The family of an American graduate student jailed in Vietnam a week ago for his role in an anti-government protest called on the Trump administration to ask Hanoi officials to resolve his case.
Will Nguyen, 32, of Los Angeles was arrested June 10 at a demonstration against a proposal to create special economic zones that would foster Chinese investment in Vietnam.
Vietnamese officials said Nguyen stood on a police vehicle and rallied protesters to defy police. He suffered a head injury, cuts and bruises while being taken into custody. A video shows Nguyen, with a bloody face, being dragged along the pavement.
Nguyen’s sister, Victoria, said Sunday that a U.S. consular official in Ho Chi Minh City, where the protest took place, had visited her brother in prison and found him recovering from his injuries and in good spirits.
Relatives and friends are concerned about how long he’ll be held. “The Vietnamese government is allowed to hold him as long as they are investigating, during which time he has no rights to legal representation. This period could take months,’’ a family friend, Mary-Alice Daniel, wrote in an email.
Three members of Congress from Southern California called for his release. In a statement, Reps. Alan Lowenthal, Jimmy Gomez and Lou Correa — all Democrats — said they would contact President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo “to express the need for immediate action at the highest levels.’’
Nguyen is a graduate of Yale, where he majored in Southeast Asia studies. He recently completed work at the National University of Singapore for a master’s degree in public policy. He was in Vietnam on vacation when he joined the demonstration, his family said.
He was one of dozens arrested last week protesting the proposed economic zones, which have exacerbated Vietnamese fears of Chinese influence and interference.
Nguyen posted a series of tweets documenting the protests in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly named Saigon). ”I can’t stress how enormous of an achievement this is for the #Vietnamese people,” he wrote on June 10. ”The communist government is allowing people to assemble peacefully and the people are exercising their civic duty to protest injustice.”
One image he posted showed a protester who was struck by police officers lying on the street while another person helped him.
Le Thi Thu Hang, spokeswoman for Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry, told reporters last week that Nguyen was “being held for disturbing public order.” He was arrested after asking officers to move police vehicles blocking the crowd’s path, authorities said. When “his request was not met,” Nguyen climbed on a police car and urged others to cross through, the state-run Vietnam News Agency reported.
The state news media reported that on the same day, 102 people also were arrested in the southeastern province of Binh Thuan, where thousands of protesters blocked a highway and later set fire to public buildings.
The proposed special economic zones, which would give long-term leases to foreign investors, would have fewer regulatory restrictions than industrial and commercial sites in the rest of the country.
The proposal has raised fears of China’s control over areas of Vietnam. The two nations have long been uneasy neighbors. Each claims control over the same parts of the South China Sea.
Nguyen’s family fled South Vietnam after the Vietnam War and settled in Houston, where he and his sister were born and raised. He recently wrote a piece for the website New Naratif that discussed the conflict and the country’s history of divisions between North and South.
Contributing: The Associated Press
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