Welcoming Secretary Blinken and kidnapping activist Duong Van Thai on the same day

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April 17, 2023

A prominent YouTuber, Duong Van Thai was reportedly abducted in Bangkok on orders from the Vietnamese government and forcibly returned to Vietnam. The incident is believed to have occurred around April 14, 2023 — the same day that US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, arrived in Hanoi.

Duong Van Thai (who publishes under the name Thai Van Duong) was granted political refugee status by the United Nations as he sought safety in Thailand. The Vietnamese authorities had threatened to prosecute him due to videos posted on social media that revealed sensitive information about power struggles within the Communist Party.

In 2018, Duong Van Thai fled to Thailand and applied for refugee status, waiting to be relocated to a third country under the UN Refugee Resettlement program. In a statement released on April 16, Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security claimed that Duong Van Thai was arrested for illegally re-entering the country. Fellow activists and Vietnamese asylum seekers in Thailand dispute the official account of the arrest, arguing that Duong Van Thai would not have voluntarily returned to Vietnam, given the risks of persecution and imprisonment he would face.

In December 2017, Vietnamese intelligence agents abducted Trinh Xuan Thanh in Berlin. Thanh was a former Vietnamese government official who fled to Germany where he sought asylum. In February 2019, Vietnamese security abducted blogger Truong Duy Nhat in Bangkok where he was under asylum process; Truong Duy Nhat was subsequently sentenced to 10 years for “defrauding the public.”

In recent years, hundreds of Vietnamese activists and persecuted Christians have fled to Thailand. Many of them are waiting for resettlement in a third country. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees needs to grant protection to these asylum seekers and accelerate procedures to bring them out of reach of the Vietnamese security forces.

The international community needs to investigate the cases of Duong Van Thai and Truong Duy Nhat and bring to justice the people responsible for transnational repression.

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