California lawmakers, including House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.), urged Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to “make every effort” to free an Orange County, Calif., man detained without charge since June by Vietnam.
Michael Phuong Minh Nguyen, 54, a U.S. citizen, flew to Vietnam on June 27 to visit family and friends but never made his return flight July 16. The Vietnamese regime admitted to the U.S. Embassy on July 17 that he had been detained July 7 and was being held at the Phan Dang Luu Detention Center in Ho Chi Minh City.
Nguyen, a print shop owner who was born in Vietnam but has lived in the United States since childhood, is married to Helen Nguyen, an operating room nurse. They have four daughters. Nguyen is described by friends as an active member of his Catholic parish and not political.
The Vietnamese regime has regularly persecuted Catholics such as Father Thadeus Nguyen Van Ly, a democracy activist. They are reportedly holding Michael Phuong Minh Nguyen on suspicion of activity against the Vietnamese government, but he has not been charged with a crime.
In June, Vietnam detained another American, 32-year-old William Nguyen of Houston, for being at a pro-democracy protest in Ho Chi Minh City. He could have received a sentence of 7 years in prison, but after outcry in the U.S. he was deported. Nguyen arrived home in Houston last Friday.
Nguyen said he had to sleep on a concrete floor during imprisonment, but he felt he received better treatment than he could have because “they knew that they had to treat me with a certain form of decency” with the world watching.
The letter to Pompeo from Royce and Reps. Mimi Walters (R-Calif.), Lou Correra (D-Calif.) and Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.) speculates that Michael Nguyen “was unfairly caught up in a Vietnamese government crackdown on domestic dissidents.”
“Michael is deeply missed by his wife and four daughters. We have been informed that he is under investigation for ‘engaging in activity against the People’s Government,’ a spurious charge that is frequently used by the Vietnamese government in arbitrary detentions,” they wrote, adding that “alarmingly, it is possible that Michael could be detained for multiple months with no formal charge made against him. This situation is unacceptable.”
“While U.S.-Vietnam relations have improved in recent years, Vietnam’s human rights record remains deeply troubling,” the lawmakers continued. “As the State Department’s 2017 human rights report finds, the Vietnamese government is complicit in ‘arbitrary and unlawful deprivation of life; torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment; arbitrary arrest and detention of persons peacefully expressing dissent; systemic abuses in the legal system, including denial of access to an attorney, visits from family, and fair and expeditious trial; government interference with privacy, family, home, and correspondence.’ Michael’s case is an egregious example of Vietnam’s troubling history of arbitrary arrest – in this case of an American citizen – and many fear for his safety.”
“We, again, urge that you make every effort to ensure Michael can return safely to his family without delay. We stand ready to assist you in this effort and appreciate your attention to this matter.”