This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
The maximum nine-day temporary custody period for a missing Vietnamese blogger ended Sunday without any information from police about his status – whether he would be detained pending trial or whether he would be released – as required by law.
Duong Van Thai, 41, fled Vietnam in either 2018 or early 2019 fearing political persecution for his many blog posts and videos on Facebook and YouTube that criticized the government and leaders of the Vietnamese Communist Party.
The U.N. refugee agency in Bangkok granted him refugee status in Thailand, a country that for many decades has served as an informal safe haven for political refugees in the region.
But Thai disappeared on April 13 in what his friends now believe was an abduction near his rental home in central Thailand’s Pathum Thani province. Closed circuit video footage from that day shows him casually getting on a motorbike outside his house and driving along nearby streets.
The following day, Vietnamese police announced that they had apprehended Thai and placed him in custody for “illegally entering” the country from neighboring Laos, though they did not provide any images of the arrest.
Under Vietnam’s criminal law, police must publicly disclose the status of a detainee after the temporary custody period expires. Additionally, a procuracy office at the same level must approve the status change regarding a case.
“Forty-eight hours have passed [since the deadline], but Vietnam’s media and judicial agencies haven’t provided any information,” human rights attorney Nguyen Van Dai, who lives in Germany, told RFA on Tuesday. “They have violated the people’s right of access to information.”
Police in Ha Tinh province’s Huong Son district, where Thai is being held, did not provide an update about his status, according to state media despite heavy news coverage of his arrest.
Radio Free Asia’s calls to Huong Son district police and the Ministry of Public Security went unanswered. An employee at the Ha Tinh provincial police requested that the reporter come in person to the head office to obtain information.
Vietnamese law also requires authorities to inform the family members of a person they arrest and hold temporarily within 24 hours.
But the blogger’s mother has not received any news about him from police. She became aware of his arrest only from news reports and neighbors, according to a close friend of Thai’s family, who did not want to be named for safety reasons.
“There is every reason to believe that Duong Van Thai has been kidnapped, and his transfer from Thailand says a lot about the total shamelessness of the Vietnamese authorities in their ever-increasing hunt against independent voices,” said Daniel Bastard, Asia-Pacific director at Paris-based Reporters Without Borders in a written statement.
The issue also raises questions about the possible complicit passivity of Thai authorities because this is not the first time that foreign journalists or bloggers who have taken refuge in Thailand have been deported back to their respective countries, he said.
“This new case is clearly alarming, and we ask the U.N. representatives, starting with the UNHCR [United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees], to hold the Thai and Vietnamese authorities accountable for this scandal,” Bastard said.