Thai authorities. Nhat was seeking refugee status in Thailand at the time of his disappearance.
CPJ emailed Thailand’s Immigration Police and Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security for comment on Thai’s status but did not immediately receive any replies.
Vietnam was one of the world’s worst jailers of journalists, with at least 21 behind bars, when CPJ conducted its annual prison census on December 1, 2022.