This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
The United States Department of State Monday condemned the conviction and lengthy sentence in Vietnam of RFA blogger Truong Duy Nhat, and called for his immediate release.
Charged with “abusing his position and authority” in a decades-old land-fraud case, Nhat was convicted in a trial last week and sentenced to 10 years.
“The conviction is under vague charges related to fraud allegations dating back nearly 20 years,” said State Department Spokesperson Morgan Ortagus in a statement Monday.
“We remain troubled by Nhat’s sudden disappearance from Bangkok, Thailand on January 25, 2019, the day after he initiated a request to register as a refugee with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR),” the statement said.
After his disappearance, it was suspected that he had been seized by Vietnamese agents. Three months later he was revealed to be under arrest in Hanoi.
“The United States calls on Vietnam to immediately release Nhat and all prisoners of conscience and to allow all individuals in Vietnam to express their views freely and assemble peacefully without threat of retribution, in accordance with its international obligations and commitments and consistent with Vietnam’s constitution,” the statement concluded.
Prior to his disappearance, Nhat had been a weekly contributor to RFA’s Vietnamese Service. He had earlier been jailed in Vietnam from 2013 to 2015 for his writings criticizing Vietnam’s government.
According to the state department’s 2019 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, “arbitrary arrest and detention, particularly for political activists and individuals protesting land seizures or other injustices, remained a serious problem.”
“Activists reported Ministry of Public Security officials assaulted political prisoners to extract confessions or used other means to induce written confessions, including instructing fellow prisoners to assault them or making promises of better treatment,” the report said.
“Some activists also reported that authorities used routine police interrogations to obtain incriminating information concerning other human rights activists.”
Estimates of the number of prisoners of conscience now held in Vietnam’s jails vary widely, with Human Rights Watch putting the number in October 2019 at 138. The rights group Defend the Defenders meanwhile puts the number as at least 240, with 36 convicted in 2019 alone.