A blogger who last year went missing from Thailand and later resurfaced in Vietnamese police custody was finally allowed to meet his mother for the first time since his disappearance, his family told Radio Free Asia.
Duong Van Thai, 41, was living in Thailand when he disappeared on April 13 in what many believe was an abduction.
Vietnam has neither confirmed nor denied that he was abducted and taken back to Vietnam, but shortly after his disappearance, authorities announced that they had apprehended him for trying to sneak into the country illegally.
On Tuesday afternoon, Thai’s mother Duong Thi Lu, 70, received an unexpected phone call from the police, saying that she would be allowed to see her son the next day at the B14 Detention center in Hanoi’s Thanh Tri district, she told RFA Vietnamese on Friday.
On Wednesday morning, she visited the detention center and talked to her son through a thick glass window – the first time she had seen him in nine months.
“For about half an hour we talked about his health, the family and our village,” she said. “Police had warned me at the gate not to talk about [problematic] issues.”
It’s a rarity that she was allowed to see him while the investigation was ongoing.
Thai had fled to Thailand in late 2018 or early 2019, fearing political persecution for his many posts and videos that criticized the Vietnamese government and leaders of the Communist Party on Facebook and YouTube.
He had been granted refugee status by the United Nations refugee agency’s office in Bangkok. He was interviewed to resettle in a third country right before his disappearance near his rental home in central Thailand’s Pathum Thani province.
By mid-2023, the Security Investigation Agency under the Ministry of Public Security announced that Thai was under investigation for anti- State charges under Article 117, a vaguely written law that rights organizations say is used to silence dissent..
The last time Lu saw Thai in person was when she visited her son in Bangkok one year ago around the Tet holiday, Vietnam’s version of the Lunar New Year. She said that he looks different after his time in custody.
”I could not recognize him because his skin is fairer. When he was in Thailand it was dark,” But he looked very healthy and hasn’t lost a lot of weight.”
Duong assured her that in the detention center he was adequately fed and well treated, she said.
Regarding the investigation, she said that police did not give any details about it, but encouraged her in a general way.
”When I was back at the gate, the detention guard said, ‘Be calm. He does not face any problems here. He will soon be at home with you From now until Feb. 20, if there is not any change, we will send you confirmation.’”
Lu said that they were not allowed to freely talk, so she did not know her son’s thinking about hiring defense lawyers, and that she was also too old to know how to do anything like that.
RFA attempted to contact the Security Investigation Agency under the Ministry of Public Security to inquire about Thai’s case, but the officer in charge refused to respond.
Under the Penal Code of Vietnam, the defendants in National Security cases are only allowed to see their family and lawyers when the investigation is complete.
Translated by An Nguyen. Edited by Eugene Whong and Malcolm Foster.