World News

U.S. Protester Held in Vietnam Confesses on State Television

Posted June 19, 2018 7:39 p.m. EDT
Updated June 19, 2018 7:42 p.m. EDT

BANGKOK — An American citizen who was arrested at a peaceful demonstration in Vietnam this month said on state television that he regretted breaking the law and that he would not join such protests again.

Will Nguyen, 32, an American graduate student in Singapore, has been held since June 10, when he was grabbed and beaten by police at an anti-China protest in Ho Chi Minh City.

Two videos posted on YouTube show him being dragged down the street by plainclothes officers holding his legs and an arm. One man comes up and strikes him. Another places an orange covering over Nguyen’s head.

“I regret that I caused trouble for people heading to the airport,” Nguyen said in Vietnamese in the televised statement, Agence France-Presse reported Tuesday.

“I blocked traffic and caused trouble to my family and friends,” Nguyen continued. “I will not join any anti-state activities anymore.”

Vietnamese authorities are known to coerce detainees into making such public confessions.

Nguyen’s family has called on the Trump administration to intervene on his behalf and set up a Twitter account to advocate his release. They fear that his case could drag on for months as authorities investigate him for “disturbing the social order.”

Nguyen, a Houston native who graduated from Yale, is fluent in Vietnamese and Mandarin and has traveled frequently to Vietnam.

The country, which has been governed by the Communist Party since the end of the Vietnam War in 1975, has a long history of suppressing free speech and punishing critics with long prison sentences.

In recent weeks, it has seen numerous protests over the government’s plan to create special economic zones that would allow Chinese investors to lease land for 99 years.

Many Vietnamese regard China, their northern neighbor, as an enemy and oppose what they see as a Chinese land grab facilitated by the government.

The two countries fought a brief border war in 1979. Anti-Chinese protests erupted in Vietnam in 2014 and resulted in the looting and burning of more than 200 foreign-owned factories.

On June 10, the day Nguyen was detained, more than 100 protesters were arrested in Binh Thuan province, east of Ho Chi Minh City, after they stormed a government building.

The family said in a statement that Nguyen had attended the protest in Ho Chi Minh City “not for any particular political agenda, but in order to support the Vietnamese people and their freedom of assembly.”

The statement continued, “He believed this protest would be a peaceful demonstration of civic participation, and for this misconception, he was beaten, dragged and arrested.”

He sustained head injuries during his arrest, the family said.

A spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi referred questions to the State Department in Washington. Representatives of the State Department could not be immediately reached for comment.

Three Democratic members of Congress from California, Alan Lowenthal, Jimmy Gomez and Lou Correa, urged the Vietnamese government to free Nguyen. They also called on President Donald Trump to help secure his release.

“William must be released and he must be released immediately,” the representatives said in a statement. “Our expectation is that the U.S. Embassy in Vietnam and the U.S. government do whatever it can — at the highest levels — to obtain this release.”