The United States on Friday welcomed news that Thailand will investigate the disappearance of Truong Duy Nhat, a Radio Free Asia blogger from Vietnam who disappeared on Jan. 26 after fleeing to Thailand to seek political asylum with a U.N. refugee agency.
Nhat, a former political prisoner and weekly contributor for RFA’s Vietnamese Service, vanished at a shopping mall on the outskirts of Bangkok after going the day before to the Bangkok office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
On Thursday, Thailand said that though it had no record of Nhat entering the country, it would look into his case to see if he had crossed into Thailand illegally and would attempt to learn what had happened to him.
“I’ve ordered an investigation into this matter,” Thai immigration chief Surachate Hakparn told the Reuters news service on Thursday.
In a Feb. 8 statement, the U.S. State Department said it welcomed the Thai government’s investigation into Nhat’s disappearance, adding, “We are monitoring the situation closely.”
“Press freedom is fundamental to transparency and accountable governance. Journalists often do their work at great risk, and it is the duty of governments and citizens worldwide to speak out for their protection,” a State Department spokesperson said.
Nothing has been heard of Nhat since his disappearance, and rights groups and members of the Vietnamese exile community say they fear he may have been abducted by Vietnamese police and taken back to Vietnam.
“Viet Nam security forces have abducted exiles and refugees from Thailand and elsewhere in the past,” Amnesty International’s Senior Director for Global Operations Minar Pimple said in a Feb. 6 statement.
“Truong Duy Nhat is at clear risk of torture or other ill-treatment if his abduction is confirmed,” Pimple said.
Press freedoms group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) meanwhile urged Thai authorities to “make every effort” to investigate Nhat’s disappearance.
“If the Thai authorities prove not to have been involved, this would mean that Vietnamese agents are no longer bothered by international law and violate a partner country’s sovereignty to pursue their critics,” Daniel Bastard, head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk, said in a Feb. 6 statement.
“This sends an absolutely terrifying message to the community of Vietnamese bloggers who have sought refuge in Bangkok,” Bastard said.
Reported by Richard Finney and Matthew Pennington.